Agus H Yudhoyono chairing a press conference for the Democratic Party

Agus H Yudhoyono chairing a press conference for the Democratic Party on 8 March, 2021. (Screengrab: Agus Yudhoyono, Youtube)

The Democrat Party Split: Dynastic versus All-Party Politics

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President Joko Widodo’s recent political gain comes at the cost of his predecessor.

On 2 February, Agus H Yudhoyono (AHY), the Chairman of the Democrat Party (PD), publicly accused President Joko Widodo’s Chief of Staff, retired General Moeldoko, of plotting to organise an Extraordinary Congress (KLB) of the PD to seize the leadership of the opposition party. Moeldoko, not a PD member, denied the accusations.  

AHY is the son Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono who preceded Widodo as president. Moeldoko was the Commander of the Armed Forces under President Yudhoyono from 2013 to 2015. Since January 2018, he has served as President Widodo’s Chief of Staff. He is also a central leader in the Indonesian Farmers Association (HKTI) alongside Fadli Zon, a leading politician from Prabowo Subianto’s Gerindra Party.

On 5 March, a KLB of the PD elected Moeldoko as Chairperson of the party. AHY rejected this as unconstitutional under the party’s rules. His supporters claimed the party majority supported AHY. The party has split. The Moeldoko leadership has lodged its papers to seek formal recognition, which AHY is challenging. The outcome of their application could influence who sits as PD members of parliament. 

The fact that this nation-wide elite is fractured does lead to struggles over access to state resources, but not over policies.

The split renders the PD impotent while consumed with this controversy. The Widodo government was already facing virtually “no opposition” from the two divided parties in the parliament outside the sprawling 12-party ruling coalition. It would be surprising if a Moeldoko-led PD did not join the government, leaving only the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) outside the government. Indonesia would almost have an “all-party government”. 

Last December, the House Speaker, Puan Maharani, former president Megawati Sukarnoputri’s daughter, proposed that the constitution could be amended to allow a President to have a third term. The National Democrats (Nasdem), a smaller ruling coalition party, floated this same bold idea a year earlier. This would need a two-thirds vote in the Peoples’ Consultative Assembly (MPR) composed of the House of Representatives (DPR) and the Regional Representative Council (DPD). In the DPR, the government currently is three seats short of a two-thirds majority. That Moeldoko is Presidential Chief of Staff has heightened suspicions that the government wants to pursue this and raised questions as to Palace involvement in the PD split. Moeldoko’s PD spokespersons have denied any such calculations.

More broadly, the PD split reflects the major tension underpinning the Indonesian party system. In terms of outlook related to economic, political, and social policies, there are no substantive differences among the fourteen parties in parliament, including the PKS. Any apparent ‘polarisation’ during presidential campaigns has been rhetorical only. The parties, shared outlook on basic policy questions is because their leaderships represent different cultural factions, with their primary bases of support in different regions, of a socio-economic elite that has the same basis. This is the tens of thousands of bureaucratic and small to medium business families spread throughout the country that are steeped in alliances with large conglomerate capital, now widely referred to as the oligarchy. This shared outlook provides the basis for all parties to be able to work together on policy. The fact that this nation-wide elite is fractured does lead to struggles over access to state resources, but not over policies. 

There is one “spanner in the works” anomaly, however.

The 32 years of crony capitalism under President Suharto left a legacy of dynastic business and politics. While there has been an underpinning consensus among the parties on policy, some parties have also been driven by dynastic or personal ambitions. The PD was founded by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and became his vehicle for presidential elections. The Gerindra party was built around Prabowo Subianto. The PDIP is dominated by Megawati Sukarnoputri and her daughter. Against their shared ideological outlook, dynastic rivalries can create divides.

In the current government, such dynastic divides have come into tension with the magnetic pull of all-party politics that soon may leave the PKS as the only party outside the ruling coalition. In the case of Gerindra, the tension between these two trends was resolved, for the time being, through Prabowo Subianto’s rapprochement with President Widodo after their 2019 electoral battle. Whatever individual, personal, clique or dynastic ambitions inside and outside the PD are operating, the party’s split is a manifestation of this tension between the pull to be inside the “all-party” ruling coalition and the greater access to state resources this would provide and the pull to retain the centrality of the Yudhoyono’s in the party’s leadership. To insist on the latter will continue to preclude PD from the ruling coalition, due to the rivalry coloured by bitter experience between Megawati and the senior Yudhoyono who succeeded her as president, which had cemented the position of the Yudhoyono dynasty as outsider rivals in the current political environment.

This tension between “all-partyism” and personal and dynastic politics is likely to remain strong. And Moeldoko may be the newest player in this game. Even President Widodo, apparently the ultimate “all-party” man, is now seen as having dynastic ambitions as his son has been elected Mayor of Solo and his son-in-law as Mayor of Medan. These dynastic rivalries may mean more repeats of bouts of rhetorical polarisation in the future, although rapprochements are not out of the question. Deal-making is becoming supreme art.

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