Tuesday, 17 March 2009

The Big Issue: Campaigns Fight for Crumbs as Larder Empties

PERSONAL NOTE: This article regarding forthcoming elections show just what a complex and corrupt country is Indonesia.


March 17, 2009 The Jakarta Globe


by Hera Diani

Over 11,200 candidates are vying for 560 seats up for grabs in the House of Representatives, or DPR, in the April 9 elections. That breaks down to roughly 20 aspiring politicians scrambling for one seat.

And the stakes are high. Each of the 38 national political parties running in the April 9 legislative elections has to secure at least 2.5 percent of the vote nationwide in order to earn a right to have its elected cadre sit in the House. Failing to reach the threshold would not only deprive parties of legislative seats but also threaten their existence on the country’s political stage, unless of course they metamorphose into new parties and get in line for the 2014 elections.

Against this backdrop, political pundits have warned of the potential for massive money politics and fraud in the legislative elections. Several anticorruption activists have also called on the General Elections Commission, or KPU, to require political parties to reveal their funding sources and expenditures.

But, who are going to foot their bills? With 11,200 people contesting seats in the House, and perhaps tens of thousands others for legislative seats at provincial and district councils, funds needed to fuel campaigns are astronomical. Given the current global economic crisis, which has forced some companies in the country to lay off workers, legislative candidates running in the April elections are hard-pressed to find sponsors willing to finance their cause.

According to an article in the 2008 Election Law, political parties are allowed to accept Rp 1 billion ($84,000) in individual donations and Rp 5 billion in corporate donations. In both cases, the donor must provide tax numbers to parties they donate money to for audit purposes.

However, sources who declined to reveal their identities told the Jakarta Globe that party chairpersons, and their families or relatives in big companies, have to dig deep into their own pockets to finance campaigns.

‘It is easy for political parties to look for illegal financial sources’

Adnan Topan Husodo, Indonesian Corruption Watch

The sources said that thanks to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s status as an incumbent, the Democratic Party raised a huge amount of money for its campaigns. The party’s financial might has been apparent during the current advertising war, when the party managed to buy up huge exposure in national publications and television ads. Last month, for example, the Democratic Party published an eight-page advertorial in the largest national newspaper, Kompas.

Golkar is said to be not as rich as it used to be, because one of its financial backers, businessman and coordinating minister of people’s welfare, Aburizal Bakrie, has taken a big hit in the economic crisis. Golkar, according to the sources, is mostly funded by Jusuf Kalla and South Sulawesi businesspeople, as well as “a number of Chinese businessmen who spread their money to several parties or figures.”

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P, is reportedly financed by Megawati Sukarnoputri, the party’s chairperson and candidate for the July presidential election. A source said the PDI-P was once funded by executives of state-owned oil company Pertamina, but a heavily reported spat between new Pertamina director Karen Agustiawan and some PDI-P legislators may suggest that executives there have stopped supporting the party.

Newcomer Great Indonesia Movement Party, or Gerindra, is substantially bankrolled, thanks to chairman Prabowo Subianto’s family wealth, an empire that spans from Aceh to Papua in the form of plantations, timber concessions, agriculture, and oil and gas, plus oil and gas fields in Central Asia.

Indonesian Corruption Watch and Transparency International Indonesia reported, however, that most campaign funds of political parties were raised from illegal sources — corruption, blackmail of businessmen, milking state-owned companies and money from gambling, drug dealing or illegal logging.

Adnan Topan Husodo, ICW coordinator for corruption and politics, said that the arrests of a number of House legislators show the rampant misuse of political funds. “It is easy for political parties to look for illegal financial sources, especially when existing regulations are not strict. The current regulation makes it difficult to ask for transparency, and it contains many loopholes,” he said. The commission should monitor account balances to trace those funds, he added.

“[Political parties] have the mechanism to break down funds from one contributor into several ‘fictitious’ sources,” Adnan said.

He said another trick was to use hidden bank accounts for campaign funds. Though candidates are required to hold special accounts that are reported to the KPU, Adnan said they could still open other accounts that were not reported.

The Constitutional Court recently ruled that candidates who garner the most votes would win the contested seats. That shifted the fund-raising responsibilities from parties to individual candidates. The 2008 law on legislative elections stipulates that campaign funds can only be traced back to political parties; individual candidates don’t need to report donations.

“This stipulation increased the possibility of obtaining financial sources by any means possible,” Adnan said. ICW also alleged that many candidates are political brokers who are puppets for businesses to push for policies and regulations that are favor them.