Golkar reaffirms support for Jokowi's re-election bid

But Indonesian party's backing may depend on its chief surviving graft probe, say analysts

A major political party has reaffirmed its decision to support Indonesian President Joko Widodo's bid for re-election in 2019, giving him a much-needed boost as he reaches the halfway mark in office.

Golkar, which won 91 seats in the 2014 legislative elections just behind the 109 won by Mr Joko's Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle, announced this at the end of a three-day national leadership congress on Tuesday night, in a rare show of unity for the party.

At the event in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan on Tuesday, Golkar party chief and House Speaker Setya Novanto said the party will support Mr Joko, also known as Jokowi, as part of its national strategy for the legislative and presidential elections, which will be held simultaneously in two years' time.

He said Golkar has agreed with other political parties "to nominate the same presidential candidate", referring to Mr Joko.

Previously part of the opposition coalition, Golkar switched its support to Mr Joko's ruling coalition in January last year, significantly shifting the balance of power in South-east Asia's largest nation.

But analysts said that whether Golkar, the second-biggest party in Parliament, will continue to back Mr Joko depends on the fortunes of Mr Setya, who is facing a graft probe.

The graft case may weaken Mr Setya's position in the party, analysts noted. And if he loses his position as party chief, he may be replaced by other leaders who are not supportive of Mr Joko.

"If Setya's name keeps coming up in the e-KTP case, it may add more pressure on him," Mr Ali Nurdin, a political analyst at Mathla'ul Anwar University, told The Straits Times.

He was referring to the investigation by the Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK, into more than two trillion rupiah (S$209 million) in state losses over a biometric identity card project.

Mr Setya has denied allegations that he received millions of dollars in kickbacks from the project in 2010.

Mr Setya's speech came a day after senior Golkar cadre member Agung Laksono reminded the party that it had voiced support last year for Mr Joko in the 2019 poll.

All party officials have to work hard to win the legislative elections and support Mr Joko, he added.

He asked Golkar members not to lose heart after its nominee, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the incumbent Jakarta governor, lost the gubernatorial elections last month.

"Golkar must not be hesitant and be dispirited as the biggest fight is yet to come," added Mr Agung.

Golkar's backing would put Mr Joko in good stead against the opposition camp led by Gerindra party chief Prabowo Subianto, his long-time rival.

There was a hint of discord at the Golkar congress when tycoon Aburizal Bakrie, who once ran for president against Mr Joko, urged the party to pick a member as Mr Joko's running mate. But Mr Setya said he would leave this to Mr Joko.

Mr Aburizal also took a veiled swipe at Mr Setya, when he suggested that Golkar should be fighting for the top post instead.

"Obviously, we are not just looking for a vice-president position," he said on Monday. "We are beyond that. We want to expand our party's contributions to the country."

Observers such as Mr Ali said those comments are proof that all is still not well with the party.

"Setya and Ical have different interests and their differing discourse would lead to factions within Golkar," he said, referring to Mr Aburizal by his nickname.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 25, 2017, with the headline 'Golkar reaffirms support for Jokowi's re-election bid'. Print Edition | Subscribe