SBY Dynasty Hopes Stumble on Nepotism in Indonesia

Party conflict hindering Agus’s ambition for power

The ambition of Indonesia's former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to install one of his sons as the country’s leader and create a family dynasty has hit a major roadblock with the emergence of internal conflicts within the Democratic Party, which is controlled by the Yudhoyono family and hopes to install the 42-year-old Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono as a 2024 presidential candidate.

Party members are criticizing SBY for managing the democrats as a "family party" and are planning leadership reforms to remove Agus from his position as chairman. The intraparty squabble is a disheartening comedown for the party, which though small dominated Indonesian politics through SBY’s decade-long reign as president from 2004 to 2014. However, his later years were plagued with scandals including the indictment of the party treasurer, Muhammad Nazaruddin, for bribery, as well as the jailing of Youth and Sports Minister Andi Mallarangeng for corruption involving the construction of an athletic training camp. Tycoon Siti Hartati Murdaya, a member of the party's Advisory Board, who was also jailed for corruption, as was party chairman Anas Aurbaningrum.

Agus was elected chairman at a 2020 party congress. However, some senior and former members want him to resign because he is considered politically inexperienced and not capable of leading the party, which was already going into decline from the raft of corruption scandals and the ascendancy of parties aligned with the current president, Joko Widodo. Agus blamed the rebellion as a “coup attempt.”

The junior Yudhoyono announced several idividuals were trying to take over the party chairmanship, including an unnamed “important official” in Jokowi’s administration. Agus accused the official, later identified as Moeldoko, a former general and now the presidential chief of staff, of meeting with a number of Democratic Party members and attempting to ingratiate himself by promising large sums of money.

Based on the testimony of several members who met with Moeldoko, Agus said the takeover of the position of as party leader "would be used as a way or vehicle for (Moeldoko) to run for president in the upcoming 2024 elections." Agus sent a letter to the president asking for clarification regarding Moeldoko's involvement in the alleged coup attempt – which the palace subsequently said it didn’t take seriously because it considers it an internal Democratic Party problem.

Moeldoko has denied the allegations, saying he only met with a number of party members at his house and listened to their complaints regarding Agus's leadership. He said there was no interference from external parties, including the president, in disputes within the Democratic Party, but only involved internal parties. He 'advised' Agus to "be a strong leader, don't get carried away easily."

However, Moeldoko’s announcement did nothing to quell the conflict but rather heated it up, with former party members publicly criticizing Agus and SBY, a signal that the family’s political influence is waning, at least among some of his party members. Some even said they wanted Moeldoko to take over the party leadership.

The former chairman of the Democratic Party Supervisory Commission, Ahmad Yahya claims to have heard many complaints from party members in various regions about Agus's leadership. "They hope that the PD will be led by a figure who has leadership skills, experience and personality who can restore the glory of the Democratic Party as in 2004 and 2009," he said.

The Democratic Party won more than 21 million votes in the 2009 election, controlling about 20 percent of the seats in the house of representatives. However, in the 2014 election, the scandal-scarred party won nearly eight million fewer votes compared to the previous election. The vote continued to decline, to fewer than 11 million in the 2019 elections.

Agus, a former lieutenant general, spent most of his career in the army, and only entered politics in 2016 when the party appointed him as a candidate for governor of Jakarta, a steppingstone to the presidency. Yet he even lost in the first round and has since failed to capitalize on several other opportunities and positions such as being a vice presidential candidate with the defeated presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, and becoming one of the ministers in Jokowi’s cabinet.

In a speech in front of the party last February, Agus said he intended to advance in the 2024 national elections. However, his electability level according to the Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting survey at the end of 2020 stalled at around 3.1 percent, less than five other figures including the Governor of Central Java Ganjar Pranowo (15.7 percent) and Prabowo (14.9 percent), now the defense minister in Jokowi’s cabinet.

Indo Barometer executive director Muhammad Qodari said Agus isn’t as well-known as SBY when he founded the party in 2001, when he had capitalized on his reputation as a general to become a senior government and political figure. Without a public office, it is predicted that Agus will find it difficult to boost the Democratic vote or his electability.

Other party members criticized Agus as a premature leader who exists because of his father's role and influence. He didn’t start his political career at the bottom and did not feel the struggle to grow the party. "Never be a climber, but be at the top," said a party founder and senior member, Darmizal. Yahya and Darmizal agree that the party is now being managed as if it belongs to the SBY family where they can easily occupy strategic positions or be nominated for government positions.

The father and son now hold three key positions that will determine the fate of the party. SBY serves as the Party High Counsel, Agus as the General Chair. The deputy is his younger brother, Edhie Baskoro Yudhoyono (Ibas), a dominance hated by former and senior party politicians.

In fact, it is not only the democrats who are managed like a family party. Several others are also controlled by central figures – either because they have money, positions or other political capital - who freely form political dynasties, a way of passing power to others based on kinship. They include the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) led by the daughter of first president Megawati Sukarnoputri, Perindo controlled by businessman Hary Tanoesoedibjo, Nasdem led by media mogul Surya Paloh, and Gerindra controlled by Prabowo.

Some argue that political dynasties have made parties political machines to pursue power instead of functioning as a means of political education and control over the government. Party recruitment is based more on the popularity and wealth of the candidate so that instant candidates emerge from among celebrities, businessmen, and families without going through the regeneration process. This condition has the potential to close opportunities for reliable and qualified cadres to occupy strategic positions.

Executive Director of Indonesian Political Parameters Adi Prayitno said calls for rejection of Agus' leadership have been heard for a long time, but haven’t been considered a threat until recently it involved outsiders – in this case, Moeldoko. It is natural that internal conflicts occur within a party as is the case with the Golkar and Berkarya Parties, but it is necessary to be careful if it involves outsiders, let alone close to power.

Poltracking Indonesia Executive Director Hanta Yuda argued that the coup issue was only an internal problem. However, he said, Agus deliberately accused a common enemy – in this case, the government – to resolve internal party problems. The rebel faction has growing potential to erode SBY's family power and become a stumbling block for Agus to the presidency in 2024.

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