The SRI Phenomenon

Articles The Jakarta Post  09 August 2011 Wimar Witoelar

It is not an exaggeration to describe the current media focus on the new party Serikat Rakyat Independen (SRI) as a phenomenon. Former Finance Minister SMI had achieved international recognition in her discipline for a few years but was relatively unknown to the lay domestic public prior to 2009. The public spotlight turned to her under unpleasant circumstances when a cabal of political parties led by Golkar took her to task in a months-long interrogation for more than a year, ending in a vote of no confidence and a recommendation for legal action against her role in the infamous Bank Century bailout.

The political action against her was effective as many were uncomfortable with her uncompromising ways in combating corruption. Her reform action in the Ministry of Finance transformed it into an example of good governance, which is good for the country but uncomfortable for the perpetrators of criminal action such as collusion, misuse of funds, stock exchange manipulation and tax evasion. The torture came to a sudden stop when Sri Mulyani resigned from her post as Minister of Finance to accept a long-offered position as Managing Director of the World Bank. On the very next day the Golkar Chairman briefed party brass in a televised broadcast, advising his party to cease pressure and move on to other matters. The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) dismissed claims of impropriety in Sri Mulyani’s practices and has maintained that position. The President always praises her competence and integrity. He stated a few days ago that we need not worry from the fallout of the American budget crisis as the Indonesian economy has been well guided by sound monetary policies such as those demonstrated in 2008, the year of the Bank Century bailout.

There is no legal and technical against Sri Mulyani, just a political standoff and media attacks from television stations owned by her adversaries. Her reversal of political fortune is now accelerated by an impatient citizenry who are losing faith in the system. The new party is the expression of a middle class revolution for a clean government. It comes straight from a grass-roots movement in social media. Numerous fan clubs have sprung up for Sri Mulyani, including one which has drawn 131,000 followers on Facebook. The enthusiasm for Sri Mulyani is matched only by the vehemence of criticism against her. The main issue leveled against her is still the Century bailout, which has nowhere to go but up. The more the public knows, the more she will be free from stigma. Other issues are ill-defined such as ‘neolib’, IMF-World Bank stooge, US agent, and likeminded vitriol without definition. They are mostly evidence of the desperation of people who fear that reform might work against them. The frantic attacks on SRI, SMI and her supporters have a reverse effect on public opinion. While other parties have to buy publicity and pay for loyalty, for SRI it all comes pro bono. And party leaders say it is the intention of the party to stay clean. This attitude is expected to bring back some 60 percent of disaffected eligible voters to the polling booth. Those are the people who will benefit from a Sri Mulyani presidency. They believe in, government reform not through violent means, not through money but through sheer voting power. This will be a vote for a clean government.

Sri Mulyani left Yudhoyono’s cabinet after an epic series of confrontations in which she refused to bail out Bakrie’s coal interests after the Indonesian stock market collapsed at the onset of the global financial crisis. As Finance Minister she pushed the investigation of tax fraud charges against a leading business politician involving billions of dollars, and refused to agree that a gas blowout was a natural disaster. The mud flow from the blowout has submerged 12 villages of East Java in mud and driven 40,000 people from their homes. They are sad testimony to the degraded state of Indonesian politics. But they have raised the public from indignation to political action. So here is the message of the SRI phenomenon.

The rapid support for SRI is evidence of public impatience at politics as usual. Ordinary citizens who flexed their opinion leadership muscles in Facebook in smaller cases of injustice proved that they can actually nominate a person of integrity as President. Now the SRI party faces tougher challenges. How to gain strength as they preserve their integrity down the long road to the 2014 presidential elections. At this moment Sri Mulyani is bound by the ethics of her office not to be involved in politics. But Sri Mulyani is ready to be President. It is the Indonesian people to prove that we really want a President who is honest, competent and decisive.