E11: Ahok's Trusted Assistant & Indonesian Solidarity Party PSI Member- Michael Sianipar

On this episode of Indonesia In-depth podcast, we speak with Michael Sianipar. At age 27, he was Governor Ahok's trusted assistant until his final days in office. He is now head of the Indonesia Solidarity Party (PSI) Jakarta region. We discuss Ahok's demise, his style of leadership and the future of Indonesia. We also learn more about one of Indonesia's newest political parties and how this younger generation plans on changing Indonesia politics.

The Indonesia In-depth podcast is available for free on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, Sound Cloud, Amazon Alexa, and many others. All links are below. Here are the interview takeaways:

Ahok Comeback

  • The former Jakarta Governor, Basuki Purnama (Ahok), is set to be released from jail either the end of this year or early 2019, depending on any sentence remissions that he receives in the coming months. He was sentence to two years in jail on blasphemy charges in May 2017.

  • Despite being a victim of identity politics which eventually resulted in jail time, Michael is convinced that Ahok eventually intends on returning to public service once he is released. It remains unclear as to when such a return would happen or at what capacity or what vehicle but, Michael said Ahok’s decision will be made after the 2019 elections. “I think Ahok is someone that just cannot stay out of politics, even given all that he has gone through. He has a vision of what this country, not just Jakarta, can be. He has indicated that what has happened to him has only made him only to continue to push forward,” Michael said.

  • Michael served as Jakarta Governor Ahok’s personal staff from 2012-2017 and play a key role in Ahok’s election campaign in 2017.

  • Ahok’s team were shocked with the verdict and expected that he would receive a suspended sentence rather than jail time, as requested by the state attorneys. Instead, Ahok was sentenced to a harsher sentence of two years in jail. The team believed that the worse case scenario would be that Ahok would have a full six months to set in stone the city’s programs and e-tendering for the next administration.

Widodo’s Reform Difficulties

  • Michael believes that Widodo has made progress with reform but needs more support from his cabinet to stand up to the political forces and the well-entrenched government bureaucracy. “Ahok is blunt and straight forward and willing to take risks. Jokowi has good plans but is more subtle in his way. He needs an ‘attack dog’ that can take all the punches and implement reforms…. the cabinet needs to step will have to play that role,” he said.

A Widodo Second Term and VP Candidate

  • Widodo’s VP candidate will depend on what Widodo’s second term be focused on, will it be focused on a legacy of reform or is he looking for less political drama in his second term and bring on a political player?

  • Golkar Chairman and Minister of Industry, Airlangga Hartarto, is currently Widodo’s favorite for VP. He would bring the political and establishment power of Golkar to Widodo’s second term if elected.

  • Current Jakarta Governor, Anies Baswedan, hopes to be on a VP ticket and has been focusing on issues that will push him onto the national scene such as land reclamation and others. He continues to face challenges with obtaining party support and having low poll numbers.

PSI Platform 

  • The majority of PSI party functionaries are under the age of 40 with most being 30 years old and under. They have set a maximum age limit for functionaries in an attempt to keep the party free of the old establishment.

  • PSI intends to establish a party based on Meritocracy rather than based on the elites, family members or one individual running the party, something that Indonesian political parties tend to do.

  • Michael describes the party’s stance as “center left” nationalist party and hopes to bring more women and youths into Indonesian politics and policymaking as a pro-diversity party

  • Michael believes that political party and campaign financing are the root causes of corruption in Indonesia and both need to be audited properly and be accountable and transparent.

  • PSI is focusing on the local level reforms and plan to support them and their rise, citing Ahok and Widodo as examples of local leaders that rose to the national level.

  • PSI will have to work hard to meet the new 4% parliamentary threshold in the 2019 general elections to obtain seats in the House. The party says that they understand it’s a huge challenge but are also focused on obtaining seats at the local legislatures as well which can have a real impact.

  • PSI founders saw the need to have institutional support to back reform candidates at the local level and eventually formed The Indonesia Solidarity Party in 2014.

  • PSI has officially endorsed President Widodo for reelection in 2019. Michael believes that Widodo is in a stronger position now than a year ago after Ahok’s demise by consolidating power.