Golkar's test of unity: The Jakarta Post

Chairman of the Golkar party Aburizal Bakrie (wearing garland) with party members and supporters on March 23, 2014.
Chairman of the Golkar party Aburizal Bakrie (wearing garland) with party members and supporters on March 23, 2014. PHOTO: ST FILE

In its editorial on Jan 27, The Jakarta Post notes that only a spirit of negotiation and dialogue will save Indonesia's oldest party.

Who has won and who has lost in the protracted quagmire dogging the Golkar Party (The Party of the Functional Groups) that has finally led to a settlement?

Will the party's official statement of support for the government at the conclusion of its leadership meeting on Monday lead to its inclusion in the Cabinet?

For sure it is common sense that has emerged as the real winner over egocentrism.

The fact that the party elite have agreed, hopefully with full backing from their constituents, to hold a congress to elect a new leader sometime in June mirrors their admission that whoever wins the internal feud will be unable to save the party from a split.

A victory at the expense of Golkar's unity constitutes a major defeat for the party anyway.

Since reformasi, Golkar, once a mighty ruling party, has seen a spate of breakaway moves, with resented figures forming their own political parties and bringing along senior party members with them.

The party plunged into another crisis ahead of the presidential election in July 2014 after chairman Aburizal Bakrie decided to support presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto while the other faction under Agung Laksono chose Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, the eventual president.

Aburizal was reelected as Golkar chairman through acclamation and steered the party to become an opposition force later that year, prompting Agung to hold a breakaway congress that elected him the party leader.

Both rival Golkar camps have since fought in court over their legitimacy to represent the party.

Brimming with confidence after the Supreme Court declared Agung's camp illegitimate while hoping the same court would rule in his favor again soon, Aburizal had resisted calls for a reconciliatory congress, including from the party's tribunal which last week formed a transition team to prepare for a congress.

Politics requires compromises in order to work; stubbornness fails. That is what vice president Jusuf Kalla, chairman of the transition team, reportedly told Aburizal in a meeting that eventually paved the way for the decisive Golkar leadership meeting.

Massive defeats in the December regional elections piled up pressure on the party elite to reconcile, to avoid another humiliation in the next simultaneous local elections in 2017.

Common sense was clearly also behind Aburizal's decision not to run for another term in the upcoming congress.

He, like his adversary Agung, was part of the problem, rather than the solution, as evident in the prolonged squabbling.

Aburizal can now bid for a consolation post, the party's chief advisor with authority to decide on Golkar's presidential candidate, but of course it is up to negotiations among the party elite.

A reconciliation mood is visible in the elite's consensus to entrust the organisation of the congress to the Golkar central board formed after the congress in Pekanbaru in 2009, which elected Aburizal the chairman and named Agung the deputy chairman.

The momentum built in the leadership meeting should therefore be kept alive.

It is the spirit of negotiation and dialogue that will help Golkar, and other parties, to survive, regardless of whether it joins or stays separate from the government.

The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers seeking to promote coverage of Asian affairs.