Post election, Golkar at a crossroads

JAKARTA, Aug 17 — As the legal dispute over Indonesia’s election results is being heard in the Constitutional Court, the political landscape is already starting to change, with parties having to deal with internal conflicts following their decisions to support the losing coalition.

Most consequential of them is Golkar, which is the second largest political party that won 14.75 per cent of the votes in the April legislative election. The party’s executives have been embroiled in a power struggle that started before the election, leading to the dismissal of some 20 of its senior cadres.

The tussle revolves around Golkar controversial chairman Aburizal Bakrie, a tycoon who was formerly a minister in President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s cabinet. Bakrie’s insistence on running for president early this year, despite low popularity, has been blamed by some party cadres as the cause of its loss in the legislative election in April.

Bakrie did not get enough support for his candidacy and eventually backed the Prabowo-Hatta Rajasa ticket, after his apparent failure to join the Joko Widodo coalition. Jokowi chose for his running mate another Golkar cadre Jusuf Kalla, who led the party in 2004-2009 when he was the vice president to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Indonesian presidential candidate Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo (centre) and his running mate Jusuf Kalla (2nd from left) celebrate with the head of his party, former president Megawati Sukarnoputri (2nd from right) and her daughter Puan Maharani, ahead of the official results announcement in South Jakarta July 22, 2014. — Reuters pic
Indonesian presidential candidate Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo (centre) and his running mate Jusuf Kalla (2nd from left) celebrate with the head of his party, former president Megawati Sukarnoputri (2nd from right) and her daughter Puan Maharani, ahead of the official results announcement in South Jakarta July 22, 2014. — Reuters pic

Bakrie’s decision to join Prabowo was rejected by some of the younger party members who preferred to support the Jokowi-Kalla ticket. He subsequently dismissed the party’s young turks for insubordination.

Since the election result was announced on July 22, Golkar’s senior officials have begun the move to oust Bakrie by calling for a national congress. The five-yearly congress to elect party leadership is supposed to take place this year, when Bakrie’s term ends. But he declined, saying it had been decided in 2009 that the next one would be held in October 2015.

Among those dismissed is deputy chairman Agung Laksono, who is also the Coordinating People’s Welfare Minister in the cabinet.

Agung had openly expressed his support for the Jokowi-Kalla pair. He has also declared his intention to run for party chairman, as have a couple of other party officials, including Industry Minister MS Hidayat.

Indonesian elections are commonly followed by a change of guards in political parties, often resulting in the succession of leaders who were seen as having failed to bring victory to the party.

Sometimes it also results in the taking over of the party’s helm by those who have secured executive positions. In 2004, fresh from winning the presidential election as Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s running mate, Jusuf Kalla succeeded chairman Akbar Tandjung, although the latter had brought Golkar to victory in that year’s legislative elections.

Akbar is generally regarded as the most successful chairman of Golkar in the post-Soeharto politics, when the party’s support dropped drastically. For three decades until 1998, Golkar was former president Soeharto’s political vehicle with landslide wins over the two other political parties, thanks to massive bureaucratic and military support.  

Although Golkar has not been able to bring its politician to presidency since the fall of Soeharto,  it has always managed to join the winning coalition and become a part of the government.

But Bakrie has vowed to stay in Prabowo’s coalition regardless of the results of the election, even if it means it becomes an opposition party. If this is true, it will provide a significant challenge to the Jokowi administration, whose coalition in the incoming parliament makes up 270 of the 560 seats. The Prabowo-Hatta coalition includes six parties that collectively won 60 per cent or 535 seats of in Parliament. 

Many doubt that Bakrie represents the party’s wish (or his own wish), however, as Golkar has never been an opposition party in all five decades of its existence. It might be a matter of time before Golkar deflects its support to Jokowi, with some support from Kalla, who still wields some influence in the party.

Just as he took over the power in Golkar in 2004, Kalla may flex his political muscles to help a loyalist to the party’s helm, and ensure that Golkar will be a legislative ally to the government.

Whoever succeeds Bakrie would face a tough challenge consolidating Golkar, especially after internal conflicts in the past 10 years have led to the departure of some of its leaders to form splinter parties. 

A senior party official and former cabinet minister Sarwono Kusumaatmadja told me last year that Golkar’s decline has been accelerated by its own wrong moves in choosing a chairman with poor leadership in the past 10 years.

“Golkar has been deceived by their own false assumptions. First, they assumed that if their chairman was in the government, they would be in a better position, so they elected Kalla. But he was too busy as vice president to consolidate Golkar,” said Sarwono, who was Golkar’s Secretary General in the mid-80s and has served as minister in Soeharto’s and Abdurrahman Wahid’s administrations.

“And then, when that didn’t work, they thought that their chairman must be someone with money, so they elected Bakrie, who was still very liquid and did not have as much business debts at the time. That, too, didn’t work out.”

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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