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The war within the Democrats has just begun

INBFriday, Feb. 22, was a special day for Democratic Party chairman Anas Urbaningrum. That day he was named a suspect by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) in a corruption case centering on the construction of the Hambalang sports facility in Bogor, West Java.


A week earlier, his powers as chairman of the party were taken over by the chairman of the party’s supreme assembly President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.


A day after KPK declared him a graft suspect, Anas relinquished his chief post in accordance with the integrity pact he and other party executives had signed. He has quit from the party altogether as evinced when he took off his blue party jacket, according to his close friend Saan Mustofa, the party’s deputy secretary general.


If the Corruption Court judges later find Anas guilty as charged, it would not be impossible for him to completely lose his political career. He may also face mounting public calls for fulfillment of his vow to get himself hung on the rope at the National Monument if he is proven guilty of corruption.


Otherwise, Anas will gain prominence as a young politician who was sacrificed by the party’s paramount leader Yudhoyono.


Could the prosecution and jail sentence Anas is facing kill his political future? Apparently not. When announcing his resignation on Saturday Anas said his exit was not the end but instead the beginning of the story.


“This is just the first page. We will read the following pages,” he said. “The party will take on a test of adherence to its clean, smart and ethical slogan. We will learn if the party is ethical or cruel.”


Anas is basically challenging the political authority of SBY. Anas is sending a clear message that he will be open about all corrupt practices involving the ruling Democratic Party, including, but not limited to, the Bank Century bailout scandal and the Hambalang corruption case.


Since he declared his bid to contest the Democratic Party top executive post ahead of the party’s national congress in May 2010, Anas had demonstrated his guts to challenge SBY. At that time, SBY was seen as endorsing the nomination of Andi Mallarangeng, as was apparent in the involvement of his son Edhie “Ibas” Baskoro in the team campaigning for the sports minister.


However, Anas defied the odds and surprisingly won the chairmanship. Since then Anas appeared as a young political leader whose climb to the party’s top post was unwanted by SBY. In his language, Anas analogized himself as “a child whose birth was unwanted”. Countering any allegations that he was the ringleader of the declining electability of the party, Anas said that the slump had something to do with SBY’s increasingly falling popularity in the eyes of the people.


There is obviously a bitter rivalry between Anas as party chairman and SBY as the party’s supreme leader, although it had never come to the fore until the party leaders upped the pressure to unseat Anas, which climaxed in his resignation.


The eventful run-up to Anas’ exit only indicates that SBY deemed Anas as a challenger, if not a threat, to his political clout in the party which he helped found. Therefore, on many occasions, the President sought to delegitimize Anas, who only joined the party after serving in the General Elections Commission that administered the 2004 polls.


Anas’ resignation should give SBY loyalists in the party the last laugh. In their eyes, Anas’ imminent prosecution marks an end to his political career.


However, if we analyze it more deeply, the SBY loyalists are actually cheering on the party’s self destruction. They do not realize that Anas may lead graft buster KPK to many more Democratic Party cadres and perhaps leaders.


The legal process against Anas will not accelerate consolidation of the Democratic Party and restoration of its electability as many have expected. Rather, the party’s electability rating will further plunge due to more corruption scandals that it is facing.

Internal consolidation will be more difficult because there is no longer a sense of togetherness among party cadres. The party is infested with opportunists who only benefit the party as a political vehicle in order to earn money and power.


At the same time, SBY will no longer serve as a unifying magnet of party members and supporters as the Constitution bars him from running for a third term of office.

In rather rough language, the party members and sympathizers are listening to “the death bells”. Corruption cases will not stop plaguing the party after KPK declared Anas a suspect. Anas could open the Pandora’s box of graft practices involving the party, including the suspicious bailout worth Rp 6.7 trillion (US$690.36 million) for Bank Century, now Bank Mutiara.


In the eyes of SBY, perhaps, revelation of more graft cases involving the party members suits his willingness to clean up his party. But consciously or not, the President will be digging his party’s own grave.


People will not consider the disclosure of more corruption cases implicating the party members a manifestation of SBY’ and his party’s commitment to the fight against graft. Instead, the corruption cases will only confirm public suspicion that the party is a hotbed for corrupt people.


Worse, the public will question the capability of President Yudhoyono to promote and instill an anticorruption culture among the party members despite his “omnipotence” as the party’s chief of supreme council, board of trustees and board of patrons. The more party members are embroiled in graft cases, the less is public trust in the party’s anticorruption campaign.


The death knell the Democrats are listening to is increasingly hard to endure. Without any revolutionary changes, the party will not pass the tests Anas has foretold, not to mention win the war within.

The writer is a research professor at the Center for Political Studies at Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), Jakarta.


Source: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2013/02/27/the-war-within-democrats-has-just-begun.html

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