NasDem top member’s arrest may put Anies, alliance in vulnerable position

“Any possibility of winning remains fluid at the moment and any resources deployed in the competition will be massive", said analyst Agung Baskoro.

Yerica Lai

Yerica Lai

The Jakarta Post


Communications and Information Minister Johnny G. Plate.(JP/Donny Fernando)

May 22, 2023

JAKARTA – The arrest of senior NasDem Party member and communications and information minister Johnny G. Plate on corruption charges may put the party and the electoral alliance it built to back opposition figure Anies Baswedan in a vulnerable position heading into the upcoming elections.

The decade-old NasDem, currently fronted by media mogul Surya Paloh, a staunch supporter of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, has rallied on an anticorruption platform and proposed the idea of “Indonesia’s restoration” since its establishment in late 2011. But the ongoing graft investigation into Johnny could lead to the party taking an electability hit before the 2024 presidential and legislative elections, said political analyst Ujang Komarudin.

“Should the case be blown up and weaponized by rivals ahead of the upcoming elections, NasDem would definitely see its electability impacted negatively in public opinion polls,” Ujang told The Jakarta Post.

The communications minister was arrested last week after a three-hour interrogation by investigators from the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) for his role in a graft case related to the procurement of base transceiver stations (BTS) for a government 4G telephony project.

His arrest has drawn speculations over whether there was money flowing into the party, which the AGO said last week it was still investigating. While Surya said that NasDem would respect the legal process and fully cooperate with the AGO, he called for a further probe into the traces of any alleged funds, including whether there was any flow of money going to his party.

“If the AGO can convincingly prove any flow of money going to [Johnny] or other NasDem politicians later during the trial, NasDem would likely see its electability further negatively impacted,” Ujang said. “But if the opposite happened, this would backfire on the AGO and NasDem could walk away in glory.”

Read also: Minister’s arrest sparks rush to find replacement

NasDem might find itself in a “tough position” now as Johnny’s arrest might give the President and his ruling coalition, which currently supports his administration, a bigger reason to make NasDem “face bigger political ramifications” following its decision last year to support Anies’ presidential bid, said analyst Agung Baskoro.

“If the tensions [in its relationship with the President and the ruling coalition] are not managed carefully, the ramifications may be bigger and may cost NasDem political and economic resources,” Agung told the Post.

Several unnamed NasDem politicians were quoted by Tempo magazine saying that, after Anies’ nomination, Surya’s business empire was affected, including PT Pangansari Utama, which was on the brink of being sacked after 30 years of serving as a catering service provider at PT Freeport Indonesia.

Johnny’s arrest, Agung said, might also put further “psychological pressure” on the Coalition of Change for Unity (KPP), an electoral alliance NasDem has treaded with two opposition parties, the Democratic Party and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), as a political vehicle for Anies in the upcoming race.

“Any possibility of winning remains fluid at the moment and any resources deployed in the competition will be massive. Member parties may reconsider their decision if another presidential candidate has a higher chance of winning the election,” Agung added.

Read also: NasDem, opposition parties seek unity on shaky ground

The alliance currently holds about 25 percent of seats in the House of Representatives – enough to field a presidential candidate. But it could lose eligibility should any of the members withdraw its support.

In recent weeks, alliance talks have intensified with leaders of pro-government parties, such as the National Awakening Party (PKB) chairman Muhaimin Iskandar and Golkar Party chairman Airlangga Hartarto, meeting with former president and Democratic Party founder Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at his residence in Cikeas, West Java. Most recently, Gerindra Party leader and presidential nominee Prabowo Subianto followed suit, paying a visit to Yudhoyono on Saturday in Pacitan, East Java, Yudhoyono’s hometown and the Dems’ electoral stronghold.

NasDem chair Surya has been aware of the potential electoral drawbacks for Anies from Johnny’s arrest. Two NasDem partners, however, have reiterated their commitment to supporting Anies in the upcoming race, stressing that the alliance remains “solid” and that it would continue to focus on building the winning strategy for the former Jakarta governor.

“This has no effect on the alliance. We remain solid,” Democratic Party spokesperson Herzaky Mahendra said in a statement.

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