Indonesia’s future held hostage by old guard

It is a belief shared by many that political parties are a necessity for democracy to function. However, political parties and politicians generally have a reputation for forgetting their campaign promises as soon as they get people’s votes.

A political party is supposed to be a fertile ground for grooming  a nation’s future leaders, but this seems to be a pipe-dream in a country where politicians resort to corruption in order to “get back” what they have spent to be where they are.

Politics is not a cheap business and most major political parties in Indonesia remain dominated by old money with ties to Soeharto’s corrupt new order era.

President Joko Widodo rose to political prominence because he was seen as “a breath of fresh air” in Indonesian politics and part of a new generation of politicians with no connection to political aristocracy. “A new hope” was how Time magazine described Jokowi in its October 15 edition.

But things aren’t always what they seem. As it turns out, Jokowi has his hands tied, partly because he is not the main figure of his political party, PDI-Perjuangan.

It is widely believed that Jokowi is beholden to PDI-Perjuangan chairwoman Megawati Sukarnoputri, although few could have imagined the scale of her influence in the day-to-day running of the government.

The writings were on the wall when Megawati repeatedly alluded to him being “the skinny man” and “party officer”.

As if trying to show who the real boss is, Megawati refused to let Jokowi took the podium during a PDI-Perjuangan congress and hectored the party’s rank and file about their obligations as party functionaries, threatening to expel anyone refusing to toes the party line.

There’s not much Jokowi can do because he needs PDI-P’s support in parliament. But this does not bode well for Indonesia in the next four years.

The government’s lacklustre attempts at reform have prompted investors to adopt a “wait and see”attitude, while the rupiah continues to slide.

The Democratic Party is no different. Former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has just recently been re-elected as the party’s chairman.

The 65-year old retired general took over the party’s leadership from Anas Urbaningrum in 2013 after the latter was named a corruption suspect.

Co-founding the Democratic Party in 2001, SBY is considered as part of the old regime as he served in the military until he retired in 2000. “The thinking general,” as he has come to be known, served under the late president Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati Sukarnoputri before successfully running for president in 2004.

Yudhoyono’s re-election was considered inevitable, as the party struggled to look for a strong leader after several of its younger members, including Anas and former sports minister Andi Mallarangeng, were arrested for graft cases.

The other old guard politicians dominating politics in Indonesia include Prabowo Subianto, 65, Surya Paloh, 63, Aburizal Bakrie, 68, and ex-general Wiranto, also 68.

Dynasty politics is also very much alive today, spreading like disease from political parties to executives in the regions.

The 68-year old Megawati Sukarnoputri is grooming her daughter, Puan Maharani at the PDI-Perjuangan just as Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is grooming his son Edhie Baskoro Yudhoyono at the Democrat party.

What they are doing is only inviting a wave of public cynicism.

This is a clear indication that the reform movement of 1998 was only successful in replacing Soeharto as president, but did not significantly change Indonesia’s political landscape.

Where do we go from here? We know it is almost impossible for young cadres to reach top positions in a political party while old figures with influence and money are still holding on to the command stick.

Young buds needs lots of sunshine to grow, and the old guard are just simply blocking it. Indonesia needs to move on and look for new leaders who can rise to the occasion.

Establishing a new political party is not cheap, and it will take a lot of work to make it popular. It would be wise, for the sake of injecting fresh blood, that the old generation of politicians to step aside and give the chance to the youth to start taking up the baton.

Barack Obama became president when he was 47. I am sure there are local Obamas who aspire to follow his path. It’s time that the old let some sunshine in.

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