Turmoil surrounding Indonesian Speaker may impact President Joko's reelection bid

JAKARTA - The political turmoil caused by the detention of suspended Golkar chairman Setya Novanto may have repercussions beyond the party's image, as it could impact President Joko Widodo's re-election bid, analysts say.

Mr Joko is from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the biggest party in the Indonesian Parliament, that he has been struggling to tame.

He needs Golkar, the country's second largest political party, to remain strong as he looks ahead to seek reelection in the 2019 with a credible running mate. Mr Joko has been helped by Golkar to implement some of his programmes, reducing his need for PDI-P's backing.

"PDI-P is no longer as influential as it was over Jokowi since Golkar came in. Jokowi needs to see Golkar to continue to play such a role," senior political observer Salahuddin Wahid told The Straits Times. Jokowi is Mr Joko's popular nick name at home.

Golkar is in turmoil after its chairman Novanto, who is Speaker of Indonesia's Parliament, was detained for alleged corruption.

The 62-year-old is to be questioned by the anti-graft commission KPK over a major scandal involving US$170 million (S$230 million) of stolen state funds. Golkar has suspended Novanto.

That is bad news for President Joko.

Insiders told The Straits Times that the PDI-P is keen to field controversial police general Budi Gunawan, 57, as Mr Joko's running mate for the 2019 presidential election. A group of prominent former activists who call themselves Jari have also campaigned and pledged support for General Budi to be Mr Joko's running mate.

But observers expect Mr Joko to reject Gen Budi, who is Indonesia's intelligence chief due to concerns over past allegations of graft.

Mr Budi, when he was a colonel, was an adjutant to then Indonesian President Megawati Soekarnoputri, the PDI-P chairman, and he has maintained good relations with his former boss.

Mr Joko though a leader in PDI-P, does not control the party. Ms Megawati does.


But analysts say that Mr Joko could only reject Mr Budi if he has backing from a strong and stable Golkar, who could provide him with a running mate for 2019.

Indonesia's current Vice-President Jusuf Kalla is from Golkar.

Mr Joko has had several run-ins with his own party leaders over the years, including who should be in his Cabinet. For several times since he became president in 2014, Mr Joko had faced threats from PDI-P to pull its support for his agenda and he had to get the backing of Novanto or Golkar to pull through.

It was understood that for the 2019 presidential election, Mr Joko, 56, is likely to pick a relatively young running mate.

The idea is that should he win and rule for a second and final term, he could promote this younger person as the next presidential candidate to carry on with his reform agenda.

"It is also important that Jokowi pairs up with a figure with strong networks among the Muslims. A running mate should add voter base," observer Mr Salahuddin said.

Meanwhile, Novanto had handwritten letter sent from his detention cell to House leaders pleading to be allowed to keep his job while he fights the charges.

"I ask Parliament leaders to give me a chance to prove that I had no involvement," Novanto wrote. "For the time being, do not hold an ethics council's hearing to decide whether to suspend me as Parliament Speaker or as a Member of Parliament."