Is it the End of the Road for Partai Demokrat?

By N Mark Castro

Everyone has their own opinion about the exciting and closely-contested presidential elections between Prabowo Subianto of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) and Governor Joko Widodo of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) .


And let’s let them have a party on that while we look at the real power behind the next administration and what is shaping up to be an exciting power play behind the scenes.


Despite holding a national convention to determine its party’s presidential candidate, the Partai Demokrat failed to ignite the fire it needed to restore public confidence. Divided by internal strife, degraded by negative publicity, and hounded by corruption charges, Partai Demokrat fell from its electability ratings of 21% to a pathetic 7%.

Internally, they wanted to jazz up their convention by combining non-partisan figures with remaining Partai Demokrat senior members: Anies Baswedan (Rector of Paramadina University); Dino Patti Djalal (former Indonesian Ambassador to the U.S.); Ali Masykur Musa (Member of the Supreme Audit Agency [BPK]); Dahlan Iskan (Minister of State-Owned Enterprises); Irman Gusman
(Chairman of Regional Representative Board); Endriartono Sutarto (a former TNI Commander); and Gita Wirjawan (former Minister of Trade). Apart from these non-affiliated public figures, four other PD elites had also joined in the race, including: Marzuki Alie
(Chairman of the House of Representatives [DPR]); Sinyo Harry Sarundajang (Governor of North Sulawesi); Hayono Isman (member of the PD Board of Patrons); and Pramono Edhie Wibowo (Yudhoyono’s brother-in-law).

Of this lot, Gita Wirawan had been the most active in running his exploratory campaign, appearing in several repeated ads in the theatres. Highly educated, Gita was appointed as Minister of Trade and have won accolades during his stint. Prior to his government service, Gita was an investment banker at JP Morgan Indonesia where he headed the Investment Bank from 2004 to 2008.


The problem with Gita, however, was that he was viewed as too Western oriented, having studied at the University of Texas, Baylor University, John F. Kennedy School of Government. And even though he worked hard to find the middle ground, he ended up being limited to his sphere of influence, lacking in the much-needed grassroot support.

Although he lost the presidential nomination within the Partai Demokrat, Gita remains to be one of the few top technocrats that can get the job done.

The winner that emerged was Minister of State-Owned Enterprises (SOE) Dahlan Iskan.


Unfortunately, despite securing the presidential nomination, the results of the April 9 legislative elections placed the struggling Democratic Party at 10.19 percent of popular vote, far below its 21 percent it secured in the 2009 elections.

That’s 61 out of the 560 legislative seats, emerging as the third highest political party, but not enough to field their own presidential candidate.

It’s like winning a hotly-contested internal election only to be told after that, well, you can’t. Sorry. Next please.

Worse, it took the Partai Demokrat a long time to coalesce, to retain their current alliance, to win new alliance. And by the time they wanted to, nobody else actually needed them.

Will they be the next opposition?

That would be quite an unfamiliar territory to a political party that has dominated Indonesia’s political scene for the past decade.

Will they have an impact?

No, but they would sound like a noisy and whining little boy.

S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) even conducted its analysis on Yudhoyono’s Possible Game Plan which, by its own merit, is a nice little study for amateurs.

What it failed to factor in was Partai Demokrat’s irrelevance due to a game plan that they did not consider.

At the end of the day, the biggest problem with Partai Demokrat was Partai Demokrat. They failed to anticipate to put value in their brand equity. They were late in addressing their PR issues. They did not even mitigate their brand risk. Once the darling of social media, they had practically abandoned the hold they had in it because the party’s top political influencer, President and party chairman Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was too slow in taking over the reins of his dying political party.


Partai Demokrat can actually parlay their current status into dedicating a graceful exit to the president.

This will be the first peaceful exit Indonesia has ever seen: a proper turnover.


They can worm their way through to the succeeding administration by positioning SBY as an elder statesman. Use him as an envoy. Use his advocacy.

Build his own School of Public Policy or his favorite Humanitarian Assistance or Disaster Management.



Get him on speaking engagements. Capitalize on his experience, his disaster management skills, his peace and order advocacy, his expertise, how he navigated through extremism, the financial crisis, to name a few. Because, whether you like it or not, the ACEH Peace Accord did happen during his tenure, he did jail extremist leaders, he did catch those responsible for the Bali bombings, he did confront the tsunami, he did mitigate disasters, among the colorful decade that he managed the 17,000 islands of the Republic of Indonesia.


The first thing that the Partai Demokrat needs to accept is that it’s in trouble and needs to reposition and rebrand itself. Acceptance is the first step towards healing. They should admit that they will no longer be in power or in any position to leverage anything, but with proper rebuilding, they can rise.

And Indonesia loves success stories.


About Asmartrock

N. Mark Castro is the Southeast Asia Director of JUMP DIGITAL Asia, which is an internationally-awarded and fully integrated digital marketing agency with 5 out of 10 offices in the ASEAN region. He is also the Secretary General of the Philippine Business Club Indonesia, managing and assisting the traffic of investments between the Philippines and Indonesia. He shuttles between Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar, Singapore, Cambodia, and Australia. The views posted here are his own and do not in any way reflect the views of the companies he represents.

Posted on June 12, 2014, in General, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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