Jakarta. Aburizal Bakrie stands on the verge of winning a second term at the helm of Indonesia's most storied political party -- an achievement made possible through the subversion of the party's democratic process by a corruption convict.
Golkar Party's national congress, currently taking place in Nusa Dua, Bali, agreed late on Monday to choose its chairperson by acclamation rather than by direct vote. That prompted the only challenger to Aburizal's re-election bid, Airlangga Hartarto, to drop out of the race, essentially handing the role to the incumbent for a second five-year term.
But the process has been dogged by controversy, including claims by senior Golkar members that Aburizal's camp brought forward the congress by a month, in violation of the previously agreed schedule and allegations that the party's regional representatives with voting rights were threatened with dismissal if they refused to vote for Aburizal.
The latest scandal is the revelation, through a leaked audio recording, that key organizers of the whole process conspired to ensure that Aburizal would run unchallenged.
The recordings, leaked to the media by sources inside the party, appear to be from a steering committee meeting on Saturday, before the national congress began, in which committee chairman Nurdin Halid is heard telling chairpersons of Golkar's 33 provincial chapters — all with voting rights in the congress — to cause a commotion at the congress that would allow him to pass a rule change that would essentially clinch victory for Aburizal.
"The first thing we have to do is control the rules for the congress. This is cunning, really cunning," Nurdin is heard saying in the recording.
"But we need to have some aces at the congress, our floor leaders, and that's you, gentlemen," he said, adding that each provincial chapter should pick two to four people for this role.
"Then you'll argue and debate fiercely; you can even fight," Nurdin said.
With the congress in commotion, he said, the steering committee would present the rule change -- "prepared beforehand" -- as a solution to ending the bickering, and if that passed, "then the congress is 99 percent done."
The rule change in question, known as Article 22(4), stipulates that congress participants with voting rights may only nominate a single candidate for chairperson and must justify its choice both in writing and at the public caucus at the congress.
Critics of the rule contend that it discourages the provincial chapters from nominating any candidate other than Aburizal, for fear of reprisals once they make their views public at the congress.
"That's a problem. That's part of the plan to secure a vote by acclamation," Agun Gunandjar Sudarsa, a Golkar stalwart and prominent critic of both Aburizal and the election process, said on Monday before the congress agreed on the rule.
Nico Harjanto, an analyst with the Public Opinion and Policy Research Center (Populi), said the decision confirmed manipulation by Aburizal and his supporters.
"It is a big step back because Golkar has a lot of members able to be a chairman candidate," Nico said.
Nico said there was nothing that made Aburizal's leadership stand out.
"If acclamation will be the way of the election, Golkar will break," Nico said.
In the recording, Nurdin said he was experienced at coming up with such plans, based on previous elections for the chair of the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI), which he held from 2003 to 2011.
He then turned the floor over to another steering committee member, Freddy Latumahina, who made clear the purpose of securing the passage of Article 22(4).
"This congress will only be a success if A.R. is chosen," Freddy said, in an apparent reference to Aburizal. "The success of this congress depends on you [believing that] there is no other choice.
Nurdin, apparently seeking approval for his "cunning" plan, closed with: "Before [we go ahead], we're all in on this, right?"
That Nurdin would hatch such a plan does not appear inconceivable, given his history of mismanaging the PSSI -- and his criminal convictions for graft.
He was tried in 2005 for corruption in a government cooking oil distribution program, but was acquitted in June that year. In August that same year he was sentenced to six months in prison for customs fraud over rice imports.
In a third case, in December 2005, he stood trial for graft in sugar imports, but the charges were thrown out on a technicality.
Prosecutors mounted an appeal of the cooking oil verdict, and in 2007 the Supreme Court overturned the acquittal and sentenced Nurdin to two years in prison.
The PSSI allowed him to stay on as chairman, despite a FIFA statute stating clearly that the head of any football association of its member nations "must not have been previously found guilty of a criminal offense."
Nurdin's continued tenure as the PSSI chief led the world football governing body to threaten to suspend Indonesia's membership, but it was only in 2011 that he was finally ejected.
When asked on Tuesday about the pre-congress recording, Nurdin acknowledged that it was him speaking, but denied that he had said anything inappropriate.
"There's nothing strange about that recording. It's perfectly normal," he said.
He added that Agun, who has threatened to file a complaint to the Justice Ministry about the alleged conspiracy, was simply bitter with Aburizal's camp.
Agun said separately that he had always suspected there was a "systemic conspiracy" to exclude all other candidates from running in the congress.
Aburizal, the prime beneficiary of the whole bizarre process, has not commented on the recording. He also denied allegations of "authoritarian" tactics of cowing the voting members into not nominating other candidates.
"All of them came out in support of me. All 500-plus of them," he said on Tuesday. "How could I have ordered them?"