Sat, 21 Feb 2004

This is the 20th article in a series on the 24 political parties contesting the 2004 elections.

Security comes before recovery: Democratic party

Sandy Darmosumarto, Research and Development Unit, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Disillusion typically follows euphoria, and one usual response is a wish to return to the good old days, or at least a semblance of them. This is the inspiration behind many new parties, and the Democratic Party is no exception.

Therefore, the figure of retired general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono conforms with the image of some of a potential leader concerned with order and security, with a fair pinch of democracy, respect for human rights and respect for the military. The communications skills of the coordinating minister for political and security affairs, who, like other officers, had military training in the United States, are not bad either.

With such a figure one's fears of the reformasi era going wild with its ugly excesses are somewhat appeased, and hopes are raised that the country might be able to resume some of its dignity lost during the crisis. Susilo fared comparatively well in a number of polls on favorite future leaders held last year (although a bulk of respondents, or 34 percent of those polled in September by the International Foundation for Election Systems said they didn't know whom to nominate as president).

He lost the vice presidential contest in 1999 to Hamzah Haz, though he gained unanimous support from the military and police faction in the legislature -- and has now benefited from disappointment at the current leadership.

He has been nominated as presidential candidate, not only by the Democratic Party; he is also being considered by at least another party led by a retired general, Edi Sudradjat of the Indonesian Justice and Unity Party (PKP Indonesia). If Susilo was in Golkar, formerly the most powerful party, he might have made its convention of presidential candidates more lively.

And Susilo, military chief of staff of territorial affairs from 1998 to 1999, will also benefit from the fact that there is no rule against parties embracing figures beyond their own circle as their presidential candidate.

He recently gained positive PR for his ethical stand when he stated he would resign from the Cabinet, even before the government passed a rule on making ministers non-active if they were running for the presidency along with their boss, Megawati Soekarnoputri.

Susilo's supporters and cofounders of this party include scholars and legislators who supported him in 1999. The party's red-and-white logo bears its nationalist colors in line with the nation's flag, and the party booklet says the triangular star- shaped logo symbolizes harmony, pluralism and humanism, against a blue, pacific background.

Prioritize a sense of security, the party implies, and economic, social and political stability will follow. To heal the nation its agenda promises "recovery, reform and reconciliation". Like-minded celebrities such as Dedy Mizwar and Angelina Sondakh sit on its board, already sprinkled with MA and MBA degrees.

All this from a retired general with no trail of annoying charges of human rights abuse, and the new party expressing confidence of being able to pass the threshold.

But party leaders like Budhisantoso, a professor of anthropology at the University of Indonesia, know that much work is needed to make people actually latch on to the party logo and pierce it on election day.

No matter how popular a political figure may be, what good is that if people don't know what party he comes from?

The party's deputy secretary-general, Ponti Pandean, told The Jakarta Post that his party was "an alternative for people from all walks of life" who were disappointed with the current situation and the internal struggles found in large, established, political parties like Golkar.

Ponti claimed that public demand for Susilo's leadership was strong in regions prone to conflict and rioting such as Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam -- where enthusiastic faces greet Susilo every time duty calls to the troubled province -- and the eastern part of the country. His estimates sound quite extraordinary; around 30 percent of total votes in the eastern regions would favor the party, he said. Then again, the party can look to secretary- general E. Mangindaan, a respected retired military figure and former governor of North Sulawesi.

Another hopeful source of votes is Java, especially in East Java, where Susilo's hometown, Pacitan, lies.

The party, however, lacks links to mass organizations compared with others. Nevertheless, its executives hope that Susilo's popularity will also draw voters from Muslims in the largest organizations, the Muhammadiyah or Nadhlatul Ulama.