Zakir Hussain – Straits Times
When The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) opposed cuts to fuel subsidies by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s government, fellow coalition members angrily called for the party to be kicked out.
But the President looks set to retain the often uncooperative and underperforming coalition member, for pragmatic reasons.
Keeping the PKS on board means the government will retain power should Golkar, a bigger partner in the coalition, ever defect. It also lets the government burnish its Islamic credentials, as PKS is the largest Muslim-based party.
“For the meantime, SBY [Yudhoyono] needs PKS and PKS still needs SBY,” said political scientist Burhanuddin Muhtadi of the State Islamic University in Jakarta.
PKS leaders appear to know that. Communication and information minister Tifatul Sembiring, a former PKS president, told The Straits Times that the “PKS remains in the coalition.”
“The problem is one of miscommunication,” he said.
‘PKS has been with the President from the start,” he added, referring to how the party and smaller partners backed Yudhoyono in the 2009 presidential election.
Golkar had initially backed former vice-president Jusuf Kalla, and joined the coalition only after Yudhoyono won with 60 per cent of the vote.
Many Democrat ministers and coalition party leaders had expressed their unhappiness with the PKS for breaking ranks with the government decision to reduce fuel subsidies on April 1. But few expressed open disdain for Golkar, which at a late hour forced the cut to be delayed.
PKS was not invited to a meeting of coalition leaders to discuss its fate, and its flag was taken down from outside the coalition headquarters in central Jakarta.
Yudhoyono has yet to make a statement on the matter, but it now looks increasingly unlikely that the PKS will be expelled.
The loss of PKS’ 57 seats in Parliament would hardly cause a dent in the workings of government. But there is no ruling out that despite assurances of loyalty, leading coalition member Golkar with its 106 seats may break ranks, leading to the scenario where the current administration may lose its majority in Parliament before its term runs out in 2014, politicians and analysts say.
Having PKS stay in will lessen the blow of a Golkar breakoff. Golkar officials have said they are committed to the coalition. But many note that Golkar’s actions have been aimed at boosting its image to be in pole position at the next election.
Said a coalition insider: ‘Golkar’s position is on the rise, and they are ruling the roost. We know they are not the good guys.’
PKS’ three ministers are continuing their work as usual. Just this week, Social Affairs Minister Salim Segaf Al Jufri announced assistance for earthquake victims in Sumatra.
The Democrat-led coalition has three other members, all Muslim-based parties with 112 seats between them.
But PKS commands a significant middle-class support base in urban areas, and is able to rapidly mobilise supporters for various causes, which is why it remains valuable to the ruling coalition.
Observers note that Dr Yudhoyono is also on amicable terms with many of the party’s religious leaders.
Several researchers have also found that the PKS has managed to keep many young Indonesian Muslims away from radical groups, and continues to be a valuable partner to government.
As Dr Farish Noor of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies noted in a recent paper, PKS “does seek to ensure that members of the party do not veer too far off the track and engage in the sort of violent, radical, anti-state activities that are associated with some of the more violent and radical Islamist groups in the country.”
Ruling coalition’s seats of power
Indonesia’s six-party ruling coalition commands a comfortable majority with 423 seats in the 560-seat Parliament.
The Democrats hold 148 seats, Golkar has 106 and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) 57.
The National Mandate Party (PAN) has 46 seats, while the United Development Party (PPP) has 38 and the National Awakening Party (PKB) 28.
So even if the PKS were to leave, the coalition would be left with a comfortable 366 seats.
But strategists note that having the PKS out could well put the ruling coalition in a precarious position over the next two years.
For if Golkar were to then ditch the government, the coalition would be left with a minority of 260 seats, effectively bringing the administration to an end.
On the other hand, if just Golkar leaves, the coalition would still hold 317 seats, enough to see it through to 2014.