Commentary: Sri Mulyani, Boediono are just appetizers: Main course is SBY

Jakarta, The Jakarta Post, January 19,2010 -

Kornelius Purba ,  The Jakarta Post ,  Jakarta   |  Tue, 01/19/2010 9:23 AM

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono could learn at least one thing from Soeharto's leadership: Do not ever let other people bully your top aides. (For your own protection, because the next target is you). President Yudhoyono is now within the shooting range of his political opponents who think they are in the process of taking a final and deadly shot at Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati and Vice President Boediono. And it is very possible that their guns will soon be pointed at the President himself.

For several weeks in 1997, the media and the public ridiculed the former manpower minister Abdul Latief for using the state-owned social security firm PT Jamsostek's fund to finance the deliberation of a manpower bill, including the alleged bribing of legislators.

But on Dec. 4, 1997, president Soeharto told Latief to tell the media that "I was instructed by the president to use the Jamsostek fund".

The victorious minister then boasted: "The President instructed me to convey this to the press."

Soeharto took responsibility for it in public. But in private he severely scolded his minister. Meanwhile, Yudhoyono refused to take responsibility, perhaps because he is still in the euphoria of his victory in the 2009 presidential election, and the preceding convincing win of his Democratic Party in the April legislative elections.

What is the moral of the Abdul Latief's story? We expect Yudhoyono to tell the nation that he is responsible for the Bank Century bailout, but knowing his character, it is very unlikely that he will have enough courage to follow Soeharto's suit. It seems that he prefers to buy time, while he waits for a miracle - who knows, maybe Indonesians will suddenly forget about the scandal.

President Yudhoyono will mark his first 100 days of government on Jan. 28. Of course it is very natural that he and his inner circle people are too busy to show off the government's achievements.

He could talk to his ministers in private. Many of them feel uneasy about making major decisions because they worry their boss will not back them up if they face trouble as a result of their policies, even if it was their boss asking them to make such decisions.

Yudhoyono has allowed his Cabinet to become preoccupied by the scandal. What progress can we expect from a government whose officials do not have a strong guarantee from the President that they are completely under his full protection?

The President did little - if anything - to rescue Sri Mulyani and Boediono from the ridiculous acts of the members of the House Representative‚Äôs Bank Century inquiry committee. To be honest, this was not only cowardly, but also a fatal act by the President. Does the President realize that like wolves that have smelt blood, his political rivals are now targeting the President himself as their main course in their planned lavish dinner? The minister and/or the Vice President are just the appetizers.  

It would be very strategic for Yudhoyono to defend his loyal minister like Sri Mulyani not just because this country needs reform-minded minister like her whose track records show that she is brilliant and honest (a very difficult combination in this country), but also because there is no limit to those power-and money-hungry politicians.

Does the President realize that after his two appearances before the House inquiry committee, Vice President Boediono looked a like a man who could not even protect himself from the legislators' bullying?

More than 60 percent of voters entrusted Yudhoyono in the July 2009 presidential election to lead this country for another five years. Apart from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), all major political parties surrendered and begged him for positions in the Cabinet.  He obliged the political parties to formally sign a contract absolute - which is now obsolete - obedience and loyalty to him.

But as shown during the House's inquiry sessions, the political contract is a mere formality for the political parties. The interests of politicians in the House and in the Cabinet are completely different:

All of them prioritize their own interests. Yudhoyono is naive if he thinks that he can easily end this political brouhaha just by threatening to throw out political parties from the Cabinet. Politicians from the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) in the Cabinet - as well as other ministers from other parties - want to make sure that their position is guaranteed in the Cabinet (to ensure that they will be able to accomplish their mission to create a prosperous and just Indonesia), while the party's legislators are thinking about their constituents.

Whatever the results of the House bailout inquiry are, one thing is sure: President Yudhoyono is facing eroding authority. Unless he immediately takes a very radical decision by taking the Bank Century case into his own hands, the nation must be prepared to have a lame duck government.

Time is running out for our beloved President. But he has a golden chance to prove to his critics who have branded him Mr. Doubtful! (Kornelius Purba)
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