Politics, Romance Intertwine in Indonesia

Indonesians are agog over the wedding of the century so far, traffic jams and all. It is a gala affair that began Tuesday in Jakarta and is due to span the next three days, with the union of the son of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the daughter of the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Hatta Rajasa.

Inevitably the nuptials have stirred gossip that the marriage is more political bargain than culmination of a love affair. It is being described as a “new Cikeas Dynasty,” a reference to the president’s home in West Java. The union is said to have been engineered by Kristiani Herawati, the president’s wife, in the hopes of eventually seeing the couple’s youngest son, Edhie Baskoro Yudhoyono, 29, follow his father to the presidency. The bride, Siti Ruby Aliaya Rajasa, was said to be studying in London when called home for the marriage.

Under this scenario, Hatta Rajasa, the chairman of the moderate Islamist National Mandate Party (PAN), would be nominated in 2014 to replace SBY, as the president is universally known, as the country’s chief executive in national elections. PAN has already announced that Hatta, a seasoned political veteran who has served in four different cabinets and is one of the president’s closest advisors, would be nominated as the party‘s candidate.

That works for the president. The Democratic Party, which he heads, is in a shambles over a continuing scandal involving bribes allegedly paid to some of the party’s top officials in the building of the athletes’ village for the Southeast Asian Games, due to conclude tomorrow in Palembang.

There appears to be nobody at this point in the party with the stature to succeed Yudhoyono as presidential candidate. There had been worries, in fact, that the scandal could destroy the party. Some of the reformers who came into politics with the president have been irrevocably tarred. Hatta appears to be the most credible alternative at this point to take on a resurgent Golkar, the party created by the strongman Suharto. Golkar is now headed by the powerful coal tycoon Aburizal Bakrie, who has made no secret of his ambition to run.

If Hatta can win, serves the theoretical and obligatory two terms and term limits then end his political career, Edhie, also known as Ibas, would be 39 and presumably seasoned enough to follow him into the presidency according to the gossip mill.

Whether the reports have any credibility, President Yudhoyono felt called upon Tuesday to deny that the pending marriage was indeed intended to cement a coalition between the Democrats and PAN. According to the so-called “love coalition” speculation, the marriage was designed to create a bond between the two parties.

Certainly, whether it involves the marriage of two political parties, it does involve the marriage of two cultures – Javanese and Sumatran. Yudhoyono hails from Pacitan in East Java while Hatta is from Palembang in South Sumatra, the site of the ill-starred games.

In any case, Yudhoyono told reporters, the marriage was his son’s personal choice. “We ask for Allah’s blessing upon our plan to marry our sons and daughters Edhie Baskoro and his choice Siti Ruby Aliya Rajasa on November 24, 2011,” he told reporters.

Political coupling or no, the three-day ceremony has Indonesians excited. Thousands of guests were invited, with an Islamic prayer and a siraman (translated as “splash of water”) shower ceremony at Yudhoyono’s private residence in Bogor, then followed by another at Hatta’s home in South Jakarta on Tuesday.

A convoy carrying the groom’s family visited the bride’s to formally seek her hand. Since the two homes are roughly 100 km. apart, Indonesians braced for traffic jams in an already chaotic city as the presidential convoy and ambassadors, politicians and dignitaries raced between the two locations. Police, however, said they would keep traffic distraction to a minimum.

Festivities are to resume tomorrow with the official union at the Cipanas Palace in West Java before 1,000 guests. The reception is to be held Saturday at the Jakarta Convention Center with 3,600 invited guests.

The president has said that no public funds are to be spent on the ceremonies, and that in fact he will be at his desk throughout.

“We all understand that for the ordinary citizen, it’s reasonable to take a day off for a wedding in the family, but as the head of state the president can’t do this,” a palace spokesman said.

The spokesman added that the stream of politicians, ambassadors and other VIPs would not disrupt regular traffic.

“We’ve planned it so that the guests first gather at a rest stop at the 45-kilometer point of the road. From there, they will head together in a convoy escorted by police so that there will be minimal disruption to the traffic,” the spokesman said.

(With reporting from Jakarta Globe)