Oei Eng Goan
The absence of Anas Urbaningrum at the meeting of the Communication Forum of the Democratic Party’s founders held in Jakarta last Wednesday has raised public speculation that his position as the party’s general chairman is in deep trouble following allegations of his involvement in a major graft scandal.
People questioned why the chairman of the ruling party was not present at such an important meeting, which was attended by hundreds of party dignitaries, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
No explanation was given by party officials concerning Anas’ absence except a ludicrous statement that Anas might not have received the invitation to the meeting. Funnier still, not even a single picture of the chairman was on display at the meeting, which was held at the convention hall of Grand Sahid Jaya Hotel.
Nor did Anas turn up at the meeting of party officials held at Yudhoyono’s Cikeas private residence a day earlier.
The meeting of the forum known as FKPD was aimed at repairing the party’s image, which has been damaged by trillions of rupiah worth of graft scandals connected to the construction of the athletes’ village for last year’s Southeast Asian Games in Palembang, the Hambalang sports center in Bogor and procurement of equipment for several state-run universities.
Muhammad Nazaruddin is the party’s former treasurer and now a convicted corruptor. In his defense statement before an anticorruption court in Jakarta last December, he said Anas and other Democratic lawmakers — Mirwan Amir, Ignatius Mulyono, Angelina Sondakh and Andi Mallarangeng — were implicated in the scandals.
Despite their denials and the fact that Nazaruddin’s accusations have yet to be proven in court, public sympathy and support for the party has declined sharply, as shown by recent opinion polls. This grim fact has prompted Yudhoyono to call for troubled party members to step down.
Although Yudhoyono did not mention any names at last week’s meeting, political analysts said it was a hint to Anas to voluntarily resign from the chairmanship. Many Democrats believe Anas’ resignation will restore the party’s reputation and boost its electability, especially now that the 2014 presidential election is drawing ever closer.
Even though Yudhoyono, who will have already served two terms, will not be allowed to run again, Democrats want to see their party retain the upper hand in the political scene. How these corruption cases develop will be critical in that regard, as all indications are showing that they have already taken a major toll on how the party is perceived by the general public.
Anas, however, has strong support from regional and district party leaders across Indonesia, thanks to his lobbying skills. Unless he is found guilty of wrongdoing, he cannot be replaced or forced to resign until his tenure expires in 2015, in line with the party’s statutes.
In an apparent attempt to counter party dignitaries’ efforts to isolate him from the inner circle of power, Anas held a meeting with his supporters within the party at his residence on the same day of the FKPD, according to a report by Tempo released on Friday.
It does not take a genius to conclude that the move by Anas was meant to demonstrate his influence in the party and show he had an ace up his sleeve, which he will reveal when he is cornered by those who are against his chairmanship.
The ace, according to political observers, is Edhie “Ibas” Baskoro, the president’s youngest son and the party secretary general, who has a close relationship with Anas and who might also be involved in corruption.
Many believe that until the graft cases implicating Democrat officials are cleared, the political storm currently wracking the party will continue unabated, distancing it further and further from its sympathizers.
Oei Eng Goan, a former literature lecturer at the National University (UNAS) in Jakarta, is a freelance journalist.