He rose up the ranks after humble start

He may be in the firing line now, but Indonesia's embattled House Speaker Setya Novanto rose up the ranks of Golkar, the country's oldest political party, on account of his diligence and networking skills.

It was his powerful position as Golkar chairman, since May last year, that paved the way for him to become the House Speaker. Now, after less than two years at Golkar's helm, Mr Novanto may finally lose his grip.

Yesterday, the Indonesian Parliament's ethics council was discussing his fate and opted to wait and monitor the case before making a decision.

Mr Novanto is being investigated in a US$170 million (S$230 million) graft case linked to a national electronic identity card scheme. Golkar also plans to meet to discuss his fate, said Mr Yoris Raweyai, a senior cadre who was recently ousted from the Golkar leaders' board owing to his fierce criticism of Mr Novanto.

Born in Bandung, West Java, Mr Novanto, 62, came from a poor 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 wealthy high school friend, Mr Hayono Isman, who helped change his life.

He found work at a fertiliser distribution firm called Aninda Cipta Perdana, which was owned by Mr Hayono's father. Mr Novanto then received a company scholarship to study accounting. During his time in Aninda Cipta, he lived in a small room at the owner's house in Menteng, in central Jakarta. He helped around the house, doing everything from gardening to mopping the floor.

His political career began in 1974 when he joined a mass organisation, Kosgoro.

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

He was elected as a Golkar MP in 2014, and was appointed as Speaker of the House of Representatives in October 2014. But he never got to serve the full five-year term. In December 2015, he was forced to step down after he was alleged to have sought kickbacks from a foreign mining firm. But the allegation has never been proven.

Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2017, with the headline 'He rose up the ranks after humble start'. Print Edition | Subscribe