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An elusive club

Jakarta Post Editorial - May 10, 2024

Jakarta – President-elect Prabowo Subianto seems to realize that he would have to be above all parties in order to lead the whole nation, which includes the approximately 68 million people who did not vote for him in the Feb. 14 election.

As a symbol of national unity, he also wants to engage with all living former presidents, which is why he is aspiring to form a president's club.

That is a noble idea and deserves support from us all. It has been practiced in, among other democracies, the United States and seeks to contribute to the sustainability of democracy there. The country's former presidents put their political differences behind them to help the sitting president guide the nation through difficult times.Nancy Gibbs, coauthor of the book The President's Club: Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity, says the club was formed to help those who come next. The former presidents belong to the group out of a sense of responsibility to the country.

Another coauthor, Michael Duffy, adds that ex-presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama are men "who still don't love each other but who knew they needed to be together that day and they needed to be seen together".

The club must have impressed Prabowo and inspired him to form one here. If realized, Indonesia's club would consist of fifth president Megawati Soekarnoputri, sixth president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) and seventh president Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, whom Prabowo will succeed in October.

While Jokowi has shown enthusiasm for helping realize the initiative of his defense minister, not all former presidents have welcomed the idea. Megawati, according to her confidant and Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) secretary general Hasto Kristiyanto, will focus on her commitment to her party.

The strained ties between Megawati and Jokowi have become an open secret, as has her fraught relationship with SBY. Prabowo claims to have no grudge against Megawati and has reportedly been trying to arrange a meeting with her.

Megawati and Jokowi parted ways politically after almost 20 years of cooperation when the latter opted to support Prabowo, rather than the PDI-P's choice of Ganjar Pranowo, in the February presidential race. Some PDI-P politicians even suggest that reconciliation between Megawati and Jokowi is next to impossible.

And after two decades, Megawati cannot come to terms with SBY, who beat her twice, in the 2004 and 2009 presidential races. Talk of SBY's Democratic Party joining the Jokowi government surfaced several times over his tenure but never progressed, reportedly because of Megawati's objection.

Vice President Ma'aruf Amin was right when he predicted that Prabowo would need to make a herculean effort to bring all the living former presidents on board. Some observers have also asked Prabowo not to insist on having all the ex-presidents in the unprecedented club.

Megawati may be the main holdout to the club, or even national reconciliation more generally, after a general election that many consider the least democratic and least credible since the start of the Reform era in 1998. In fact, nobody, not even Prabowo, could force Megawati to bury the hatchet if she did not wish to.

The biggest obstacle to the president's club is not the continuing personal feud among its would-be members but their penchant for power struggle even after leaving office. Megawati remains the controlling PDI-P chairwoman and SBY the powerful chief patron of the Democratic Party. Jokowi has cut ties with the PDI-P but he is reportedly looking for a party, such as the Golkar Party, to keep him in the spotlight after the transfer of power.

The former presidents, Jokowi to be included not too long from now, remain political bigwigs fighting for their own parties' survival, rather than statesmen or women who solely think about the well-being of the country's 280 million people. It's too far-fetched to expect them to dedicate themselves to the nation, as the founding goal of the club would have it, if they keep their vested interests intact.

For the time being, let's just hope all the former presidents, and former vice presidents, turn up for the state Independence Day ceremony on Aug. 17. Seeing them meet together in person is enough to send the message of unity and harmony.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2024/05/10/an-elusive-club.htm