Airlangga Hartarto, who also serves as industry minister in President 'Jokowi' Widodo's current cabinet, took over as Golkar chairman in December, during a crisis in the party. (Antara Photo/Nova Wahyudi)

Competition for Golkar Leadership Heats Up


JULY 03, 2019

Jakarta. Golkar, one of Indonesia's largest political parties, finds itself at another crossroads, with two of its top members vying for the leadership. 

A new chairperson is due to be elected during the party's national convention, set to take place in six months, but some factions in the party want it to be brought forward, to expedite a leadership change. 

The incumbent, Airlangga Hartarto, who also serves as industry minister in President "Jokowi" Widodo's current cabinet, took over as chairman in December, during a crisis in the party. This came after interim chairman Idrus Marham, who replaced notorious former chairman Setya Novanto after he was jailed in a billion-dollar corruption case, was also charged in a separate corruption case.    

But Airlangga proved his mettle in regrouping the party, guiding it to overcome its poor image and stave off the resurgence of Prabowo Subianto's opposition Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) in the April election. 

Golkar finished third in the national vote, losing the second place it attained in the 2014 election to Gerindra, but since its support was more widely distributed across the country, it still managed to win more seats in the House of Representatives than Prabowo's party.

"Golkar's situation when he took over the leadership was; of course, wasn't easy, and all the members know that. So, looking at how all these problems were addressed while facing the recent presidential and legislative elections, it is only natural in my opinion, that many members want him to continue to lead," Golkar deputy chairwoman Christina Aryani said. 


Yet, some party members believe Airlangga has served his purpose. 

The Golkar Party Youth Front (BPPG) is now pushing for an extraordinary party convention, ahead of schedule. The group said the election result, which saw Golkar finish third behind Gerindra in terms of the total number of votes, reflects an urgent need for change. 

Party representatives from Pekanbaru, Dumai, Kampar and Meranti districts in Riau and Southeast Maluku voiced support for House Speaker Bambang Soesatyo as chairman.

Senior Golkar politician Akbar Tanjung also hinted that he may support Bambang, who was his junior in the Islamic Students Association (HMI). 

"I heard adinda [younger brother] Bambang Soesatyo ... wants to run for Golkar chairman. I was Golkar chairman because of my intelligence and abilities. So if you want to be the chairman of Golkar, you must be smart. I support him, because we agree that our members should occupy various important positions," Akbar reportedly said during a reunion of HMI alumni last month. 

Bambang said the support was flattering, but that he had yet to declare whether to run for chairman.

"The good intentions of party members who wish Golkar Party to remain successful must be appreciated," Bambang said. 

"The leadership during 2019-2024 will be important, as it must prepare future Golkar Party generations. If the leader supports young members and embraces young people, the process of regeneration can proceed smoothly. If not, don't be surprised if Golkar gets left behind in the future. Everything depends on the leader," Bambang said. 

He added that he was in no rush to push for an extraordinary convention.  

Theo L. Sambuaga, deputy chairman of Golkar's board of trustees, said a decision on an extraordinary convention requires a two-thirds majority in Golkar's provincial board to agree that the existing leadership had made fundamental mistakes. 

Support for Jokowi

A leadership change will not affect the party's support for the Jokowi administration. The support has been unanimous and nobody will contest it, Bambang said. 

The president has been paving the way for a supermajority coalition to ensure his reform agenda runs smoothly over the next five years. He cannot afford to lose an ally as important as Golkar, and to observers, his preference for the party's leadership is clear.

Jokowi invited Airlangga and all regional leaders of Golkar for a meeting at the Bogor Palace on Monday. 

"The meeting was certainly not without a message and context. For Golkar, it is a clear signal that President Jokowi supports Mr. Airlangga and wants him to remain the leader of Golkar. He is not only the party chairman, but also a minister in Jokowi's cabinet, hence the chemistry between them must have been there," said Jack Paskalis, coordinator of the Golkar Activist Network.