Margareth S. Aritonang and Ganug Nugroho Adi, Jakarta – The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) has long prided itself on being a modern political party where meritocracy is the guiding principle.
Those who have reached top positions in the party are mostly party veterans who have climbed their way up the career ladder within the decades-old political party. Even the party's current chairperson Megawati Soekarnoputri started her career in the PDI-P in the early 1990s when the party was still under tight control by the New Order regime.
The same rule is also supposed to apply in the recruitment of party candidates to run in the 270 local elections scheduled to take place in December. On paper, the party central board requires at least three consecutive years of active membership for members to win a ticket to join a race.
PDI-P member Teguh Prakosa, 62, who has been with the party for the past 20 years and whose last position was treasurer of the party's Surakarta, Central Java, branch, meets all the criteria and last week he finally got the central board's nod to run for deputy mayor of the city.
But there is always an exception to any rule.
At the top of the ticket, running alongside Teguh, is the eldest son of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, a 32-year old businessman, who once swore off politics, claiming he would stick to running his catering business.
Gibran only applied for membership of the PDI-P in September last year shortly after he had a change of heart and decided to run in this year's mayoral race. And with no experience in politics or bureaucracy, Gibran has secured the blessing from the PDI-P leadership to run for mayor of Surakarta, following in the footsteps of his father, who ran for mayor in the city in 2005 and was elected for two terms.
Despite this seeming aberration, PDI-P secretary general Hasto Kristiyanto said that the nomination of Gibran, along with the 270 other candidates that the party endorsed in this year's regional elections, should be seen as a sign of the success of its political recruitment process, one of the key functions of a political party in a democracy.
"These upcoming regional elections are an opportunity for the PDI-P to strengthen the party's institution in preparing future leaders," Hasto told a press briefing following a virtual ceremony staged to formally announce the candidates last week. "The party is functioning properly in educating the people by recruiting young Indonesians to be leaders through a gradual and structured regeneration process".
Political analysts challenged Hasto's claim, saying that by promoting privileged individuals like Gibran, the party had in fact shown itself to be a failure in terms of party institutionalization, which in turn resulted in the neglect of democratic values such as a merit-based recruitment system.
"This is pretty well-known, the democratic process is absent from within the country's political parties," political analyst Ujang Komaruddin of the Jakarta-based Al-Azhar University, told The Jakarta Post.
Ujang added that such undemocratic practices would only nurture an oligarchy and promote the rise of political dynasties, whose members controlled financial resources and political networks.
He added that this would also take its toll on the public services that needed to be delivered. "Good, capable individuals are unable to become local administrators in this country and this results in poor governance and rampant corruption".
The decision by the PDI-P to nominate Gibran was the first time since the Reform era that the offspring of an incumbent president has chosen to contest an election, a precedent that would inevitably lead to an "abuse of power", according to political analyst Pangi Syarwi Chaniago.
"It is the President's son [who will contest the election]. Losing is not an option. The President can't afford to lose face, therefore all necessary measures to secure his son's victory will be made," Pangi told the Post.
In fact, what could be described as an "abuse of power" had taken place last week, said Pangi, when six months before balloting in Surakarta President Jokowi summoned Surakarta's current deputy mayor Achmad Purnomo, who had been nominated by the Surakarta branch of PDI-P to run in the next election, and personally briefed him that he should drop out of the race.
The Surakarta branch of the PDI-P, chaired by incumbent Mayor FX Hadi Rudyatmo, has declined to join Gibran's bandwagon and insists on nominating Achmad.
Speaking after the State Palace meeting, Achmad said he had only learned about the decision on Gibran after being told by Jokowi. The incumbent deputy mayor also said that he was not surprised at the decision to nominate the President's son.
"I only learned about it from Pak Jokowi when he asked me to come to the Palace. It is not a problem [for me] because this is the real situation".