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The high cost of maintaining support

Jakarta Post - August 15, 2011

Hasyim Widhiarto Having spent big money on the hurly-burly of the 2009 election race, legislators are being squeezed with the need to spend even more money on maintaining not only their constituents' support, but also their parties' daily operations and ostentatious events.

Businesswoman-cum-politician Yasti Soepredjo Mokogaow, 43, of the National Mandate Party (PAN), receives dozens of proposals every week from individuals or organizations based in North Sulawesi, her electoral district, requesting donations for their upcoming events. The events, she said, can vary from major, regular agendas, such as Independence Day celebrations to minor, incidental ones, relating to work carried out by charities during Ramadhan.

Yasti, also one of PAN's treasurers, however, is fully aware she cannot overlook such requests as to do so would risk losing her constituents' support.

"I once donated Rp 500,000 (US$59) to a social event and the person who received the money left my office with a long face," said Yasti, who chairs the House of Representatives' Commission V overseeing transportation and public works.

With high mobility and intense social and political activities, Yasti said she pockets almost nothing from her income as a legislator.

Twenty-five percent of her monthly salary goes to PAN as a "mandatory contribution", while the remaining 75 percent is mostly spent on "maintaining good relationships with constituents".

A House member usually receives monthly take-home pay of around Rp 55 million. The Indonesian Forum for Budget Transparency recently revealed data showing that each lawmaker is also entitled to a recess fund, totaling Rp 442 million for this year alone.

Every year, the House schedules five recess periods, allowing legislators to meet supporters in their respective constituencies and seek feedback on their performance.

"In Indonesian politics, there is no doubt money still plays an important role to lure supporters. I believe it is better for any political party to recruit members who are already well-off, rather than entrusting people who would potentially use their party as a vehicle to enrich themselves," said Yasti, who was once an executive with several construction firms.

Tjahjo Kumolo, a senior legislator from the Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle (PDI-P), shared a similar story.

Tjahjo, who is also PDI-P secretary-general, spends at least Rp 10 million per month on his party, including mandatory contributions, and on supporting incidental events held by party supporters in his constituency in the Central Java cities of Semarang, Kendal and Salatiga.

The amount of money allocated for his constituency, according to Tjahjo, will significantly rise prior to general elections. "But don't ask me how much," he said, smiling.

There are currently nine political parties represented in the House, with the Democratic Party and the People's Conscience Party (Hanura) holding the most and least seats, respectively.

While most party officials have remained silent about their parties' monthly expenses, they are open about the amount of money requested as compulsory contributions.

The ruling Democratic Party, which has 148 out of 550 seats in the House, requests their legislators to donate Rp 5 million from their monthly salary, according to deputy chairman Johnny Allen Marbun.

PDI-P's Tjahjo, whose party is the House's third-largest faction, said its 94 lawmakers are left to make donations based on financial ability. PAN requests its lawmakers to allocate a quarter of their salary to the party; while the Islamic-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), the country's fourth-largest party, openly requests its legislators to give half of their salaries to the party.

The United Development Party's (PPP) secretary-general, Romahurmuziy, confirmed that his party also requires its 38 lawmakers to share their salaries with the party. However, he refused to detail the percentage.

Many legislators, however, said their salaries are just not big enough to finance their political activities, citing an endless flow of donation requests and pressure from their parties' top brass, making it hard to maintain their personal influence in their constituencies.

"We do not ask our members, who sit as lawmakers or public officials, to donate much money to the party, but we strongly urge them to use their financial resources to stay close to their local supporters," PAN secretary-general Taufik Kurniawan said.

It has become common practice for most legislators to boost their incomes by brokering on behalf of those with vested interests vis-'-vis state-funded projects, policies and regulations.

Party members who are deemed cunning enough in garnering financial resources are usually appointed to certain House commissions that are considered lucrative.

These include, Commission VII for energy and natural mineral resources; Commission XI for finances and banking; Commission VI for trade, industry and state-owned companies; Commission V for transportation and telecommunications; and the Budget Committee.

Annually, legislators usually donate money for events related to:

1. Independence Day
2. Idul Fitri
3. Ramadhan
4. Idul Adha (for purchasing sheep, goats, cows for sacrificial ceremonies)
5. Christmas
6. New Year
7. Election campaigns for local leaders
10. Party anniversaries
11. Party national congresses
12. Party national coordination meetings
13. The start of school and university periods, usually between June and August
14. Incidental events in election areas, such as regency and municipal anniversaries and other religious holidays

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