TEMPO.CO, Jakarta – The emergence of General Gatot Nurmantyo in the race for the presidency and vice-presidency is heating up the temperature of Indonesia’s politics. He could well be an alternative to incumbent President Joko Widodo and his long-time challenger Prabowo Subianto. But Gatot’s arrival will not be enough to resolve the democratic stagnation caused by a lack of ideas and leaders who can truly inspire.
General Gatot, who retired at the end of March, is being put forward by, among others, the Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) Party. The former commander of the Indonesian Military (TNI) is being considered as a possible running mate to Gerindra’s chair Prabowo. Another name under consideration is Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan. Deliberation amongst Jokowi’s opponents is continuing, especially since it is not yet certain whether Prabowo is serious about running.
A recent proposal is to pair Gatot with Anies if Prabowo does not stand. That would certainly make the 2019 presidential election more interesting, although Gatot has so far been unable to offer any original ideas on how to improve matters of this nation.
On the contrary, Gatot is more known for his controversial views. When he was TNI commander, he spoke about “illegal” arms import rumors, which exacerbated tensions between TNI and the Indonesian National Police (Polri). Later it was found out that the weapons had been officially imported by Polri, but without a recommendation from TNI.
He also proposed that TNI become involved in dealing with terrorism in a revised version of Law No. 15/2003. Moreover, he also ordered the Army to organize mass screenings of the classic movie The Eradication of the G30S/PKI Treachery-a film about the events surrounding the 1965 coup attempt based on the official State’s version. Screening of this movie had been stopped after the reform movement in 1998 because it was considered too much part of the New Order regime’s propaganda.
When Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, alias Ahok, was charged with blasphemy at the end of 2016, Gatot was believed to have made “maneuvers” for his own political gain. He was the only official who met with the 212 demonstrators wearing an Islamic white cap. Gatot claimed it was his way to win over the demonstrators, although others saw it as a sign that Gatot was, in fact, taking sides with them. Some made the accusation this was an effort on Gatot’s part to accumulate political capital from Muslim voters. Surely it is not ethical for a TNI commander to play politics.
Therefore, questions need to be asked about Gatot’s use of identity politics. This recipe proved effective in the Jakarta gubernatorial election. Ahok, who was initially very popular, not only lost, but was jailed. It would be very dangerous if Gatot were tempted to use a similar strategy. Identity politics will only cause further rifts among the people and has no relevance to the real problems this country is facing.
Gatot, who has said he is a close friend of businessman Tommy Winata, may well have no problems raising enough funds. But his participation in politics is not on a level with that of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2004. Long before challenging incumbent Megawati Sukarnoputri, Yudhoyono had set up the Democrat Party as his political vehicle. As a military figure, he was also able to offer a brisk leadership and better-planned management of the country- a weakness of the government at that time.
Prabowo, who was Jokowi’s main rival in the 2014 election, followed the same path. Before contesting the 2009 election as Megawati’s running mate, he established the Gerindra Party, despite the seriousness of the problems it faces. Gatot has none of this experience nor political capital.
Nevertheless, General Gatot has appeared at a time of democratic conservatism. The current political mechanism has failed to produce leaders of quality with new ideas to improve the nation. Issues that badly need new approaches include, among others: rampant corruption, social inequity and stagnant economic growth.
The nation’s leaders should realize the causes of this tiresome political state of affairs. One of the culprits is the presidential threshold rule. The rule has a negative impact since it reduces the number of possible candidates for the presidency. Only parties or coalitions with 20 percent of seats in the House of Representatives or 25 percent of the national vote can put forward candidate pairings for the presidency and vice-presidency. This rule is hobbling democracy. At present, the only parties that can nominate a challenger to the incumbent are Gerindra and the Prosperous Justice Party, because the other parties have joined forces with Jokowi’s allies. The number of possible challengers can be counted on the fingers of one hand. At this time of democratic fatigue, the name of Gatot has appeared – a controversial figure with untested leadership abilities.