Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Swimming with ‘Piranhas’

No. 07/VIII/October 16-22, 2007


Sutiyoso claims to have the support of small parties, professional organizations and a military “chieftain.” But his popularity remains low.

AFTER bidding farewell to his Jakarta gubernatorial office, Sutiyoso is getting busier than ever. Following his declaration as a presidential contender on Monday last week, the three-star retired serviceman has been on the move.

Tuesday last week, for instance, he visited Mbah Maridjan at the foot of Mt Merapi, Yogyakarta. There, Sutiyoso was accompanied by Indonesian boxing champion Chris John, who along with Maridjan starred in an energy drink commercial.

Back to the capital, Sutiyoso appeared on television as well as in newspapers. The whole of last week practically saw Sutiyoso emerging as a new national political star.

Sutiyoso has made sure that his political machine will keep running in the coming weeks. “So that the public knows me before the presidential elections,” he disclosed.

To ensure a thundering machine, Sutiyoso needs money and advisors. Hersubeno Arief, a journalist turning to the media team of Sutiyoso, said a jumbo campaign team was promptly set up after Sutiyoso’s farewell as governor last week.

The big team will complement the small one so far working full-time in Sutiyoso’s political chambers. This minor team embodies figures from various circles: retired generals, political leaders from a number of small parties, mass organization chiefs, and several entrepreneurs.

Among the military figures are former Vice President Gen. (ret) Try Sutrisno and ex-Chairman of the State Intelligence Agency, Maj. Gen. (ret) Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono as well as several former military officials. The retirees generally act as political consultants.

They, for instance, provide inputs for Sutiyoso about tactics to win the hearts of the public and party leaders, the right time to make a declaration and how to present it. “It’s normal, just like in a military exercise, where a good maneuver is shown,” said Hendropriyono.

The date of his candidacy declaration, October 1, 2007, coinciding with the Pancasila Sanctity Day, was also suggested by some of the advisers. They hoped Sutiyoso would be as invincible as the Pancasila ideology.

The big support from ex-soldiers was also acknowledged by Sutiyoso. In declaring his entry, Sutiyoso claimed he was backed by a lot of retired members of the Indonesian Military (TNI).

The audience packing the program, according to Sutiyoso, was invited by Try Sutrisno. Sutiyoso added: “He is the ‘chieftain’ of retired TNI officers.”

The advice given to Sutiyoso involves not only tactics to win elections but also ways of accepting a defeat. As in a battle, said Hendropriyono, Sutiyoso should be prepared for all risks, including failure.

Chairman of the Retired Army Members Association (PPAD) Lt. Gen. (ret) Suryadi made no denial that some of his members support Sutiyoso. But Suryadi claimed he is not one of them. “PPAD only takes care of retired servicemen,” he said.

Besides military retirees, the political camp of Sutiyoso is cheered on by 14 political parties. They are of different origins. Some are new ones like the Republican Party and State Defenders Party. Others have existed for quite a while although they are not so big, such as the Independence Bull National Party (PNBK). Before the declaration on Monday last week, Sutiyoso had met with the parties’ executives many times.

The idea of running for president, said Eros Djarot, head of PNBK, was first intensely discussed six months ago. At the time several heads of the parties were frequently invited to Sutiyoso’s residence. There they talked about political and economic conditions. “I proposed that Sutiyoso come forward as an aspirant in the 2009 presidential elections,” said Eros.

The various party leaders agreed with the proposal and Sutiyoso himself was enthusiastic. So he made the declaration. Sutiyoso has subsequently been accompanied everywhere by the political consultants and party executives.

Despite their large number, the parties backing Sutiyoso are still small in size. Eros expressed conviction that the many parties would grow into Sutiyoso’s strength.

Just like piranhas, said Eros as a metaphor, “Though small, in a large shoal they can shake a boat.” When they abound, “Even a whale will be devoured.”

Sutiyoso’s campaign team is focusing on a bigger number of “piranhas.” “Our target is now to garner 15 percent support as required for participation in the presidential race,” said Hersubeno. The 15 percent is expected to be secured from the group of small parties.

Sutiyoso has apparently calculated. If the minor parties’ votes are below the quota, he expects his fortune to come from the “whales”—the major parties.

That’s why before his declaration on Monday last week, Sutiyoso visited Megawati Sukarnoputri, Chairperson of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

Megawati has indeed been nominated by the PDI-P for the 2009 presidency. However, some sources believe this party may as well field Sutiyoso.

Sutiyoso seems desirous of building a vast coalition. Apart from meeting with the PDI-P boss, he also approached leaders of the National Mandate Party (PAN) and several other parties’ leaders.

In a discussion at the House of Representatives (DPR) end-September, Soetrisno Bachir, Chairman of PAN, stressed that his party could become a political vehicle of Sutiyoso in the 2009 presidential elections.

“While he used to be called Bang Yos, from now on we call him Mas Yos,” said Soetrisno. His reason was that “sixty percent of voters are Javanese.” Sutiyoso will continue to cozy up to these jumbo parties.

In addition to consolidating forces from political parties, Sutiyoso is also raising funds. Donations can be derived from a number of businessmen so far intimately connected with Sutiyoso.

For the declaration, besides being financed with his own money, part of the fund came from people sympathizing with the nomination of this former Jakarta Governor. How much is the fund? “Ah, it’s a small sum. If we say Rp25 million, you won’t believe it,” remarked Hersubeno.

It seems that Sutiyoso’s political machine must run even more swiftly.­ Based on different opinion polls conducted by several survey agencies, his name remains at the bottom.

Just take a look at the recent Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) poll. Respondents were asked about their presidential candidates for 2009. The question was open-ended, meaning that every respondent listed their own champion.

The outcome? Sutiyoso was only supported by 1 percent of the respondents. He was the last of eight top nominees. Above him were such “big” names as Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Megawati Sukarnoputri, Amien Rais, Gen. (ret) Wiranto, Jusuf Kalla, and Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X. Compared with these figures, Sutiyoso is in fact still way down.

Wenseslaus Manggut, Raden Rachmadi

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