News analysis

Golkar turmoil may affect Jokowi's re-election bid

He depends on allied party for pick of credible running mate

The political turmoil caused by the detention of suspended Golkar chairman Setya Novanto may have repercussions beyond the party's image, as it could impact President Joko Widodo's re-election bid, analysts say.

Mr Joko is from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) that he has been struggling to tame. It is the biggest party in the Indonesian Parliament.

He needs Golkar, the country's second-largest political party, to remain strong as he looks ahead to seek re-election in 2019 with a credible running mate.

Mr Joko has been helped by Golkar to implement some of his programmes, reducing his need for PDI-P's backing.

"PDI-P is no longer as influential as it was over Jokowi since Golkar came in. Jokowi needs to see Golkar continue to play such a role," senior political observer Salahuddin Wahid told The Straits Times. Jokowi is Mr Joko's popular nickname in Indonesia.

Golkar is in turmoil after Mr Novanto, who is Speaker of Indonesia's Parliament, was detained for alleged corruption.

The 62-year-old is to be questioned by the anti-graft commission KPK over a major scandal involving US$170 million (S$230 million) of stolen state funds. Golkar has suspended Mr Novanto.

That is bad news for President Joko.

Insiders told The Straits Times that the PDI-P is keen to field controversial police general Budi Gunawan, 57, as Mr Joko's running mate for the 2019 presidential election.

President Joko Widodo has had several run-ins with his PDI-P party leaders over the years, including who should be in his Cabinet. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A group of prominent former activists, who call themselves Jari, has also campaigned and pledged support for General Budi to be Mr Joko's running mate.

But Mr Joko would likely reject General Budi due to concerns over past allegations of graft.

Gen Budi, when he was a colonel, was an adjutant to then Indonesian President Megawati Soekarnoputri, the PDI-P chairman, and he has maintained good relations with his former boss.

Mr Joko, though a leader in PDI-P, does not control the party. Ms Megawati does.

But analysts say that Mr Joko could only reject Mr Budi if he has backing from a strong and stable Golkar, which could provide him with a running mate for 2019.

Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla is from Golkar.

Mr Joko has had several run-ins with his own party leaders over the years, including who should be in his Cabinet. For several times since he became president in 2014, Mr Joko had faced threats from PDI-P to pull its support for his agenda and he had to get the backing of Mr Novanto or Golkar to pull through.

It was understood that for the 2019 presidential election, Mr Joko, 56, is likely to pick a relatively young running mate.

The idea is that should he win and rule for a second and final term, he could promote this younger person as the next presidential candidate to carry on with his reform agenda.

Mr Salahuddin said: "It is also important that Jokowi pairs up with a figure with strong networks among the Muslims. A running mate should add voter base."

Meanwhile, Mr Novanto has a handwritten letter sent from his detention cell to House leaders, pleading to be allowed to keep his job while he fights the charges.

"I ask Parliament leaders to give me a chance to prove that I had no involvement," Mr Novanto wrote.

"For the time being, do not hold an ethics council's hearing to decide whether to suspend me as Parliament Speaker or as a Member of Parliament."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2017, with the headline 'Golkar turmoil may affect Jokowi's re-election bid'. Print Edition | Subscribe