By: Putera Satria Sambijantoro*, The Jakarta Post | Wed, 06/02/2010 9:24 AM | Opinion
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono must certainly remember what it felt like six years ago, being treated unfairly by his supervisor when he, despite his position as coordinating political, legal and security affairs minister under Megawati Soekarnoputri, was neither invited nor involved in several Cabinet meetings on various political and security matters.
But for Yudhoyono, it seems that every cloud has a silver lining — as it was Megawati’s harsh treatment of him which eventually led to his resignation from his ministerial post on March 11, 2004.
This was because, in the end, it was Yudhoyono who had the last laugh. Megawati’s decision to isolate Yudhoyono from other Cabinet members — as well as the cruel words from Taufik Kiemas (Megawati’s husband), who added fuel to the fire and accused Yudhoyono of exaggerating and being “childish”— backfired and contributed to her loss in the presidential election to Yudhoyono the same year.
In fact, Megawati’s story of how a president took advantage of her authority to bully her own subordinate without doubt helped Yudhoyono to win sympathy from many Indonesians, and eventually lead him to winning the presidential election and trouncing Megawati by a wide margin.
That situation in Indonesia’s past is somewhat identical to the situation at present, where then finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati suddenly turns out to be a media darling and draws sympathy from many Indonesians following her heroic role as the bishop sacrificed to save her king from his inconvenient position on the political chessboard.
It is worth noting that there have been several cases, besides Yudhoyono’s above, when someone rose to prominence and eventually ended up getting to the top in politics because he or she was able to gain the sympathy of the people.
In Pakistan, the father of the legendary Benazir Bhutto was unjustly ousted from power by his political foe through a military coup and was sentenced to death.
This sparked a deep-rooted indignation among the Pakistanis which helped the Pakistan Peoples Party, of which Bhutto was the chairperson, gain massive support from the people.
Bhutto, who once headed the finance ministry like Mulyani, finally reached the pinnacle of her political career when she took the oath as the first and only woman ever to become a prime minister in Pakistan.
The preceding tale was similar to that of Megawati, whose tear-jerking past helped her gain recognition in Indonesia politics and won her the sympathy of the people.
Her father Sukarno, a national hero who proclaimed Indonesia’s independence, was exiled and sullied when Soeharto took over and Sukarno’s descendents, including Megawati, had to endure 32 years of oppression and tribulation from Soeharto and his cronies.
Prior to her seemingly reluctant move to World Bank, Mulyani had attracted a lot of sympathy already for her role as the shield to the president himself during the fallout of the Bank Century bailout, protecting Yudhoyono from the scorching political heat while, at the same time, her own boss was apparently more interested in washing his hands of the subject.
Besides, Mulyani was, without doubt, the person who deserved the largest share of the credit for Indonesia’s striking economic performance during the last financial crisis which, ironically, was the backbone of Yudhoyono’s victory in the last presidential election.
And now, instead of protecting Mulyani from the business and political rascals who have been unsettled by the bureaucratic reforms she initiated, Yudhoyono decided to forgo her and bow to the given pressure.
Fortunately, Yudhoyono’s cruel treatment of his meritorious finance minister may be a blessing in disguise for Mulyani herself, as well as many Indonesians who have been longing for a fearless, intellectual president who has the capability and guts to reform Indonesia from the very top of the bureaucracy itself.
Thanks to the enormous exposure from the press — as well as numerous analyses and insights from high-profile economics academics in various media — her departure has opened the eyes of many Indonesians as to how brilliant this individual actually is and how much she has done to Indonesia’s eco-nomy during her tenure as finance minister.
As the old saying goes, you never know what you’ve got until it’s gone. It’s like when Michael Jackson passed away and, because of the massive coverage from various types of information media all over the world, all of a sudden, all music fans worldwide realized that his contribution to the music industry had actually been immense.
The difference is that Mulyani is still alive and when she finishes her four-year term as a World Bank managing director in 2014 and comes back to Indonesia as she has promised, she could be one of Indonesia’s highest profile figures for the election that year.
For Mulyani, the timing could not be more perfect. She is only 47 at present, and if she really wants to bid for the presidential post in 2014, she will be just 51.
If one still considers her to be too green to be a president, she still has time on her side. If Mulyani only runs as a vice presidential candidate in 2014 and then runs again for president five years later, she will still only be 56 in 2019. And bidding at the age of 56 will make her younger than Prabowo Subianto, who ran at the age of 57 during the last presidential election, and, in fact, at that age he was still the youngest among his counterparts.
One problem that emerges is that Mulyani is a well-known technocrat, and it is still questionable whether she possesses the political ambition to be the president — or even the vice president.
But Mulyani should reflect on Michelle Bachelet, Chile’s first woman president, who was said to be initially hesitant to run for president because she had never possessed such an ambition.
In the end, due to the unprecedented surge in her popularity and pressure from her own supporters, she ultimately changed her mind, and what happened in Chile afterward was history.
There is no doubt that Mulyani’s recent popularity among Indonesians will definitely make political parties slaughter each other to get her signature four years from now.
And if at that time she is equipped with a decent political wheel, the spines of Indonesia’s fraudulent businessmen and politicians will surely shiver like they have never before.
The bureaucratic reform which Mulyani spearheaded may experience a temporary setback following her exodus to the United States.
But when she comes back here to run for a more strategic role to cleanse Indonesia’s corrupt bureaucracy, she has more than enough ammunition already to get her revenge on those who have colluded to kick her out of the country that she loves the most.
*) The writer is a student at the University of Indonesia’s School of Economics.