Yudhoyono may lose sight of presidency in party wrangles

Bagus BT Saragih in Jakarta/The Jakarta Post
Asia News Network

Jakarta (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - As Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono tries to deal with the turmoil that has rocked his Democratic Party, critics worry that his decision to take over the party could adversely impact his running of the country.

On Sunday evening, Yudhoyono met with leaders of all 33 Democratic Party provincial branches at his private residence in Cikeas, Bogor, West Java, in an apparent move to strengthen his grip on the party's nationwide structure after taking over control from incumbent chairman Anas Urbaningrum.

Following the meeting, Yudho-yono ordered all provincial branch leaders to sign integrity pacts that would ban them from engaging in corrupt practices.

Yudhoyono also defended his decision to take control of the party.

"I am committed to my oath to serve the country. My predecessors, such as the late National Awakening Party [PKB] chief patron Abdurrahman Wahid and Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle [PDI-P] chairperson Megawati Soekarnoputri, also ran their parties without ignoring the state," Yudhoyono said.

Yudhoyono's decision to involve himself in the party's internal affairs by wresting control from Anas was announced on Friday night following long meetings with party patrons late last week.

Many have criticised the decision. "Yudhoyono must be careful in making such a decision because it could be a political blunder. His decision to take over the party may consume his resources and compromise his concentration on governing the state," IndoBarometer political analyst M. Qodari said on Sunday.

Qodari warned that if it appeared his government's performance was affected, it could be even worse for Yudhoyono's image and the popularity of the Democratic Party. "He mustn't let his efforts to salvage his party wreck the country."

Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) analysts Burhanuddin Muhtadi concurred with Qodari. "This is the last two years of Yudhoyono's administration. He should be concerned that people will only remember him as a mediocre president if his government fails to perform," he said.

Yudhoyono's decision to take on the responsibility for his party has also led to criticism from politicians, particularly those from parties in his ruling coalition.

"I think Yudhoyono's decision is a serious threat to the effectiveness of the Cabinet. The government could lose focus if his ministers follow his example in dealing largely with the problems of their respective political parties," Golkar Party lawmaker Bambang Soesatyo said.

In July last year, Yudhoyono told a Cabinet meeting that ministers who were too busy with their political activities ahead of the 2014 election should resign. He said he wanted all Cabinet members to prioritise the government's interests.

Presidential spokesman Julian Aldrin Pasha denied suggestions that Yudhoyono's interference in the Democratic Party could compromise his duties as President.

"The President has always put the state's interests ahead of everything. He is busy coordinating with his ministers, asking for reports and so on but not all of his activities are covered by the media. I think many analysts have failed to understand this, leading to them making comments that discredit the President," he said in a statement.

Julian said that Yudhoyono had little option but to step in and deal with the troubles that had beset his party. "The current situation has forced the President, as the Democratic Party's founder and chief patron, to devote a little portion of his time to salvage the party. His decision must be supported, otherwise, he could be deemed as unconcerned about the party's fate," Julian added.

Separately, Anas, who was not invited to the Cikeas meeting, has continued to act as if he is still in charge of the party. On Saturday, he inaugurated heads of party branches at regency and municipality levels in Banten, giving the impression that he still wields power within the party.