Indonesia's Golkar forms coalition to endorse chief as presidential candidate

Campaign billboards featuring Golkar chief Airlangga Hartarto sprang up in Java and Sulawesi in late 2021. ST PHOTO: LINDA YULISMAN

JAKARTA - Indonesia's oldest party Golkar has formed a coalition with two smaller parties, in a move that analysts view as endorsing its party chief as a presidential candidate and opening up the chance of having more than two presidential hopefuls in the 2024 election, unlike the last two polls.

The alliance with National Mandate Party (PAN) and United Development Party (PPP) - named "United Indonesia Coalition" - seeks to "end the use of political identities polarising Indonesian voters" as seen in the 2014 and 2019 elections, which Golkar top executive Ace Hasan Syadzily described as "causing a deep trauma" within the society after the polls.

"We want the general election to become a contest of ideas, thoughts, track records and achievements, an opportunity to prove to each other which one is the best," he said last Friday (May 13).

The ratings of Golkar chief Airlangga Hartarto, 59, who is Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs, have been lower in major opinion polls compared with other presidential hopefuls, such as Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto, Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo and Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan.

In an early election campaign late last year, campaign billboards featuring Mr Airlangga, with the slogan "working for Indonesia", sprang up on roadsides in a number of regions, including West Java, Central Java, East Java and South Sulawesi, triggering public criticism as Indonesia was still struggling to curb the Covid-19 pandemic.

Professor Firman Noor, a senior researcher at the Political Research Centre of the National Research and Innovation Agency, told The Straits Times: "For now, this (coalition) is intended as a (political) vehicle for Mr Airlangga.

"The intention of Golkar, especially Mr Airlangga... is to seek parties that have no strong candidates, but with whom they can cooperate and share positions in the Cabinet."

He noted that it is mutually beneficial for both sides: The two smaller parties need more votes in order to join the Cabinet, while Golkar needs parties with a "soft bargaining position".

"If Golkar picks Gerindra, it will be tough as Gerindra has big bargaining power. So it seeks mediocre parties to allow smooth negotiations," Prof Firman said.

Gerindra, led by Mr Prabowo, a retired army general, came in second in the 2019 election after winning 12.6 per cent of the votes in Parliament, overtaking Golkar which fell to third place with 12.3 per cent of the votes.

Mr Prabowo had contested as a presidential candidate in 2014 and 2019, but lost to the only other candidate, Mr Joko Widodo, who will complete his second five-year term in 2024 and cannot seek re-election.

Dr Sirojudin Abbas, executive director at pollster Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting, told ST that the latest move by the three parties was a "concrete initial move" towards building a "common platform" to mobilise the masses ahead of the election.

"If (the coalition) can mature, the three parties can become an axis alliance in the presidential polls. When combined, they have met the minimal presidential threshold," he said.

The three parties currently hold 148 seats, exceeding the threshold of 115, or 20 per cent of the seats.

Both Prof Firman and Dr Sirojudin believe the chance is high for more than two presidential candidates for the 2024 election, and more coalitions.

"It's most likely that there will be more than two presidential candidates. Parties insist on proposing their own candidates," Prof Firman said. "There are a lot of parties and they cannot advance on their own, which means the opportunities to build coalitions are very big."

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