Indonesian Speaker Setya Novanto climbed to the top from humble beginnings

Indonesian Parliament Speaker Setya Novanto waves shortly after a press conference at the parliament building in Jakarta.
Indonesian Parliament Speaker Setya Novanto waves shortly after a press conference at the parliament building in Jakarta. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA - 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 2016) that paved the way for his becoming the House Speaker.

Now, after less than two years at Golkar's helm, Novanto may finally lose his grip.

On Thursday (Nov 16), Parliament’s ethics council discussed Novanto's fate and opted to wait and monitor the case before making a decision. Novanto is being investigated in an over US$170 million (S$230 million) graft case investigation linked to a national electronic identity card scheme. 

His Golkar party plans to meet on Friday to discuss his fate, according to Mr Yoris Raweyai, a senior cadre who was recently ousted from the Golkar leaders' board due to his fierce criticism of Novanto.

Born in Bandung, West Java, Novanto, 62, came from a low-income 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 Novanto's life.

Novanto found work at a fertiliser distribution company called Aninda Cipta Perdana, which was owned by Mr Hayono's father, Mr Mas Isman.

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 private house in the posh area of Menteng, in the central part of Jakarta.

Novanto helped around the house, doing everything from gardening to mopping the floor, washing the car and even becoming an occasional chauffeur for the family.

His political career began in 1974 when he joined a mass organisation, Kosgoro, which was founded by his employer.

 

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

He was elected as a Golkar Member of Parliament in 2014, and then was appointed as the 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.

However, the allegation has never been proven.