Yang Razali Kassim, For The Straits Times

Fight for control of Golkar brewing

Indonesian presidential candidates Prabowo Subianto (right) and Joko "Jokowi" Widodo attending a ceremony to draw ballot numbers at the Election Commission in Jakarta on June 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Indonesian presidential candidates Prabowo Subianto (right) and Joko "Jokowi" Widodo attending a ceremony to draw ballot numbers at the Election Commission in Jakarta on June 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

Indonesia's new period of uncertainty following its most intensely fought presidential election in history is moving into a combative phase. This is happening even as the unofficial quick-count results by private polling companies are leading to intense controversy.

While all parties are showing restraint as they brace themselves for the tussle ahead, tensions are simmering below the surface.

The security authorities are on high alert, with orders to shoot rioters on sight. Until the official results are released on July 22, South-east Asia's largest country will be on tenterhooks as the rival contenders press their competing claims of victory based on various quick counts.

The first shot at political manoeuvring post-election was fired by the Joko Widodo-Jusuf Kalla side, which is forecast by many reputable survey groups to win the presidential election. Mr Kalla predicted soon after the election that Golkar - which supported the rival team of Mr Prabowo Subianto and Mr Hatta Rajasa - would splinter and lead to a change in the political landscape.

Golkar, the second-largest party, is coming under intense pressure from manoeuvres to replace its chairman Aburizal Bakrie and pave the way for its defection to the Joko-Kalla coalition.

The Joko-led coalition is actually a minority alliance of four parties, which won about 40 per cent of the popular vote, or 207 seats in the 560-seat incoming Parliament (DPR). The new House will be dominated by the Prabowo- Hatta coalition, whose six partners collectively won 60 per cent of the popular vote and control 353 DPR seats. Should Mr Joko be confirmed the official winner by the General Election Commission, his Cabinet will essentially form a minority government.

It is therefore crucial for Mr Joko to expand his coalition by bringing in at least one more party. And that will be Golkar, followed possibly by the Muslim- based United Development Party. The strategy is to win Golkar over through a combination of carrots, arm twisting and internal pressure. Mr Bakrie is especially vulnerable as within Golkar, he is seen as having failed to deliver on at least two counts.

The first is Golkar's inability to win the April parliamentary polls under his leadership. The second is his inability to win enough support to be a presidential or vice- presidential candidate. Should Mr Prabowo, whom Mr Bakrie supports, fail to be declared the official winner, this will become the third arrow against Mr Bakrie.

Pro-Kalla politicians who switched to Mr Joko's side prior to the presidential election will likely team up with their allies within Golkar to accelerate the end of Mr Bakrie's term as chairman. This will pave the way for Golkar's entry into the Joko-led coalition, leading to a clutch of Golkar leaders being offered seats in the Joko Cabinet.

It is important to remember that Mr Kalla was once Golkar chairman and his residual influence within the party is not insignificant. Golkar's inclusion in the ruling coalition would strengthen a Joko government, which would be under strong public pressure to deliver.

Meanwhile, Golkar members disgruntled with Mr Bakrie's support for the Prabowo-Hatta team have not wasted any time in urging a change in Golkar's leadership ahead of the formation of a new Joko-Kalla Cabinet after the president is sworn in in October.

The likely aspirants include Mr Agung Laksono, an outgoing coordinating minister; former minister Fahmi Idris, a strong Kalla supporter; senior Golkar leader Priyo Budi Santoso; and Mr Agus Kartasasmita, a young turk who switched to Mr Kalla's side and was sacked for it. Mr Agus is the son of senior Golkar leader and former minister Ginandjar Kartasasmita.

If they fail to win over Golkar, the Joko-Kalla team will have to fight it out in Parliament. Many plans promised by Mr Joko in his presidential campaign could be blocked by a Prabowo-controlled Parliament. Eventually, the Joko government could fail.

This is precisely why pro-Kalla forces within and outside Golkar are eager to see Mr Bakrie go. The question is how to minimise his resistance. This is where Mr Bakrie could probably be given a "soft landing" with a deal of some sort.

What is happening now is not without precedent. In the 2004 presidential election which Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono contested and won, Mr Kalla was his vice-presidential running mate. Following Mr Kalla's successful election, Golkar replaced its leader Akbar Tanjung with Mr Kalla through a national congress. This time around, Mr Kalla could appoint a loyalist instead of returning as Golkar chairman.

But for this scenario to come about, the controversy over the conflicting claims of victory caused by the quick-count results must first be resolved.

The Indonesian economy cannot afford another period of instability. Asean also needs a stable and economically growing Indonesia to be the anchor of the Asean Economic Community which will be ushered in next year - coinciding with the ascent of Indonesia's new president.


Yang Razali Kassim is a senior fellow with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.