SBY’s dynastic ambitions
27 Feb 2017|

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Rather than assuming the mantle of a distinguished elder statesman, former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has done himself considerable harm by mixing religion and populism in an unsuccessful effort to create a political dynasty.

As chairman of the fourth-ranked Democrat Party, he may not be going quietly into the night, but nor is he having much luck with his two thirty-something sons, political heirs-apparent who do not appear to be cutting the mustard. Eldest son Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, 38, came a distant third in the February 15 Jakarta gubernatorial election, behind ethnic-Chinese incumbent Basuki ‘Ahok’ Purnama and former education minister, Anies Baswaden, who will meet in a showdown on April 19.

The former president is widely believed to have provided some of the funding and support for the two massive anti-Purnama demonstrations in November and December following the Governor’s controversial indictment for blasphemy.

He has also had to publically fight off claims that he encouraged conservative Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) Chairman Ma’ruf Amin, a former member of his presidential advisory council, to issue an edict against Purnama.

It isn’t clear whether Yudhoyono Snr is the driving force behind the effort to perpetuate his name, or whether it is the family of former first lady Kristiani Harimurti, daughter of the legendary general Sarwo Edhie Wibowo. But in a country where only ruling Indonesian Democrat Party for Struggle (PDI-P) leader and former president Megawati Sukarnoputri has been able to carry on the name and political heritage of her late father, founding president Sukarno, it is not as simple as it may look.

Ask another retired general, Prabowo Subianto, son of economist and nationalist leader, Soemitro Djojohadikusumo, who was denied fulfilling his father’s dream by a simple out-of-towner called Joko Widodo when he initially looked to be a shoo-in for president in 2014.

Unlike the Philippines, where family dynasties have held sway for generations through an enduring mixture of patronage, economic dependency and even force, Indonesians are not all that happy about political families passing on the baton. While University of Northern Illinois researcher Michael Beuhler points to about 60 cases where dynasties have taken root, most notably in the western Java province of Banten and in parts of Central Kalimantan, voters often refuse to play ball at the ballot box.

It is often said Sarwo Edhie Wibowo’s widow drove a hesitant Yudhoyono to run for the presidency in 2004, still embittered by president Suharto sidelining her popular husband after his purge of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) in the mid-1960s. Yudhoyono himself never seemed to consider his younger son, Edhie Baskoro, 36, for the Jakarta gubernatorial candidacy, even though he is the Democrat Party’s current parliamentary leader and a former secretary general.

Instead, he cut short Agus’ military career and thrust him into the race, where the television debates found him looking like a deer in the headlights and ill-prepared for the cut and thrust of Indonesian politics. He was much better on the stump, however, raising questions whether Yudhoyono made a strategic error focusing on the negatives of Purnama’s blasphemy case, rather than playing to his son’s drawing power among Jakarta’s youth.

Why Yudhoyono overlooked Edhie Baskoro for the Jakarta race is unclear, but it may have been the $200 million Hambalang sports complex corruption scandal which led to the jailing of Democrat chairman Anas Urbaningrum, sports minister Andi Mallarangeng, and two other senor party officials. Urbaningrum and jailed treasurer Muhammad Nazaruddin both hinted at Edhie’s involvement in the scandal that rocked the country in 2013; as secretary-general since 2010, it was thought he must have at least been aware of what was going on. Some of the ill-gotten gains are suspected of entering Democrat Party coffers, but the Anti-Corruption Commission said the evidence was flimsy and Edhie himself denied the allegations, saying people were using his name for their own interests.

As SBY entered his second term, there was persistent speculation his wife was being groomed to succeed him. Perhaps his closest adviser, her place at the centre of power probably explains why Australian eavesdroppers were tapping her phone. If it had been a trial balloon, a lack of public enthusiasm saw it quickly deflate, and as early as 2010, he was publicly denying that any members of his family would run for president in 2014.

Two years later, he narrowed that down to ‘my wife and children,’ which left the door ajar for Kristiani’s brother, the newly-retired former Special Forces commander, Maj-Gen Edhie Pramono Wibowo, to throw his cap in the ring.  Predictably, the strange Democrat presidential primary he contested with 11 other hopefuls in 2014 came to nothing because the party fell short of the votes needed for it to field a candidate. But an independent poll of convention participants gave the general a 2.7% popularity rating, testimony to his lack of charisma, the military’s loss of pulling power—and perhaps to a wider voting public that doesn’t want politics all in the family.

In that regard, the Yudhoyonos only have to look forward now to the 2019 legislative elections where Edhie, for all his reported failings, would already seem to be an odds-on favourite for his father’s East Java hometown constituency of Pacitan. He won a second legislative term there by a landslide in 2014, with Democrat candidates underlining the outgoing president’s imperial reach by seizing all but one of the other six constituencies across the rest of southeast Java. What remains to be seen now is whether Agus has lost his taste for politics, or whether Dad has new plans in store for a young retired major with his whole life ahead of him.