Editorial Notes

Replacing Setya may not save Golkar: The Jakarta Post

Indonesian Parliament Speaker Setya Novanto (right) escorted by a Corruption Eradication Commission officer during his first trial at Central Jakarta's court on Dec 13.
Indonesian Parliament Speaker Setya Novanto (right) escorted by a Corruption Eradication Commission officer during his first trial at Central Jakarta's court on Dec 13. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

In its editorial notes on Dec 18, the paper says Indonesia's Golkar party needs to come up with drastic measures to reform the party.

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The end of the New Order regime in May 1998 marked the start of "years of living dangerously" for the Golkar Party (the ruling party from 1973 to 1999).

That it survived the public reprisal in the wake of sweeping reforms nearly 20 years ago and held on to play a pivotal role in national politics proves its mettle, thanks in part to its leaders, who are known for their skills and composure.

It is those in the party's elite circle, however, who should be held responsible for crisis after crisis plaguing the party that has culminated in the ongoing trial of its former chairman, Setya Novanto, for allegedly playing a central role in the e-ID graft case.

Under Setya, who relinquished his Golkar chief post just before he was indicted last Wednesday (Dec 13), Golkar has seen its electability rate nosedive in the run-up to the April 2019 concurrent legislative and presidential elections.

Golkar has finished in second place in four legislative elections held since 1999, which is quite an achievement, indeed, but no one is willing to bet it can maintain such an achievement in the upcoming elections.

Unsurprisingly, the party has moved quickly to arrange an extraordinary congress scheduled for this week to confirm a change of guard and lay out the sweeping reform it needs to regain public trust.

After a noisy power struggle, if not deal-making, executives of the party unanimously entrusted on Wednesday Airlangga Hartarto, who is also the trade minister, as the new chairman.

Airlangga's appointment is unsurprising, given his close link to the President. Internal sources said President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo had asked his fellow Gadjah Mada University alumnus Airlangga to lead Golkar prior to its 2015 congress in Bali. Airlangga did join the race back then, but eventually threw his support behind Setya, who would go on to win by acclamation.

The rise of Airlangga to the Golkar throne is a testament to the party's unwavering support for the government of Jokowi, who is slated to attend the opening of the party's congress on Tuesday (Dec 19), and his reelection bid in 2019.

There is nothing wrong with Golkar's pragmatic choice of staying inside the power circle, as history has proven the party's DNA as an integral part of the ruling government.

In all four presidential elections held since 1999, Golkar had either nominated its own candidates or joined a losing coalition, but eventually jumped ship to support the elected president.

It is its inability to resist the lure of power that has perhaps been the root of the party's problems. As the English historian Lord Acton warned in his 1887 letter, power tends to corrupt.

The Setya case and many other abuses of power entangling our politicians have proven the prophecy. Post-reform Indonesia has seen corruption devour the hard-won democracy.

Replacing Setya will surely not necessarily save Golkar. Neither will Airlangga's confirmation as the party's new skipper, unless he comes up with drastic measures, by first of all choosing figures known for their integrity to fill the party's board. Time will tell whether Airlangga personifies a new Golkar or just rewrites the same old story.

The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.