Bambang Soesatyo, left, shakes hand with Golkar chairman Airlangga Hartarto after the former is inaugurated as the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) speaker on Oct. 3. (Antara Photo)

Two Golkar Strongmen Face Off for Chairmanship


NOVEMBER 08, 2019

Jakarta. Former ruling party Golkar is set for a heated chairmanship election as two of its strong men prepare to face each other in a national congress in December.

Bambang Soesatyo, the speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), the country's highest law-making body, has openly declared his bid for the party's top post.

He is challenging current chairman Airlangga Hartarto, who is also the coordinating minister for the economy.

A team of several Golkar executives who support Bambang told a press conference in Jakarta on Thursday that Airlangga has been too busy to manage the party because of his ministerial job.

They urged Airlangga to give way to Bambang ahead of the national congress to elect the party's new chairman on Dec. 4-6.

"The Golkar Party thanks the president for entrusting a Golkar executive with the coordinating minister for the economy job. Due to serious economic problems facing the country, [Airlangga] must dedicate his full time to and focus on his job," the team's head Ahmadi Noor Supit said.

He was accompanied by other top Golkar figures including Yoris Raweyai, Robert J. Kardinal, Darul Siska and Fahd El Fouz Arafiq.

Airlangga's candidacy, meanwhile, received a significant boost after President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo signaled his support.

"I believe Golkar will grow even stronger in the future because it has the best leader," Jokowi said of Airlangga during a gathering to celebrate the party's 55th anniversary in Jakarta on Wednesday evening.

But Ahmadi played down Jokowi's statement and insisted Bambang was firm with his candidacy. He added it was nothing unusual for the president to praise his key aide.

"But inside Golkar, party rules apply. The president cannot intervene in the party's internal affairs because he is not a Golkar member. And we do believe the president has no intention to intervene," Ahmadi said.

On and Off

Bambang's candidacy has been going on intermittently over the last few months. In late September, amid a tense political atmosphere caused by nationwide demonstrations prior to the president's second term inauguration and the swearing-in of new members of the national legislatures, then House of Representatives Speaker Bambang agreed to cease his rivalry with Airlangga.

A source inside Golkar even said that Bambang had given up his bid.

"Airlangga and I have met and we agreed to cool situation in the Golkar Party, ease tension and avoid division. We are both ready to set aside our egos and interests," Bambang said on Sept. 28.

Both men have never been closer as when Airlangga as party chairman successfully nominated Bambang for the MPR's top post early last month, reportedly under a secret deal that the latter would drop his bid for the Golkar leadership.

"Yes that's true, that was the purpose [of the deal], to avoid internal conflicts," former Golkar executive Fadel Muhamad said at that time. 

Fadel, a legislator representing the province of Gorontalo and now Bambang's deputy in the MPR, said the deal would pave the way for Airlangga's reelection as chairman.

Golkar, once the political vehicle of long-serving dictator Soeharto, has seen political rifts among its leaders in recent years. 

Tycoon Aburizal Bakrie, who led Golkar from 2009, had to deal with persistent opposition from a disgruntled clique led by rival Agung Laksono after the former was re-elected as chairman in 2014.  

Both men were split by their political views. Aburizal continued with his support for defeated presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, while Agung insisted that Golkar should join the Jokowi government.

Agung led his supporters to a separate congress and himself became a chairman in their version of Golkar. Their bitter rivalries forced Golkar to hold an extraordinary congress in May 2016, which resulted in Aburizal's early departure and the election of Setya Novanto as a new chairman.

Setya, who also won the House speaker post, had to leave prematurely after he was convicted of corruption and a subsequent congress elected Airlangga in December 2017.