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Analysis: Presidential club initiative likely to be DOA

Jakarta Post - May 13, 2024

Tenggara Strategics, Jakarta – The initiative to form a presidential club may be dead on arrival, not only because at least one of the two former living presidents will likely oppose the plan but more importantly, because none of the three candidates for membership has the statesmanship qualities deserving of being on a council of supposedly wise men/women.

Megawati Soekarnoputri, who was president in 2001-2004, and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (2004-2014), have continued to run their respective political parties and actively groom their children for the top job.

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, who steps down in October after 10 years in power, is ahead in this same game, having made sure his son Gibran Rakabuming Raka got the vice presidency by winning the February election as the running mate to his defense minister Prabowo Subianto.

The idea for the club came from Prabowo's camp, although he has never mentioned it publicly, speaking about the matter only through his aides. Until he explains what he has in mind, most have been left to speculate on the objective or goal of forming such a club.

Since Prabowo is preparing to form his government ahead of his inauguration on Oct. 20, questions abound about what role he will give to Jokowi as payback for being instrumental to his winning the election. There are also concerns that Jokowi will assume so much power and influence he will undermine Prabowo's government, not only through Gibran, but also through whatever position he carves out for himself in the next administration.

Forming a presidential club could also be seen as a strategic way for Prabowo to contain Jokowi's power by grouping him with Yudhoyono and Megawati, thus diluting his influence. Prabowo's initiative may be modeled on the United States' Presidents Club, which one book on the subject describes it as "the world's most exclusive fraternity". The club provides advice to a serving president, shares stories about the challenges former leaders faced and how they handled them under pressure, but it has also appeared in public from time to time in a show of unity in times of crisis. Donald Trump, who was US president in 2017-2021, is the lone exception, as he is contesting this year's presidential race and very much craves power, like most former Indonesian leaders.

Yudhoyono was the first among the three potential members of Prabowo's presidential club to welcome the idea, albeit only through Syahrial Nasution, a senior member of his Democratic Party. Syahrial said Yudhoyono agreed with the initiative but stressed that it did not have to be institutionalized to help speed up Prabowo's development programs.

Jokowi has publicly welcomed the idea, saying the country's former presidents could meet frequently to help the next government, and quipped, with his characteristic laugh: "Maybe every two days." It's unclear if he was being serious or cynical, given the ongoing talks between him and Prabowo over his role beyond October 2024.

Megawati has not completely rejected the idea, with a spokesman saying, "it was worth looking into".

What's More

Since winning the election, Prabowo has tried to meet in person with Megawati and invite her Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) to join his coalition government.

He was apparently told to wait until after the PDI-P held its national congress on May 24-26, when Megawati is set announce the party's position on whether to join the next government or to retain an opposition role.

The PDI-P won the most votes in the legislative elections on Feb. 14, its third time in as many elections, but its candidate Ganjar Pranowo lost to Prabowo in the presidential election. Getting the PDI-P to join the coalition government would therefore boost Prabowo's control over the House of Representatives, although he already has a controlling majority through the four parties in his current coalition: his Gerindra Party, Yudhoyono's Democratic Party, the Golkar Party and the National Mandate Party (PAN).

But it's highly unlikely that Megawati would sit in the same room with Yudhoyono and Jokowi, both of whom she must loathe for betraying her.

Yudhoyono served in her cabinet but ran against and beat her in 2004, and then again in 2009. Megawati never once attended the Independence Day celebrations at Merdeka Palace during Yudhoyono's two terms.

In 2014, Megawati decided against running again and put card-carrying member Jokowi on the PDI-P ticket. He then went on to win the 2014 election and reelection in 2019. In this year's presidential election, Jokowi endorsed Prabowo, who won alongside his eldest son Gibran, formerly a PDI-P member.

Megawati has not spoken to Jokowi since.

Even assuming that she joins Jokowi and Yudhoyono in a presidential club, it's not likely that they would come up with wise advice for Prabowo, given that all three are still actively involved in politics and hungry for more power.

Megawati is still calling all the shots in the PDI-P. She had been grooming her daughter and current House Speaker Puan Maharani for this year's presidential race, but Puan never gained enough popularity to be considered a serious contender for the party's nomination.

Yudhoyono is patron of the Democratic Party and made sure his son Agus Harymurti won the job of party chairman. The party has been in opposition to Jokowi's government since 2014 but in March, it was invited to join Prabowo's government as a reward for endorsing the Gerindra chairman's presidential bid. Agus has been rewarded a junior cabinet post, but he is almost assured of a more senior position in the Prabowo administration.

Jokowi is not a senior member of any political party but he commands a vast group of loyal supporters that he mobilized to help Prabowo win the election. He also made sure his youngest son Kaesang Pangarep was elected chairman of the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) in October 2023, only two days after Kaesang had the millennial party.

Whatever advice these ex-presidents might give to Prabowo as members of an exclusive club, each are likely to be thinking about how doing so could benefit their plans for 2029, when Gibran, Puan and Agus would be up for the presidential race. But they also have to take into account that Prabowo, who is 72, could consider running for a second term.

What we've heard

A close associate of Prabowo revealed that the idea of the presidential club provides an opportunity for Prabowo to receive advice from former presidents while leading the government for the next five years.

Another source familiar with this plan said that the presidential club is also proposed to provide a space for former presidents, especially Jokowi, to remain under the public spotlight. Among the former presidents, only Jokowi does not belong to or lead a political party.

However, some politicians doubt the establishment of this forum. This is because the relations among former presidents are not harmonious enough.

[This content is provided by Tenggara Strategics in collaboration with The Jakarta Post to serve the latest comprehensive and reliable analysis on Indonesia's political and business landscape.]

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2024/05/13/analysis-presidential-club-initiative-likely-to-be-doa.htm