Alliances shifting in Jakarta Parliament



Akbar will have to watch his back while Yudhoyono will need to keep his allies engaged to stay in power.

Things are rarely what they seem in Indonesia.

Over the last week, the country’s largest party Golkar might have won control over the all-powerful Parliament. And the coalition backing incoming president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono appears to have secured the People’s National Assembly (MPR).

But a closer scrutiny of the results suggests that there are no outright winners yet in a complex political milieu where alliances are as loose as shifting sands.

For Golkar, and especially its chairman Akbar Tandjung, the election of party executive Agung Laksono as Parliamentary Speaker is a clear-cut victory that fits into a grand scheme to topple Dr Yudhoyono midway through his term.

Mr Akbar might have won some reprieve with this illusionary win. It adds a gloss to an otherwise tarnished image of a politician who suffered defeats on two fronts in the last six months.

First, he failed to win the Golkar presidential candidacy, suffering a defeat to former general Wiranto in the April party convention.

Second, he was unable to deliver the presidency for Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri despite all the bravado of leading a grand coalition to support her re-election.

Whatever hopes he has for Mr Agung leading the charge against Indonesia’s next president are likely to dissipate when they cross swords for the Golkar chairmanship.

Mr Agung has been keeping his cards close to his chest. He is playing the role of the loyal servant to the Golkar leader, pledging his allegiance and support for Mr Akbar’s re-election in the December party congress.

He told The Straits Times last week: ‘I support Pak Akbar. But if he does not want the position, then I will certainly consider it.’

Privately, he has told close friends that Golkar is ‘in desperate need of new leadership’.

Golkar executive Marzuki Darusman who last month was suspended from the party said: ‘Agung feels Akbar has been holding the position for too long and that a change is needed … The longer Akbar holds on to the reins of power, the more it becomes a liability for Golkar.’

If Mr Agung wins the chairmanship, it is less likely he will stick to the declared aim of Golkar and the Indonesian Democratic Party (Struggle) to be the ‘loyal opposition’ in Parliament.

It could lead to the grand coalition fraying even more. It has already suffered a major blow with the Muslim-based United Development Party deserting the pact at the eleventh hour to put up its own candidate Endin Soefihara for the Parliamentary Speaker’s post with the backing of the Yudhoyono faction.

Given the gradual fragmentation of the alliance, Mr Agung will want to tread carefully in his dealings with Dr Yudhoyono.

Publicly, he has already signalled his intentions to work with the new government. This might appear to be a blessing for the Yudhoyono administration.

But sources said that Mr Agung would draw a line in the sand if Golkar interests are challenged.

A senior aide told The Straits Times: ‘He will want to use his position in Parliament and Golkar as a balancing force to the president. He will not want to be seen by his own party as being a puppet. On some issues, he might compromise. On others, he will take a hard line.’

Ultimately, the contentious issues of the day will colour the power play in Parliament and its dealings with the government.

One major issue that will test the relationship when Dr Yudhoyono takes office on Oct 20 is the problem of fuel price hikes. Fragile coalitions will come under pressure, with some legislators jumping on the populist bandwagon while others call for sound economic policies.

Similarly, calls for privatisation of state banks, for example, will further divide an already divided Parliament. Golkar, despite winning the top post in Parliament, will not be able to sway everything in its direction. But neither will Dr Yudhoyono and his band of supporters.

Voting patterns in Parliament over the past year – indeed even in the latest election of the Speaker – show that ideology, the party whip and any notion of a coalition count for much less than the personal interests of legislators.

The same applies for the MPR. For the Yudhoyono camp, clinching the leadership post in the national assembly goes some way to allaying fears of opponents trying to undermine his regime.

The MPR is a shadow of its former self, with constitutional amendments turning it into a ceremonial body to inaugurate the president and his deputy.

But it continues to be important in hearing any impeachment petition from Parliament before being submitted to the Constitutional Court.

Mr Hidayat Nur Wahid, who was nominated by the coalition backing Dr Yudhoyono, is chairman of the Muslim-based Prosperous Justice Party.

It is part of Dr Yudhoyono’s people alliance that includes the Democrat Party, the National Mandate Party and the Nation Awakening Party.

Mr Hidayat, who scraped through by two votes, will be a political ally of the President.

But like Mr Agung, he is likely to be influenced by the dictates of his party rather than any slavish adherence to the palace.

The key will be whether Dr Yudhoyono can sustain the interests of his Muslim-backed parties in Parliament and the MPR.

If he does not, the daggers will be out for him.

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