Golkar’s art of survival – Editorial


Indonesia Decides

There is no Indonesian political party as dynamic as the Golkar Party, the vehicle of the militaristic New Order to control the country following procedural democracy. No other party has stood the test of time quite like Golkar.

The sweeping reforms in 1998 dethroned Golkar’s powerful chief patron Soeharto, but the party has continued to exist and still plays a pivotal role in policymaking today and perhaps in decades to come. Two of its past leaders were convicted of corruption, with one acquitted by the appellate court, but the party has remained popular among the electorate, as was evident in last month’s legislative election.

Golkar will be slightly closer to regaining the House of Representatives speaker post, denying the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) the top legislative job, if the General Elections Commission (KPU) vote recapitulation confirms that the former has won more House seats than the latter. According to the Legislative Institutions Law, the House speakership goes to the party that secures the most seats, regardless of the popular vote.

Quick counts showed that the PDI-P led the legislative race in terms of the popular vote, but because it mostly only dominates Java and Bali, where the vote division number used to convert votes into legislative seats is high, it may lose the speaker post to Golkar, whose strongholds are scattered outside of Java. If this happens, the PDI-P will suffer another humiliation after performing poorly in the presidential election.

In 1999, Golkar secured the House speaker post even though the PDI-P won the legislative election. In 2014, the PDI-P lost the right to the House chief job to Golkar again after political parties amended the MD3 Law in retaliation for their defeat to the PDI-P in the presidential election.

One thing that sets Golkar apart is its reluctance to stay out of the government; Golkar has always been part of the ruling coalition since the Reform. Whether this addiction to power has contributed to the high number of corruption cases involving its cadres or not, the fact is that all post-Reform presidents have needed Golkar the way Soeharto did.

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President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, supported by vice president and Golkar politician Jusuf Kalla, welcomed Golkar into his government in 2015 after a year of tug-of-war, which forced a change of guard in the party. This replicated the 2004 saga in which Kalla took over the Golkar chairmanship after winning the election as the running mate of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Golkar has proven that its support for Gerindra Party chairman Prabowo Subianto and Jokowi’s eldest son Gibran Rakabuming Raka has paid dividends. Jokowi’s role in directing Golkar’s maneuvering ahead of the election was pivotal, otherwise the party would not have proposed Gibran as Prabowo’s running mate in the first place.

Now that Jokowi will step down, questions about his future relationship with Golkar abound. Golkar chairman Airlangga Hartarto, who is also the coordinating economic minister, said the party and Jokowi had a special relationship.

But Airlangga was simply stating the obvious. He must have been rallying support for his reelection as the party chairman in a congress later this year, knowing that Jokowi may have chosen another candidate whom he deems loyal and who can serve his interests. Some reports claim that Jokowi may also join the party as his ties with the PDI-P have practically ended.

Several public officials are reportedly challenging Airlangga in the race for the party’s top job, including Investment Minister Bahlil Lahadalia, who is expected to make his bid as Jokowi’s proxy. Bahlil’s quest for the Golkar leadership has been tainted by media reports of abuse of power he allegedly committed in the revocation, redistribution and reinstatement of inactive land use permits for mining in his capacity as head of the Land Arrangement and Investment Arrangement Task Force, which was formed by Jokowi.

The rivalry among factions within Golkar is tightening and the public is waiting to see who will have the last laugh. But beyond the power struggle, questions remain on how the party will contribute to Indonesian democracy. 


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