Indonesia's second largest party Golkar elects new chief after months of divisive tussle

In this photo taken on Nov 19, 2015, former Indonesian parliament speaker Setya Novanto seen during an official function at the parliament in Jakarta.
In this photo taken on Nov 19, 2015, former Indonesian parliament speaker Setya Novanto seen during an official function at the parliament in Jakarta. PHOTO: AFP

NUSA DUA, BALI - Former parliament Speaker Setya Novanto emerged on Tuesday (May 17) as the new chief of Indonesia's second-largest party Golkar, as it attempts to move beyond a divisive leadership tussle that had lasted for more than a year.

Mr Setya and Mr Ade Komarudin garnered 277 and 173 votes, respectively, of the 560 votes cast in the early hours of Tuesday during the meeting that started at 9am the previous day. This means both were qualified to proceed to the second round of voting.

But Mr Ade yielded to Mr Setya and pledged support for Mr Setya, giving up his right to contest in the final round.

"I am relatively younger, 50 years old. Pak Novanto is (about) 60 years old. I still have time. I and friends will give support to Pak Novanto for the sake of Golkar party," Mr Ade told the congress participants, referring to Mr Setya Novanto.

A candidate must get more than 50 per cent of the votes, as required by party rules, to win in one round of voting.

Eight candidates contested for the post of ketua umum, or party chairman, in the first round.

Mr Setya, 61, who is a former Speaker of the Indonesian Parliament, will have the job of working with the Joko Widodo administration.

Golkar was part of the opposition since President Joko took office in 2014, but that is set to change as all eight candidates had declared support for the government if elected.

If that happens, the ruling coalition led by Mr Joko will control 62 per cent of Parliament, shifting the balance of power to allow him to push through much-needed reforms in Indonesia.

Golkar has the second biggest number of MPs in Parliament after Mr Joko's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P.

The other six candidates were politicians Aziz Syamsuddin and Mahyudin, former lawmakers Airlangga Hartarto, Indra Bambang Utoyo and Priyo Budi Santoso, and South Sulawesi governor Syahrul Yasin Limpo.

Some 3,000 senior officials of Golkar branches from regencies and cities across 34 Indonesians provinces had gathered in Bali from Saturday to discuss changes in the structure of the oldest political party in Indonesia.

Of the 3,000, more than 500 had voting rights.

The new chairman, whose term lasts to 2019, is expected to reenergise the party move beyond its leadership tussle between veteran politicians Agung Laksono and Aburizal Bakrie, and rebuild its support base.

Golkar, who was once led by strongman President Suharto, was on the verge of an ugly implosion until just six months ago. But in a dramatic twist last November, the two rival factions buried the hatchet and declared their support for President Joko Widodo's government.

As part of the move to reduce tensions between the senior party politicians, a Golkar board of patrons was created that are endowed with powers to take part in the party's strategic decisions.

The congress on Monday agreed to appoint Mr Bakrie as the chief patron.