Eight get green light to vie for top job in Indonesia's biggest political party

Mr Setya Novanto (at left) and House Speaker Ade Komarudin at the Golkar party headquarters in Jakarta last Saturday. Both men are among eight members campaigning for the post of Golkar chief, and experts see the contest as a straight fight between t
Mr Setya Novanto (at left) and House Speaker Ade Komarudin at the Golkar party headquarters in Jakarta last Saturday. Both men are among eight members campaigning for the post of Golkar chief, and experts see the contest as a straight fight between the two.PHOTO: TEMPO

Indonesian House Speaker and predecessor seen as front runners ahead of party congress

A field of eight will duke it out this weekend on the resort island of Bali for the top job in Golkar, Indonesia's biggest political party.

The candidates touted as front runners by political pundits in recent months are House Speaker Ade Komarudin and his predecessor in Parliament, Mr Setya Novanto.

Both men are among eight members vetted by the party cadre and given the green light to campaign for the post of Golkar chief, said Mr Andi Sinulingga, who is secretary of the party's steering committee.

The other six are politicians Aziz Syamsuddin and Mahyudin, former lawmakers Airlangga Hartarto, Indra Bambang Utoyo and Priyo Budi Santoso, as well as South Sulawesi governor Syahrul Yasin Limpo.

"We will treat all eight equally," said Mr Andi on Tuesday, ahead of the Golkar national congress starting on Saturday in Nusa Dua, Bali, where the "Yellow Army" will cast their votes for a new leader.

Yellow is the official party colour. Over the last one year, Golkar has been plagued by a leadership tussle between veteran politicians Agung Laksono and Aburizal Bakrie.

PARTY FACES TEST

It is a test to see whether Golkar can reform itself by breaking with the old tradition which includes vote-buying and transactional politics.

INDONESIAN INSTITUTE OF SCIENCES ANALYST SITI ZUHRO, saying that Golkar's selection of its next leader will be critical if it wants to win back support.

An attempt to reconcile started recently, and Golkar will be hoping that a new party chief will be able to revive its support base.

Campaigning kicked off with a big bang at a roadshow in Medan on Sunday, with all eight candidates running on a promise of change.

Experts such as Mr Ali Nurdin from Mathla'ul Anwar University said that although the race has eight candidates, it is really a straight fight between Mr Ade and Mr Setya.

"They have seniority, economic resources and endorsements from party bigwigs," he said, adding that both men are backed by members such as former Golkar chiefs Akbar Tandjung and Aburizal Bakrie.

One notable absentee on the shortlist was businessman Tommy Suharto. Local media had reported earlier that the youngest son of former president Suharto had also thrown his hat into the ring.

It is unclear why he was not in the final eight, although observers, reported The Jakarta Post recently, had said his nomination would hamper the party's bid to rebuild. Golkar was the party of his father, who ruled Indonesia for 32 years. But it has been on a downward spiral since its first defeat at the 1999 polls, after Suharto was forced to resign following the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

The party has been part of the opposition since President Joko Widodo took office, but that is set to change with all eight candidates having declared support for the government, if elected as chairman.

If that happens, the ruling coalition will control 62 per cent of the House, shifting the balance of power to allow Mr Joko to push through much-needed reforms in Indonesia.

Analyst Katjung Marijan had said a reason for Golkar's change in allegiance could be that it was promised Cabinet posts in exchange for its support. Being in government would be a big step as the party looks to regain credibility among Indonesians.

Recent developments in the chairmanship race, however, have drawn controversy. Besides Mr Tommy Suharto's aborted attempt, many opposed Mr Setya's bid, citing allegations of him soliciting kickbacks from mining firm Freeport last year.

The party's requirement of a one billion rupiah (S$103,000) "registration fee" from the candidates was also called into question, leading to accusations of vote-buying.

Experts such as Indonesian Institute of Sciences analyst Siti Zuhro warned that Golkar's pick of its next leader is critical if it wants to regain support. "It is a test to see whether Golkar can reform itself by breaking with the old tradition which includes vote-buying and transactional politics," she told The Jakarta Post.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2016, with the headline 'Eight get green light to vie for top job in Golkar'. Print Edition | Subscribe