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How much of the raging fire will the Dems put out?

Jakarta Post - July 8, 2011

A shooting spree targeting top Democratic Party officials by the party's fugitive legislator, Muhammad Nazaruddin, from his hiding place overseas has further shaken the ruling party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The Jakarta Post's Hasyim Widhiarto explores how the party is trying to deflect Nazaruddin's loaded charges as well as resolve prolonged infighting.

Democratic Party chairman Anas Urbaningrum may have thought he would be spared Nazaruddin's accusations of accepting bribe money from funds earmarked for the construction of a dormitory project for athletes participating in the upcoming SEA Games.

Since fleeing the country on May 23, Nazaruddin has regularly sent text messages to people alleging close colleagues were involved in the SEA Games bribery case, and that opponents within the party were involved in different graft cases.

No barbed allegations were aimed at Anas, Nazaruddin's close pal, until June 30 when he claimed Anas had accepted a Rp 2 billion (US$235,000) bribe. The allegation was made by Nazaruddin through text messages sent to various news outlets.

Nazaruddin, known as Anas' financial backer during the party's 2010 chairmanship race, also accused Anas of embezzling another Rp 7 billion that was supposed to be allocated to "tame" the media.

Anas, who had shielded Nazaruddin from the party's senior politicians demanding his ouster, reported him to the police Tuesday for libel.

A source within the party said Nazaruddin was disappointed with Anas after the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) declared him a suspect in a graft case linked to the SEA Games project on June 30. Nazaruddin had repeatedly asked Anas to intervene to have the KPK's legal proceedings against him dropped. Anas, however, turned down the request.

"Anas' rejection greatly upset Nazaruddin and he lashed out with the graft allegations against Anas a few hours after being declared a suspect," said the source.

The incident marks a turning point in the infighting within the Democratic Party between politicians supporting Nazaruddin, who is the party's former chief financier, and those demanding his ouster. For the time being, the divided camp is uniting to pin down Nazaruddin, who contributed huge financial backing for the party to operate.

"Nazaruddin's recent remarks that further damage the party's name have united us. We have now agreed to drop our pledge to provide legal assistance to Nazaruddin if he returns home," said Kastorius Sinaga, the party's head of development and planning.

The party on Thursday also agreed to process Nazaruddin's dismissal, which will automatically annul his position as a legislator, according to legislator Ruhut Sitompul, a stout supporter of Anas and Nazaruddin.

Nazaruddin and his family fled on May 23 to Singapore, which has no extradition treaty with Indonesia, just a day before the KPK issued a travel ban on him over the SEA Games bribery case, and a number of other graft cases.

But the Singaporean government said Wednesday that Nazaruddin had left Singapore before he was declared a suspect.

The Nazaruddin case and the blatant infighting within the party over his case has lost the party popularity.

In a nationwide survey held last month, the Indonesian Survey Circle found that the party's popularity had fallen to second place behind the Golkar Party. This is the first time Golkar regained its top rank since the 2009 general election.

But signs emerged that the Democratic Party would not sit still and watch itself be weakened. Efforts are currently under way to root out the bad apples in the party as well as to accommodate its senior politicians into having some authority in running the party's day-to-day operations, according the party's politicians.

Among the party's politicians deemed as liabilities are public communication department head Andi Nurpati, who has been implicated in a document forgery case involving the Constitutional Court when she served as deputy chairwoman for the General Elections Commission (KPU).

Deputy chairman Jhonny Allen, who is still under KPK investigation involving a graft case, economic department head Soetan Bhatoegana, who often recruits party members with dubious backgrounds, and communication department Ruhut for making controversial remarks, are among those proposed to be stripped of their posts.

The party's leaders meeting on July 23 will be a turning point for Anas to show the extent of reform within the party that he is prepared to enforce. Unlike the previous meetings, the upcoming one will also be attended by representatives of regional branches, indicating the urgency and the significance of any outcomes.

"It's not a regular meeting. We're likely to see some adjustments in the party's management," said Kastorius. "But we have no plan yet to have Anas removed."

The party's chief patron, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, even called in one of the party's founders, businessman Ventje Rumangkang, to organize a showdown of the party's founders and old guard from across the archipelago to help pressure for an overhaul of the party, according to a source.

The showdown was held on Monday at the Sultan Hotel, South Jakarta, where Ventje declared an immediate need to root out party officials deemed to be liabilities.

Ventje, a member of the party's advisory board (the party's highest body), said the root of the recent infighting dated back to 2005 when it recruited members without thorough screening.

"With some money, these members could easily climb their way up the party's ranks no matter how corrupt they were. The Nazaruddin case is something that I worried about for several years," said Ventje, who reconciled with Yudhoyono last year after leaving the party in 2005.

Party members close to Yudhoyono and his family, with Youth and Sports Minister Andi Mallarangeng as their frontman, have grown dissatisfied with the way Anas has managed the party even though their representatives have been accommodated well by Anas in the party's structure.

Among the contentious issues that ignited the infighting, as raised by the members, are reports that several of Anas' cronies were too dominant in the party, particularly in relation to the appointment of party officials at the regional level, candidates for local elections and deliberations of the state budget at the House of Representatives.

"If we don't finish the internal conflict by this year, it will be very hard for the party to run in the 2014 general election."

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