Will Sri Mulyani Run for President?


An intriguing development in Indonesian politics is underway that could pit the reformist technocrat and one of the architects of Indonesia’s economic recovery following the collapse of the Suharto regime in 1998, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, against Aburizal Bakrie, the richest ethnic Indonesian businessman and Chairman of Golkar; in the elections of 2014.

Sri Mulyani Indrawati resigned as Finance Minister in May 2010 to move to the World Bank as a Director with responsibility for 74 nations in Latin America, The Caribbean, East Asia and The Pacific, The Middle East and North Africa. The reason for her resignation seems to have been political pressure from all sides but primarily from Bakrie who took the Chairmanship of Golkar and then allied the party with the Partai Demokrat of Susilo Bambang Yuhoyono; thereby making Bakrie favourite to win in 2014.

Mulyani is a reformist with nerve. For instance, she refused to accept that the devastating mud flow in Sidoarjo, Java, in 2006 was a part of the natural disaster of an earthquake with its epicentre off the South Java coast. Respected as a principled and uncorrupted member of the government this pitted her against Bakrie whose family are majority holders in PT Lapindo Brantas a mineral exploration company that had been drilling in the area and is widely believed to have, accidentally, triggered the flow. Bakrie hit back and made efforts to tie Mulyani into the Bank Century scandal when she led the economic team that steered the country through the 2007/08 world financial crisis.

In 2007/08 Bank Century came under pressure and was bailed out by the government on the grounds that its failure was a systemic problem endangering the whole banking sector. Later claims were made that the bailout was much more about saving deposits of funds that were used, illegally, in SBY’s re-election campaign. The accusations against Mulyani are that she, as Finance Minister, colluded in this bailout with Boediono the then Governor of Bank Indonesia and now Vice President of the Partai Demokrat. Mulyani and Boediono deny any illegality and maintain the decisions taken were justified, economically sound and had nothing to do with any considerations of risks to individual accounts.

Yesterday (4th. August 2011) a new party, The Independent People’s Union (SRI), registered successfully and named as its preferred candidate for President Sri Mulyani Indrawati. Mulyani did not confirm or deny reports that she will accept the offer and join the party. Her statement was a classic admission that she had been approached and was favourable while leaving open the chance to withdraw later and stay at the World Bank; or delay until the 2019 elections when she will still only be 59 years old.

Someone one day has to break the malign grip of Suharto’s New Order Regime on Indonesian politics. The past is holding back the development of the democracy. The legislature and the legal administrations, including the police, are still stuffed with powerful individuals steeped in the corruptions of old. The rich cronies who surrounded Suharto are now around SBY and amongst these is Bakrie. They control media outlets, vast corporations and most of the wealth of the country.

Many feel that it is too soon with only two cycles since the first to elect a president. There is concern that if Mulyani runs, although known and respected as a technocrat, she is not enough of a politician yet to combat the established corruptions that need reforming. Mulyani is a genuine reformer but the fear is that she may be wasted in a hasty attempt at power that gets rebuffed by experts at protecting the status quo.

Personally, I hope she runs. SBY has been a disappointment since the first administration. He has all the hallmarks now of a man feathering his own nest and setting up a profitable succession. Even if Mulyani fails there is a need to expose the tentacles of corruption that stretch back into the darkness of the past. She can do that. Her example will hopefully encourage other ethical politicians to enter the legislature and more young lawyers of quality to enter the legal profession.

Cynicism about politics around the world shows that no one much believes in the chances of purity in any democracy but the Indonesian people are a massive force, no longer scared of tyranny; better informed and educated than ever before. It was the people who brought down Suharto. Maybe it will be the people who complete the change and sever the new democracy from the past. If they do and Mulyani is a part of that effort to embed better standards in the system; that will be true democracy working and Mulyani will serve her country as well in general politics, as she has done in the economic sector.