Indonesian industry minister Airlangga replaces Novanto as Golkar chief

Golkar selected Indonesia's Industry Minister Airlangga Hartarto (centre) to replace Setya Novanto as party chairman. PHOTO: THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

JAKARTA - Golkar on Wednesday (Dec 13) selected Indonesia's Industry Minister Airlangga Hartarto to replace Setya Novanto as party chairman, after the latter was charged in court with corruption earlier in the day.

"A Golkar plenary meeting has decided to replace chairman Mr Setya Novanto with Mr Pak Airlangga Hartarto, and that is definitive," declared senior Golkar cadre member Nurdin Halid, after a plenary meeting held at the party headquarters in West Jakarta that went late into the night.

The announcement followed Novanto's first appearance in court, where he was indicted for taking at least US$7.3 million (S$10 million) in kickbacks over a biometric identity-card government project between November 2009 and December 2013.

He had resigned as Speaker of Parliament on Monday, three weeks after he was suspended as Golkar chairman, which sent the party in disarray as a tussle for the position began among its senior members.

This is the third major leadership shake-up at Golkar in recent years, and the second involving alleged misconduct by Novanto.

He was also forced to resign as party chairman exactly two years ago, amid allegations of him trying to solicit kickbacks from a United States-based mining firm in what was known as the "Papa Minta Saham" scandal.

Mr Airlangga was appointed Golkar chief unopposed, after Novanto's choice, Mr Aziz Syamsuddin, withdrew his candidacy, said Mr Nurdin.

The appointment of Mr Airlangga is expected to bring about much-needed stability to Golkar, a political powerhouse that once ruled Indonesia for 32 years under former president Suharto.

But it has been on a downward spiral since its first defeat at the 1999 polls, after Mr Suharto was forced to resign following the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

Golkar is now the second-largest political party in Indonesia, after the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), and part of the government coalition.

Mr Airlangga is widely believed to have been the candidate most favoured by President Joko Widodo for the top post in Golkar. The President had appointed him Industry Minister during a second Cabinet shake-up in July last year.

His ministerial appointment was reward for Golkar ditching the opposition coalition earlier last year to join Mr Joko's ruling coalition.

The switch by Golkar had provided the President with the critical majority in Parliament for the first time since he took office in 2014.

Mr Airlangga's political career has seen him take on posts such as chairman of the energy, environment and technology Parliament committee for 2006-2009, and Golkar deputy treasurer.

He has a mechanical engineering bachelor's degree from University of Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta and an MBA from Monash University, Australia.

Mr Airlangga stressed on Wednesday that under his leadership, Golkar will continue to back the current the government and Mr Joko into the next presidential election in 2019.

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