The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Mega eyes our voting system       
Where's Wally?  The PDI-P promotes its congress, but not the nation's president, who's also a red jacket.   The image on the top left opposite Megawati is of her father, Soekarno (d 1970)
Megawati Soekarnoputri (the second name is a patronymic - daughter of Soekarno) doesn’t want direct elections. That’s what she told applauding delegates at the Bali conference this month (April) of her Partai Demokrasi Indonesia – Perjuangan (PDI-P – the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle.
‘Her’ party because it’s not an organisation to develop and implement new ideas from the smart young to boost the Republic’s economy, lift millions out of poverty, repair the crumbling infrastructure and raise education levels.  It’s a vehicle to keep her family in power.
Mega has no formal authority.  The PDI-P has the largest number of seats in the Parliament (109 / 560) but a coalition of opposition parties holds total control. Despite this she jerks President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo’s strings, reminding all that the former furniture salesman is just a ‘party worker’ who wouldn’t have the top job  had it not been for her imprimatur.
She’s right.  Had she ignored the overwhelmingly negative surveys and stood herself in last July’s election as originally planned, Indonesia would now be led by President Prabowo Subianto.  He’s the scion of a family with a centuries old lineage, a hard-line former general with a bad human rights record, and once son-in-law of the nation’s second president, the dictator Soeharto.
If Mega wasn’t the self-imposed head of the party she founded last century she’d now be toast.  Although she was Indonesia’s fifth president between 2001 and 2004 she inherited the position when President Abdurrahman Wahid was impeached, and did little more than let the army and her mates run the show.
That was too much like the bad old days for an electorate hungry for reform; in two later presidential direct vote contests she was soundly rejected by the people.
Of course this wasn’t her fault, but the ‘treachery’ of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) who quit her Cabinet over claims of being sidelined.  For a while he became a media darling and in 2004 beat his former boss to become the nation’s sixth president.  She’s never forgiven him.
In the villages and crowded kampongs of Java, sun-wrinkled portraits of first president Soekarno can be found hanging in even the poorest of homes.  He died 45 years ago but remains an iconic figure, symbol of the glory of Indonesia’s hard-won independence from the stubborn colonial Dutch and held in awe by the nostalgic elderly.
Mega believes that she has inherited that aura, even if betrayal, incompetence, fickle voters and age frustrate her ambitions.  So she’ll nurture the flame until her children Mohammad Prananda Prabowo, Mohammad Rizki Pramata – and particularly, Puan Maharani, learn how to grasp their destiny.
Three generations - it's our party and we'll do what we like.   The Javanese slogan says: 'Don't cut the roots'.
(Mega has been married three times, her father nine.  Her younger sister Rachmawati Soekarnoputri is a leading member in the opposition Prabowo’s party, Gerindra.)
Addressing the conference, where the 68-year old matriarch was acclaimed supreme head for a further five years, Mega denounced direct voting as a Western import.
In the present anti-foreigner climate - aggravated by Tony Abbott linking 2004 tsunami aid with mercy for drug runners on death row - that’s the sort of claim that gets delegates on their feet and stamping. 
Everything currently wrong in the resource-rich archipelago is the fault of sinister others plundering the nation’s wealth, corrupting the young with evil ideas, and interfering in sovereign legal processes; purge the outsiders and all will be right.  That’s what her Dad did in the 1950s and so excavated an even bigger pit of economic mismanagement.
Mega doesn’t want the Indonesian system where the president is chosen by the people whatever party he or she represents; that’s populism.
What would suit her is the Australian process.  Under our law voters tick candidates from parties that have already proclaimed their leaders. Electors might not like the individual but you approve their party’s policies.
If our northern neighbour had used that arrangement Mega might now be President of Indonesia for the second time because her party topped the polls.
Instead the man sitting on the edge of the Palace sofas once comfortably occupied by Mega as a child, is the easy going not over-bright Jokowi, briefly Governor of Jakarta and before that a likeable small town mayor.  Now he’s floundering, way out of his depth in the fetid crocodile swamp that passes for Jakarta politics
Jokowi is not part of the feudal Javanese military, business and semi-regal dynasties that have run the world’s fourth largest nation since Soekarno proclaimed independence from the colonial Dutch in 1945. That was part of his appeal.  
Despite getting little campaign help from Megawati, but a lot from the hopeful young, he won by eight million votes over Prabowo in what was widely interpreted as the triumph of the little man.
Sadly Jokowi, 53, has proved to be exactly that. If there’s a statesman’s gene in Jokowi it has yet to become dominant. No one is saying he has greasy palms, but when given the people’s mandate he fumbled the pass, dropped it and then lost direction.
Elected on promises of no more transactional appointments, a cabinet of altruistic reformers and a massive crack down on corruption, he’s failed on every pledge.
He also told Cabinet ministers to abandon senior party roles to concentrate on their jobs. Mega’s daughter Puan, Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Culture, has ignored her leader.
Mum made Puan the party head of political and social affairs, and handpicked 25 others for top tasks saying she’d tested them all – but only she knew the test.
The PDI-P has another record:  It’s the party with the most members jailed by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). One serving politician was even arrested in his hotel at the congress for alleged bribery.  In a news story The Jakarta Post reported ‘the party’s central board is full of graft-tainted figures and politicians with dubious reputations.’
Again and again the terms ‘trustworthiness’ and ‘loyalty’ were used by Mega when discussing her choice of party officials.  Missing were words like ‘ability’, ‘education’, ‘diligence’ and ‘intelligence’. Jokowi’s demand for selection by merit went unheeded.  No doubt policies for the nation’s betterment and improved foreign relations were debated in depth, but these escaped detection by journalists.
None of this would matter much if there was a viable opposition with a fresh agenda waiting to take over the shambles.  Prabowo, 63, was widely expected to savage Jokowi till he became ineffectual, though the President is doing that without outside help.
However Prabowo has his own problems with two parties in his coalition ripped asunder by internal leadership challenges.
That’s not an issue in the PDI-P.  If there were any delegates who thought it’s time to remind that the party calls itself Democratic they are staying quiet.  When the leader of the world’s third largest democracy lacks the courage to confront his matron, who else would dare?
 First published in On Line opinion 14 April 2015.  For comments see:

Further reading:
Liam Gammon in the ANU's New Mandala:

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