Ex-Speaker is new Golkar party chairman

Mr Setya Novanto (left) and House Speaker Ade Komarudin at the Golkar party headquarters in Jakarta earlier this month. They each received more than 30 per cent of the ballots yesterday and were entitled to contest a runoff but Mr Ade decided to give
Mr Setya Novanto (left) and House Speaker Ade Komarudin at the Golkar party headquarters in Jakarta earlier this month. They each received more than 30 per cent of the ballots yesterday and were entitled to contest a runoff but Mr Ade decided to give his support to Mr Setya instead.PHOTO: TEMPO

Victory marks turnaround in fortunes for Setya Novanto, who quit last December over kickback allegation

Mr Setya Novanto has emerged as the new chief of Indonesia's second-largest party, Golkar, as it attempts to move beyond a divisive leadership tussle that had lasted for more than a year.

He was elected Golkar chairman in the early hours of yesterday after securing 277 votes out of the 560 cast on the first ballot in a party congress which began last Saturday.

His closest challenger, Mr Ade Komarudin, received 177 votes. Six other candidates for the post shared the remaining 106 votes.

Both front runners received more than 30 per cent of the ballots and under party rules were entitled to contest a runoff.

But Mr Ade yielded the right to go into the second round and pledged support to Mr Setya, a former Speaker of Parliament, who was just three votes shy of the 50 per cent required under party rules to avoid a runoff.

  • Rising through the ranks to top post

  • JAKARTA • Networking skills and diligence are the attributes that have propelled Mr Setya Novanto to becoming leader of Golkar, Indonesia's second-largest party in Parliament, according to people close to him.

    Born in Bandung, West Java, Mr Setya, 61, came from a low-income family. His parents separated when he was in elementary school.

    He later moved to Jakarta, trying his hand at a host of jobs, including as a car salesman and a model.

    It was a high school friend, Mr Hayono Isman, who had wealthy parents, who helped change Mr Setya's life.

    Mr Setya found work at a fertiliser distribution company called Aninda Cipta Perdana, which was owned by Mr Hayono's father, Mr Mas Isman.

    Mr Setya then received a company scholarship to study accounting.

    During his time in Aninda Cipta, he lived in a small room at the owner's private house in the posh area of Menteng, in the central part of Jakarta.

    Mr Setya helped around the house, doing everything from gardening to mopping the floor, washing the car and even becoming an occasional chauffeur for the family.

    His political career began in 1974 when he joined a mass organisation, Kosgoro, which was founded by his employer.

    Mr Setya then joined Golkar in the early 1990s, and slowly rose through the ranks, serving in various strategic positions, including as a party campaign officer and campaign treasurer.

    He was elected as a Golkar Member of Parliament in 2014, and then was appointed as the Speaker of the House of Representatives in October 2014.

    But he never got to serve the full five-year term.

    In December last year, he was forced to step down after he was alleged to have sought kickbacks from a foreign mining firm.

    However, the allegation has never been proven.

    Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja

"I am relatively younger, 50 years old. Pak Novanto is about 60. I still have time. Mr friends and I will give our support to Pak Novanto for the sake of Golkar," Mr Ade told the congress participants.

Mr Setya's victory marks a turnaround in his political career after he resigned as Speaker in December amid an allegation that he sought kickbacks from the Indonesian subsidiary of United States-based mining firm Freeport McMoran. The allegation has never been proven.

In his victory remarks, the new party chairman pledged to scrap the culture of "political dowry" within Golkar, referring to the practice where party cadres wanting to run as a city mayor, a regent or a provincial governor across the country often had to contribute funds to the party to ensure they received the required endorsement.

"We will set aside revolving funds to help candidates fielded by Golkar. Political dowry has been an obstacle hampering Golkar from getting good candidates," Mr Setya said to cheers.

He has also vowed that Golkar would support the Joko Widodo administration, repeating a pledge that he and all the other candidates made prior to the party polls for chairman.

Golkar has been part of the opposition since Mr Joko took office in 2014, and a major shift in the balance of power in Parliament is in the offing if it joins the ruling coalition.

The coalition, with Golkar in its ranks, will control 62 per cent of the seats in the House, allowing the President a lot of room to push through much-needed reforms for the country.

Golkar is the second-largest party in the 560-seat Parliament with 91 MPs, eclipsed only by Mr Joko's Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle, or PDI-P, with 109.

Many expect the new Golkar chairman to try to re-energise the party as well as rebuild its support base following months of infighting over the leadership between veteran politicians Agung Laksono and Aburizal Bakrie.

Once led by strongman president Suharto, with a lock on parliamentary seats , Golkar was on the verge of an implosion until just six months ago.

In a dramatic twist last November, the two rival factions buried the hatchet and declared their support for Mr Joko's government.

As part of the move to reduce tensions between the senior party politicians, a Golkar board of patrons was formed and endowed with powers to help chart the party's future.

The congress on Monday agreed to appoint Mr Bakrie as the chief patron.

Some 3,000 senior officials of Golkar branches from regencies and cities across 34 Indonesian provinces had gathered in Bali from last Saturday to discuss changes in the structure of Indonesia's oldest political party.

More than 500 of those who attended the meeting had voting rights.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2016, with the headline 'Ex-Speaker is new Golkar party chairman'. Print Edition | Subscribe