Indonesian Law Minister Seeks Inputs before Ruling on Democratic Party Split

Ronna Nirmala
Jakarta
2021-03-09
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Indonesian Law Minister Seeks Inputs before Ruling on Democratic Party Split Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, whose chairmanship of Indonesia’s opposition Democratic Party is in doubt after an extraordinary congress, speaks to reporters in Jakarta, March 5, 2021.
Antara Foto/Aditya Pradana Putra/via Reuters

Indonesia’s law ministry will wait to hear from all parties involved before investigating what led to the president’s chief of staff being named chairman of the main opposition party, Minister Yasonna Laoly said on Tuesday about a maneuver that, observers warned, could undermine the country’s young democracy.

Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko was appointed chairman of the Democratic Party during an extraordinary congress on Friday organized by detractors of party leader Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, who had signaled last month that such a move was being planned.

Since then, Agus has urged the Ministry of Law and Human Rights to not ratify the change in his party’s leadership. On Monday, he presented the ministry a stack of documents which, he said, would prove his legitimacy.

On Tuesday, Minister Yasonna said he had yet to receive similar documents from Moeldoko.

“Later, we will decide everything according to the Democratic Party’s statutes and the relevant law,” Yasonna said about waiting to hear from all groups.

“I call on Mr. SBY and AHY not to accuse the government of doing this or doing that. We are objective. We will act professionally in accordance with the law,” Yasonna told reporters, referring to Agus and his father, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The law ministry has the authority to recognize a political party’s internal leadership, according to The Straits Times newspaper of Singapore.

SBY, a former army general, preceded Joko “Jokowi” Widodo as president of Indonesia. Moeldoko is a retired general, who some analysts say engineered the tumult in the Democratic Party to help Jokowi maintain his grip on power and all but eliminate the opposition.

For nearly 50 years until 1998, the military controlled the government of Southeast Asia’s largest and most populous country.

It was reported that Moeldoko accepted the decision to be appointed chairman of the Democratic Party by phone, after which he gave a speech to those who attended the extraordinary congress.

“Ladies and gentleman, this is my first political speech in front of a general audience in an effort to maintain and build democracy in Indonesia,” Moeldoko said, according to Tempo, an Indonesian news site.

On Saturday, Mohammad Mahfud MD, the coordinating minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, said Agus would remain the party chairman as long as there was no report given to the government on the decision by the extraordinary congress to appoint Moeldoko as chairman.

“In the government record the official chairman is AHY, the son of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono,” Mahfud MD said.

Agus, who took over the party’s chairmanship from his father in March 2020, claimed that the government recognized his leadership.

“The extraordinary congress has no basis in the Democratic Party’s constitution and statutes,” he said on Saturday. “I call on the government not to condone this illegal move by Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko to divide the Democratic Party.”

Last month, Agus revealed that some party members and a top government official whom he did not name were conspiring to oust him. He later dismissed seven party stalwarts, including former parliamentary speaker Marzuki Alie and Jhoni Allen Marbun, for their alleged involvement in the plot. 

Jhoni, who was at the forefront of the campaign to oust Agus, said Moeldoko’s appointment as chairman had nothing to do with his position as the presidential chief of staff.

“It’s more to do with his personality. He respects people and his subordinates,” Jhoni said. 

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Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko participates in a cabinet swearing-in ceremony at the presidential palace in Jakarta, Jan. 17, 2018. [Reuters]

Muhammad Rahmat, another former Democratic Party official who supports Moeldoko, said Agus had to be ousted to save the party.

Under Agus’ leadership, the party was expected to win less than 5 percent of the votes in the next general election, scheduled for 2024, Rahmat said.

“The main objective of the extraordinary congress is to turn the party’s fortunes around,” he said.

Agus’ father, meanwhile, expressed remorse for having earlier placed his trust in Moeldoko, who served in the armed forces during SBY’s presidency.

“Many were shocked and could not believe that Moeldoko had collaborated with insiders and had the heart to mount out a coup,” Yudhoyono said on Friday after the congress. “I’m ashamed and feel guilty that I put my trust in him and awarded him with several positions.”

The former president called on his successor to act fairly.

“I believe that President Jokowi has integrity and wisdom to deal with this attempt to oust the leadership of the Democratic Party,” he told reporters on Saturday.

Jokowi has not yet publicly commented on the move by Moeldoko, who could not be reached by BenarNews for comment.

The president’s broad ruling coalition of seven of nine major parties already controls more than 75 percent of the 575 seats in parliament. It would grow if Moeldoko can bring the Democratic Party into the fold.

This would leave the Muslim-based Prosperous Justice Party as the only opposition party outside the ruling coalition.

‘Backsliding’

A political analyst at Al-Azhar University in Jakarta, Ujang Komarudin, said he thinks Jokowi blessed Moeldoko’s move, warning it could undermine democracy and hurt Jokowi’s image.

“There have been efforts to undermine the opposition parties to allow legislation to go unopposed in the parliament,” Ujang told BenarNews.

According to another observer, the maneuver by Moeldoko to apparently divide the opposition was a sign pointing to “backsliding democracy” in Indonesia.

“It looks and feels very systematic,” Indonesian political analyst and pollster Saiful Mujani told The Australian newspaper. “This divide-and-conquer method has been used by the current leadership to strengthen their coalition and silence all opposing voices.”

A successful bid by the presidential chief of staff to take over the leadership of the Democratic Party could severely weaken the political opposition, he told the Straits Times separately.

“If Moeldoko takes over the Democratic Party, the strength of the opposition in Parliament will diminish. There’s almost no checks and balances, what kind of democracy is it? The Indonesian democracy is dead,” Saiful warned.

“If Jokowi stays silent, it means he allows the backsliding of Indonesian democracy to happen.”

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