It’s open season in Indonesian politics

SCANDALS, SMEAR CAMPAIGNS, BACKSTABBINGS …

Politicians leaping on STT deal to score points against Megawati run the risk of undermining investor confidence.

It comes as no surprise that a handful of legislators are seeking an inquiry into the S$1.2 billion purchase of a major stake in telecommunications firm Indosat by Singapore Technologies Telemedia (STT).

The move by the Reform Faction (PAN), led by national assembly chairman Amien Rais, follows allegations by former president Abdurrahman Wahid that members of President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s party received bribes to bolster STT’s bid.

Mr Abdurrahman’s rationale?

‘I want those people to sweat now, before I bring my information to the public’s full attention,’ he said.

Underlying the crude politics being played here are threats of demonstrations and calls for Ms Megawati to resign over fuel, energy and telephone price increases in the country.

Whiffs of scandals and ugly blemishes in the government’s track record could be the opening shot in a smear campaign targeted against the President and her Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P).

It is open season for politicians with an eye on the presidency. Vested interests have superseded national interests. Instead of pulling together for the sake of trying to solve the country’s problems, they have become increasingly polarised. Persistent backstabbing and finger pointing among the country’s political elite has exacerbated the climate of uncertainty, further eroding confidence in Indonesia as a place to do business.

It is very clear that the STT deal was done in a transparent fashion.

It could have injected much-needed funds for an Indonesian economy recovering in fits and starts.

Indeed, this was the raison d’etre for legislators to approve plans to privatise state-owned enterprises weeks before STT clinched the deal.

Why then all the fuss?

The reason is simple.

PAN legislators allegedly stood to lose commissions if their choice, Malaysia Telkom, failed in the bid. That money could have been channelled to the party coffers and used in the presidential fight in 2004.

Having lost out in the tender, the politicians took the opportunity to question the President’s nationalist credentials and pave the way for a series of other salvos fired against her administration.

This includes supporting plans by students, labour unions and activists for mass protests against Ms Megawati’s price-hike decision.

These issues will be a thorn in the side of the President.

But it is unlikely to unseat her, given that the parliamentary forces opposed to her are small in number.

But what it does – without these politicians realising it, perhaps – is undermine confidence in the Indonesian economy.

Given the profile of such a leader and the maelstrom of crises facing Indonesia, how could one ever be optimistic about the country being able to turn the corner?

The answer lies in not destabilising the current administration and creating even more uncertainty. It is counter-productive to clamour for Ms Megawati’s political demise.

Indonesian politicians and their allies should also understand that there are no ‘quick fixes’ to the country’s ills. The history of mature democracies shows the tasks confronting this administration are not small.

It will take many years before any real progress is made.

Indonesia’s fortunes will require a higher and nobler sense of purpose by the elite – not persistent backroom dealings and plots to support the ambitions of a few under the guise of meeting the people’s aspirations.

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