Editorial: Hijacking Indonesia

6 min read

President Joko Widodo’s nomination of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Andika Perkasa to become the Indonesia’s Armed Forces (TNI) Commander is the last piece for the nation’s ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) to take control over almost all strategic posts within central government and elsewhere in the regions to allow it to dictate the direction of the nation and results of 2024 elections.

Indonesian democracy is trending downward now. But if it is already bad enough, it could actually be just the beginning of turning the country into de facto one party system, because beside the Armed Forces commander position, other key posts from home minister, national police chief, Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) chairman to National Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief are all PDI-P’s appointees, or at least, have close relations with the party.

And as political elites in Jakarta have decided to scrap all regional elections in 2022 and 2023, and put all regional elections in 2024 at the same year with presidential and legislative elections. The problem is those governors, regents and mayors who finish their term in 2022 and 2023 will be replaced by government’s appointees. There are 271 regional heads across Indonesia with autonomous power to be appointed by government and without mandate from the people. It’s here PDI-P as the ruling party which carries Joko Widodo to presidency in 2014 and 2019 could dominate, and make sure that these appointees are theirs.

The 271 government appointees are more than half of Indonesia’s total regional heads, or roughly represent around 100 million of voters. It means the current political elites, including President Jokowi as he popularly known, have betrayed 100 million voters. As a comparison, Jokowi won the presidency in 2019 by garnering around 85 million voters.

These governors, mayors and regents have one to two years to prepare or do whatever they want to do ahead and during the 2024 elections. With the autonomy laws, these regional heads have immense power in dictating anything in their regions, including the process of elections. In addition to these political appointees PDI-P has the potential to control, the party also has their own cadres occupying regional head jobs across Indonesia.

To make matter worse, the government has opened possibilities that police or military officers can be appointed to fill the vacant regional head jobs, making it more dangerous, and a reminiscent of the New Order.

It’s like almost under the radar and without much resistance that PDI-P has completed the process of securing every job necessary to assure it could win the 2024 elections with wide margins never seen in the last 20 years, and comparable only to Golkar’s domination during Soeharto’s New Order era. The combination of controlling strategic ministerial posts and regional heads across Indonesia plus majority in the House of Representatives will allow it accomplish this.

Checks and balances are dying, if not already dead, in Indonesia.

Read more Editorial: Violent, Corrupt & Politicized, Is There Any Hope for Indonesian Police?

Who’s Who

First and foremost, Jokowi has always been a PDI-P’s cadre, or in Megawati’s words Jokowi is nothing more than one of “petugas partai” (party officers). As much as Jokowi is trying to distance himself from the party he could not govern, or even become president in the first place without PDI-P behind him. It is as simple as that.

From the outside Jokowi looks to have consolidated his power by getting the support of Nahdlatul Ulama or keeping the ever reliable Luhut Panjaitan as close as he can to guard against too much influence from the PDI-P. Luhut, who historically does not have good relations to PDI-P and especially with Megawati who was very angry with Luhut because he rejected Megawatis’s request for him to resign from Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid’s cabinet when Megawati was about to assume power in 2001. Of all people inside the government, only Luhut – and possibly Jokowi if he has the guts – who have meaningful power against PDI-P’s total assault on Indonesia’s democracy. However, with Jokowi can’t run in 2024, the power and influence of both politicians are waning. Jokowi is soon becoming a lame duck. For now, PDI-P allows Luhut to run the show because they need him to do it to prevent the government to collapse before they take it over.

After the presidency, PDI-P needs to make sure they have a control over the military, who is crucial in a time of chaos and mounting protests from people. Andika who is the son-in-law of Gen (ret) Hendropriyono, a close aide to Jokowi, and especially to PDI-P, is the answer for the party’s need.

Hendropriyono was the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief under then president Megawati Soekarnoputri, PDI-P chairwoman, and in 2014 then President-elect Joko Widodo appointed Hendropriyono as an advisor for his transition team, together with Luhut Panjaitan, and two Muslim leaders, Hasyim Muzadi and Syafii Maarif.

Third, PDI-P has traditionally been close to the police since its separation from the military in 2002. Beginning with police chief Gen. Da’i Bachtiar – except a brief moment under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono – until now, PDI-P always wants to control who becomes the national police chief. Right after carrying Jokowi to presidency, PDI-P specifically wanted its preferred police general to become the force’s chief. Most if not all current police generals are close with the PDI-P, and the current police chief Gen. Listyo Sigit Prabowo is no different.

It is through this control over the police generals that allows PDI-P to control other strategic offices, especially those playing role in 2024 elections.

The deployment of Gen. Tito Karnavian to become Home Affairs Minister right after he was retired as the national police chief was a brilliant move, especially if it is seen as an anticipation of 2024 elections. Home Ministry is the most important body in regard to the nation’ elections, and it is the one that control the data of the voters.

Next step is controlling the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) by nominating another police general. The three-star police general Firli Bahuri was chosen to chair the antigraft body. Firli himself has admitted that he met with Megawati before his fit and proper test to become KPK chief in front of the House. He also admitted that he was close with Megawati’s family because Megawati’s late husband Taufik Kiemas known him since he was a young police officer.

Then controlling intelligence agency is equally important. Gen. Budi Gunawan, one of police generals who is very close with Megawati was appointed to this position. Budi Gunawan is Megawati’s personal aide when she was a president, and her personal choice for national police chief post in 2016 but was denied by massive protests from the public for his alleged involvement in graft scandal. He was then become deputy police chief before becoming BIN chief in 2016.

Read more Rebuffing Professor Mahbubani’s Praises for Jokowi Point by Point

Counter Power?

So, high hope that Indonesia will be getting better post 2024, or that the 2024 election will set a new beginning for the Southeast Asia’s biggest economy as younger generation will gradually assume power could already be destroyed by now. The script is already written for the status quo to maintain their power in the post 2024 as PDI-P has tied all the loose ends.

Can we hope that the next president will be a counter power to PDI-P’s ultimate domination? There is still a chance that non-PDI-P’s candidate will win presidency as direct presidential election is more of a figure and personality than political party. With PDI-P looks to sideline its most popular figure in Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo, the party has a weak candidate if they persist on nominating Puan Maharani, Megawati’s beloved daughter but has low popularity among voters.

Prabowo Subianto will run again, and look will do anything to win presidency after twice defeated by Jokowi, including striking a deal with PDI-P, a big possibility because he has been Megawati running mate in a lost endeavor in 2009 presidential election. Standing in his way is Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan and businessman Sandiaga Uno. If Anies, who have been getting supports from several political parties, becomes the president, he could counter PDI-P’s domination by relying on Muslim voters as shown in a huge rally in December 2, 2016. But Indonesia will fall into a sectarian division nobody knows where it will lead the country. Meanwhile, other popular younger candidates, like Sandiaga and West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil, are still still difficult to run because they still can’t find political parties to support them. Election laws require supports from a political party or coalition of political that garnered at least 20 percent of voters in the last election for a candidate to run for presidency. PDI-P is the only party which can field its candidate without having to form coalition.

It seems that the presidential post is still very much up for grab, right? Not really. it will be naïve if we don’t think that PDI-P with all their power and influence would not do anything to also win the presidency.

So, it looks like it now depends on the people, media and civil society groups as a counter power to make sure Indonesia does not undo the democracy the nation has fought so hard by sacrificing almost everything, including many lives. But then again, the fact that PDI-P can reach this far without much of resistance show how uninformed and divided the civil society has been.

That’s why, with all these gloomy pictures it is imperative and urgent that civils society groups be united again, and not to lose hope to fight against any intention of monopolizing and hijacking Indonesia. It’s still more than two years away, and the public can first ask the Constitutional Court to annul the current law allowing the government to appoint regional heads, or just annul the election laws scrapping direct elections in 2022 and 2023.

We can push Jokowi to regain his guts and take action to save Indonesia because after all he is still the Indonesian president until 2024. If Indonesia turns out to be what we fear it will, then the history will put most of the blame on Jokowi for not doing enough to prevent it.

Read more Editorial: G20 Presidency, Can Indonesia Pull It Off?

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