Indonesia: 'Oppositionists' seek cabinet posts

By Max Lane, in Jakarta

In the immediate aftermath of the July 8 Indonesian presidential election, the two losing sets of candidates alleged that there was widespread ballot fraud. Both the team of outgoing vice-president Jusuf Kalla of the Golkar party and retired army general Wiranto, leader of the Hanura party, and the team of Indonesia Democratic Party-Struggle (PDIP) leader Megawati Sukarnoputri and Gerindra party leader Prabowo Subianto lodged complaints with the courts centred on discrepancies in the voter lists.

However, this argie-bargie between the losers and re-elected President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was soon put to rest as the two losing teams, especially the PDIP and Gerindra, began their attempts to gain cabinet posts in Yudhoyono’s government. Not only did the noise about electoral fraud, but all the accusations about Yudhoyono and his new vice-president, economist Budiono, having “neoliberal” rather than the opposition teams’ “peoples’ economy” approach, appear to have been put aside — at least until it is clear whether Yudhoyono gives them cabinet posts or not.

The PDIP hopes to obtain the support of Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party for the election of Taufiq Kiemas, Megawati’s husband, to the position of speaker of the Peoples’ Consultative Assembly (MPR), a body comprising the House of Representatives and the Council of Regional Representatives. The MPR sets the broad outlines of state policy on a five yearly basis and meets regularly on some other issues. As media discussion on this approach increased, it also became clear that the PDIP wanted to obtain cabinet posts.

During the same period, Prabowo also arranged to have a one-on-one meeting with Yudhoyono where his possible appointment as Minister for Agriculture was discussed. It is not clear who asked whom first, but it soon leaked to the press. It was after these meetings that Prabowo finally held a press conference to congratulate Yudhoyono on his re-election, after holding out from doing this while claiming the election was undemocratic.

There has also been a discussion and struggle inside Golkar as to whether it should be an opposition party or seek to remain in the government. This discussion was overshadowed recently when Kalla stated he would not seek re-election as Golkar chairperson. The party of deceased dictator Mohammed Suharto is now preparing a congress where four of the country’s weathiest capitalists will fight it out to be Golkar chairperson. Among the candidates are Aburizal Bakrie, possibly the richest person in the country; media baron Surya Polo; Tommy Suharto, millionaire conglomerate owner, convicted murderer and Suharto’s son; and Tutut Suharto, millionaire conglomerate owner and Suharto’s daughter. Bakrie is a minister in the current Yudhoyono cabinet.

Little policy difference

These post-election shenanigans simply repeat what happened before the election, during the process of putting together presidential tickets, revealing again that all of the parties involved are willing to cooperate with each other and that there is no real ideological and little policy difference between them. While there has been discussion and mention by all of the elite parties of the possibility of Yudhoyono broadening his coalition from beyond those who supported him during the election to include the PDIP, Gerindra and Golkar, he has still not yet announced his cabinet. Whether his negotiations with the PDIP and Gerindra were a tactic to expose the fakery of their oppositionist stances during the election or a genuine attempt to include them in a new governing coalition is not yet clear.

A number of different orientations have emerged on the left in the aftermath of the presidential election. The Peoples Democratic Party (PRD), formerly led by Dita Sari, had adopted a position of alleged critical support for the Kalla-Wiranto ticket as well as for the Megawati-Prabowo ticket during the election campaign. The PRD organised a series of rallies of its own supporters denouncing Yudhoyono as a neoliberal politician, but not denouncing Kalla, despite him having been Yudhoyono’s vice-president for the past five years. Similarly Megawati, who began the neoliberal program of large-scale privatisation of state-owned enterprises during her 2001-04 presidency, was allowed to pass herself off as a supporter of “peoples economy” without any criticism from the PRD.

In one article by a PRD spokesperson, it was also argued that through rhetorical campaigning against neoliberalism in the lead-up to the election, retired general Prabowo had “wiped out his sins” of organising the torture and disappearance of pro-democracy activists during the late Suharto era. It was even argued that the numbers involved — 14 are still missing, presumed dead — were minor compared to the victims of Yudhoyono’s neoliberal policies, forgetting that the disappearing of the 14, and the torturing of several others, were actually acts aimed at terrorising the whole pro-democracy movement.

Call for anti-neoliberal coalition

In the immediate aftermath of the election, the PRD has been advocating for a broad anti-neoliberal coalition, calling for the PDIP and Gerindra to lead an anti-neoliberal offensive in the new parliament. To what extent the PDIP and Gerindra deploy anti-neoliberal rhetoric again, however, will depend on whether their pleas to be accepted into the Yudhoyono cabinet are successful or not. If Yudhoyono rejects them, and they revert again to their anti-neoliberal demagoguery, their credibility will have been damaged greatly. The party which Dita Sari and her supporters backed during the May parliamentary election, the Star Reformation Party (PBR), has already joined the Yudhoyono coalition, although it no longer has seats in the national parliament. Dita Sari appears to have resigned from the PRD altogether in order to support Kalla in the presidential election.

While the PDIP and Gerindra are negotiating with Yudhoyono, the success of the PRD’s appeal for a PDIP- and Gerindra-led anti-neoliberal coalition appears to be as likely as the PBR’s turn to the left that the PRD claimed would happen after its members entered the PBR prior to the April 9 parliamentary election. The PRD’s call will carry little weight and will force it rely for cover on the few former PRD members who long before entered the PDIP, such as Budiman Sujatmiko, who has won a seat in the parliament as a PDIP member.

The Committee for the Politics of the Poor-PRD (KPRM-PRD), formed by PRD members expelled for their disagreement with the PRD’s entry into the PBR, and who advocated a boycott of the presidential election, continues to emphasise the need for a poor peoples’ movement independent of the capitalist parties. It is continuing to concentrate on rebuilding following the expulsions from the PRD in 2007. There are national congresses planned for January and February for a number of organisations in which KPRM-PRD members play leading roles. These include the National Students League for Democracy–Politics of the Poor (LMND-PRM), Indonesian National Front for Labour Struggles–Politics of the Poor (FNPBI-PRM), National Farmers Union–Politics of the Poor (STN-PRM) and the National Network for Women’s Liberation (JNPM). Many of the members of these organisations are also members of the Union for the Politics of the Poor (PPRM). All of these organisations are still rebuilding after the damaging 2007 splits, although the JNPM and SPI were not significantly affected.

The KPRM-PRD’s remains oriented to building alliances on the left and among progressive activist organisations, rather than with the capitalist parties. The KPRM-PRD members remain active in the efforts to keep publishing Jurnal Bersatu (Unity Journal), a left regroupment-oriented journal involving members of other left groups as well as non-party left activists. Among these are members of the Working Peoples Association (PRP) and the Peoples Struggle Union (PPI).

Union groups led by KPRM-PRD activists are heavily involved in the Workers Challenge Alliance (ABM), which is the most effective left alliance formation operating at the moment. ABM organised major national mobilisations in late 2008 against a government decision to reduce wages and a number of its regional chapters held mobilisations during the recent election period, supporting the boycott position and opposing the economic policies of all the elite parties.