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Graft scandals cloud Indonesia party's poll prospects

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A flood of corruption scandals has seriously undermined the Indonesian ruling party's prospects in 2014 elections and left the outcome of the polls more uncertain than ever, analysts say.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono won a second term in 2009 partly on a pledge to fight corruption in Southeast Asia's biggest economy, one of the most graft-ridden nations in the world.

But four years on that promise seems hollow, with leading figures from his Democratic Party -- from the chairman to the treasurer and sports minister -- all becoming embroiled in corruption scandals.

In the latest case, party chairman Anas Urbaningrum was named last week by the country's anti-graft body as a suspect in a multi-million-dollar scandal over the construction of a sports stadium near the capital Jakarta.

Urbaningrum, who is accused of receiving "gifts or a promise of gifts" in the building of the Hambalang sports centre worth around 1.17 trillion rupiah ($120.5 million), quit his post on Saturday but maintained his innocence.

It was the same case that forced the resignation in December of sports minister Andi Mallarangeng.

As the corruption cases have built up the party's popularity has plummeted, dropping to just eight percent in polls in December, a far cry from when Yudhoyono was elected with 21 percent of the vote in 2009.

He is constitutionally barred from running for a third term and no obvious presidential candidate is yet to emerge from his party. Nevertheless, analysts had expected the Democratic Party to field a strong candidate.

But following the corruption scandals, observers question whether there is much hope for them at the 2014 elections and say it is now anyone's guess who will come out on top, especially as Yudhoyono has not anointed a successor.

"In the past two years, the Democratic Party... has often been labelled corrupt, now can Yudhoyono clean this up?" said Kuskridho Ambardi, executive director of private pollster Indonesian Survey Institute.

And it not just the Democratic Party that has been implicated in corruption.

"It is a fact that all parties colluded... No one is really clean," Syamsuddin Haris, a political analyst from Indonesia's Institute of Sciences, told AFP.

Indonesia slipped to 118 out of 176 nations in Transparency International's corruption perception index last year. Some graft-weary Indonesians are now keen on politicians seen as outside elite circles and therefore untainted.

One such figure is new Jakarta governor Joko Widodo, a man dubbed the "Indonesian Obama" who has become immensely popular with his down-to-earth style and common touch.

In a recent poll by the Jakarta Survey Institute surveying the popularity of 12 leading politicians, he came out on top with 21.2 percent.

But he insists he will not run in the 2014 presidential election and his Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle has said it may nominate its chairwoman, former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, who lost to Yudhoyono in 2004 and 2009.

In the same Jakarta Survey Institute poll, Aburizal Bakrie, one of Indonesia's richest men and as yet the only declared presidential candidate, scored just 8.7 percent.

Bakrie has been tainted by the so-called "Sidoarjo mud", when hundreds of thousands were displaced by a mud volcano in Java. Many blame drilling by Bakrie's energy firm as the cause of the disaster.

But the chairman of the Golkar Party, the party of Indonesia's late strongman Suharto, hopes that a victory last week over British financier Nathaniel Rothschild in a battle to control London-listed miner Bumi will help Bakrie.

By seeing off a bid by Rothschild to oust the board, Bakrie should now be able to take back control of thermal coal producer Bumi Resources, seen by many as a vital source of funding for his presidential campaign.

For now, the only certain thing is that the outcome of the 2014 elections is more uncertain than ever.

"Everything is very liquid, and there is no solid front-runner for 2014," said Ambardi of the Indonesian Survey Institute, adding that in a recent poll no politician scored more than 10 percent.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130223/graft-scandals-cloud-indonesia-partys-poll-prospects