Bambang Soesatyo: From rookie MP to Indonesia's Speaker of Parliament in 8 years

A vocal Jokowi critic, Bambang Soesatyo is also known for being tough on corruption

Mr Bambang Soesatyo (left) - with Mr Yapto Soerjosoemarno, leader of youth group Pemuda Pancasila - is a father of eight who comes from a large military family in Jakarta.
Mr Bambang Soesatyo (left) - with Mr Yapto Soerjosoemarno, leader of youth group Pemuda Pancasila - is a father of eight who comes from a large military family in Jakarta. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/BAMBANG SOESATYO

He was a former journalist turned businessman who failed in four attempts to be a Member of Parliament.

But that did not stop Mr Bambang Soesatyo from trying again in 2009 when he contested in an electoral district in Central Java and he finally won a seat in Indonesia's House of Representatives.

Last Monday, the 55 year-old was sworn in as Speaker of Parliament, capping a political career that saw him rise from a rookie MP in the Golkar Party to House leader in just over eight years.

He is also chairman of the powerful House Commission III, which oversees law and human rights, as well as the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), among others.

Mr Bambang was appointed Speaker after his predecessor, Setya Novanto, who was also Golkar chairman, was forced to give up the two posts when he was indicted in a US$173 million (S$236 million) graft probe.

Golkar has 91 seats, or 16 per cent, of the 560 seats in Parliament, making it the second-largest party after the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), which has 109.

Under Setya, Golkar cozied up to President Joko Widodo and eventually switched sides from the opposition to join the ruling coalition led by the PDI-P in January 2016.

The move significantly strengthened Mr Joko's standing in Parliament and was seen as a boost to his re-election chancesnext year.

But some believe Mr Bambang's appointment as Speaker could mean tougher negotiations in Parliament for Mr Joko during the remainder of his first term.

"Jokowi may not have full control over the House like he did with the previous Speaker," Jakarta Post editor-in-chief Endy Bayuni told Reuters last week, referring to Mr Joko by his popular nickname.

This is because Mr Bambang's support for the President's policy agenda may not be "automatic", he added.

Mr Bambang is married to Madam Lenny Sri Mulyani and they have eight children.

He comes from a large military family in Jakarta but instead of joining the armed forces, he became a journalist at 23 and later joined the timber business.

As a lawmaker, he positioned himself as an anti-graft champion and was vocal against the government's controversial bailout of Bank Century after the 2008 financial crisis.

Mr Bambang, who studied accountancy and economics, and holds an MBA from the Newport Management Institute of Indonesia, has also been critical of Mr Joko's handling of the economy and the state Budget.

But political convictions and coalitions in Indonesia are fluid and alliances are known to change depending on current loyalties and circumstances. Some observers expect him to toe the party line and stand behind Mr Joko next year.

Even his anti-corruption stance was questioned recently after it was revealed that he had a collection of 10 cars, photos of which he regularly posts on Instagram.

According to Liputan 6 news, the vehicles include a Bentley Mulsanne, Ferrari California, Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz S400, Porsche Cayenne, Rolls-Royce Phantom, Toyota Fortuner and Toyota Vellfire. He is also said to own a Hummer H2 and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, as well as a Tesla electric car on order.

When asked by reporters about his love for high-end cars, he said: "This just means I worked hard to achieve my desire of changing my life, and for personal pleasure."

Mr Bambang will have his work cut out for him as Speaker, especially with his current tenure expected to last just 18 months before legislative elections next year.

He is also the fourth Speaker since 2014 and observers have questioned whether he can revive the image of an under-achieving Parliament, which passed just eight out of a target of 50 Bills in the legislative year ending October 2017.

Indonesian Institute of Sciences researcher Nostalgiawan Wahyudhi told The Straits Times that it would be difficult to expect the performance of the House to improve under Mr Bambang because lawmakers and their parties would be focused on the upcoming polls.

He said: "In this political year, we do not expect much from the House. (Whatever debate they hold) will be nuanced by the political consolidation for the 2019 elections."

Some 160 million Indonesians will also go to the polls to elect their regional leaders in June this year.

Speaking to reporters after his inauguration last week, Mr Bambang admitted that corruption had given Parliament "a very negative image" and vowed to fight it .

"We must be aware of this issue and take the essential steps to transform that image," he said.

He also brushed aside concerns that Golkar members were part of a faction behind a parliamentary inquiry that has been trying to introduce new laws to weaken the KPK.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2018, with the headline Bambang Soesatyo: From rookie MP to Indonesia's Speaker of Parliament in 8 years. Subscribe