Democratic Party Urged to Bite Bullet on PKS

The Jakarta Globe
Fecha de publicación: 
10 Jun 2013

Experts say an Cabinet spot is just one benefit of expelling recalcitrant coalition member

The Democratic Party would be well advised to cut loose the rebellious Prosperous Justice Party from the ruling coalition, if only because it would gain at least one additional Cabinet spot, a prominent political commentator said on Monday.

Umar S. Bakry, executive director of the National Survey Institute (LSN), said an exit by the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), which has publicly opposed the government’s fuel price rise plan, would not significantly disrupt the six-party coalition.

“The Democratic Party would gain one or two more seats in the Cabinet. Moreover, its attention would not be divided because it would do away with the internal opposition and would not have to deal with more than its usual external political opposition parties,” Umar said in Jakarta on Monday.

“It would be able to more clearly distinguish between its enemies and its friends. So, PKS’s exit would not really threaten the Democratic Party’s interests,” he said.

Umar said he was unsure if Democratic Party chairman, and national president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono would be willing to expel the Islam-inspired party.

“I believe that if Yudhoyono had enough courage to fire PKS from the coalition, he would have done so a long time ago.”

But Grace Natalie, chief executive of Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting, said the Democratic Party would be vulnerable if it expelled PKS from the coalition.

Natalie said that such a move would prompt a power struggle between the Democratic Party and fellow coalition member Golkar, which may further disturb the coalition.

Natalie said Golkar could potentially take advantage of the Democrats’ weakened position by engaging in sneaky tactics to unsettle its coalition running mate.

“In terms of parliamentary seats, if the PKS were to leave, the coalition would still maintain dominance in the parliament. But the problem is that Golkar could not be trusted. Golkar politicians are political game playing experts, and with many experienced politicians it would not be a safe position to be in for the Democratic Party,” she said.

For now it seems the PKS is safe from expulsion, with Democratic Party deputy chairman Max Sopacua saying the party could not oust PKS from the coalition.

Max said that in opposing the fuel price rise, PKS should have walked out of the coalition. In a symbolic way, it already had through its agitation on the fuel price issue, he added.

“PKS is not the Democratic Party’s business. The Democratic Party cannot oust it from the coalition just like that due to our equal strategic positioning. But although we are equal, what truly sets us apart is that the Democratic Party fully supports the government,” Max said on Monday.

“So I do think that PKS should have been out by now because it opposed the government’s policy,” he said.

Former PKS chairman and Minister of Communications and Information Technology Tifatul Sembiring said the party planned to hold an emergency board of advisors meeting on Wednesday to clarify the party’s stance on the fuel price rise.

“I will be presenting arguments as to why the government has arrived at this decision to give my colleagues more understanding of the issue,” Tifatul said at the State Palace compound on Monday.

As a Cabinet minister and secretary of the government team assigned to win public support for the subsidized fuel price increase, Tifatul said he was compelled to support the program.

Tifatul has long been involved in the government’s fuel price policy campaigns and media strategy.

“I have been campaigning on TV, radio and newspapers,” he said.

Tifatul said it was too early to speculate on the outcome of the meeting, or about the board of advisors’ decision on whether PKS would remain in the coalition.

Hanta Yuda, director of research firm Pol-Tracking Institute, predicted that PKS’s opposition to the government’s fuel price policy will not boost its popularity and will likely backfire on the party.

“What the PKS is doing could be perceived in two ways,” Hanta said. On one hand, the PKS could be seen as a party willing to fight for people’s aspirations, but its position in the coalition meant that it could be perceived as inconsistent and hypocritical.

The government plans to increase the price of fuel by an average of 33 percent from the current Rp 4,500 (50 cents) a liter within weeks. The policy follows rising global oil prices that have exacerbated both the budget deficit at the trade deficit.

PKS last week antagonized the Democratic Party with a series of banners it displayed across Jakarta rallying public opposition to the fuel price rise. It also opposed a price rise proposed in March 2012.

by: Carlos Paath & Ezra Sihite