“Setya Novanto Saga Embarrassing and Damaging for Golkar and Jokowi” by Charlotte Setijadi

2017/69, 28 November 2017

House Speaker and Golkar Chairman Setya Novanto’s attempts to evade the Corruption Eradication Commission‘s (KPK) investigation into his alleged involvement in the national electronic identification card (e-KTP) graft scandal seem to be never-ending. Since first named as a suspect in the US$173 million corruption case in July 2017, the Golkar party chairman has tried many strategies to avoid the KPK, from feigning illness and hospitalisation, to filing a successful pre-trial motion to have his suspect status dismissed.

When the KPK re-named him as a suspect on the e-KTP case on 10 November, Novanto ignored the anti-graft agency’s repeated summons for investigation and went missing for close to 24 hours, prompting the KPK to name him as a fugitive. Novanto next emerged as a victim of a car crash, but he was finally taken into KPK custody after being released from hospital.

However, Novanto and his legal team have not given up, and his lawyers have filed another pre-trial motion to have his suspect status revoked. The motion will be heard on November 30.

The question now is what Golkar will do amidst external and internal pressures to have Novanto sacked as party Chairman. Indeed Golkar’s popularity rating has taken a massive hit in the wake of Novanto’s corruption allegation. In the lead up to the 2018 simultaneous elections of regional heads and the 2019 legislative election, this is worrying for both Golkar and President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo’s coalition. At the moment, Golkar already has the lowest number of seats in the house (91/560) in its history. Golkar’s declining popularity also has direct implications for Jokowi, because if Golkar loses their seats in the House in the 2019 election, then the governing coalition’s dominance in the House will be jeopardized.

Speculations now mount on who would be the next Golkar Chairman. The likeliest candidates appear to be Idrus Marham and Airlangga Hartarto. Mr Marham is the party’s Secretary General, current Acting Chairman (appointed by Novanto), and a known supporter of Novanto. If the party wants to disassociate from Novanto, then Marham would be a bad choice, but there are loyal factions within the party who would support him. Mr Hartarto is current Minister of Industry and rumoured to be Jokowi’s favoured choice for the chairmanship. He will be a strong supporter of Jokowi if elected, although the problem is he may not have enough backing internally within the party to win.

The public is watching how Golkar handles the Novanto case, and the party would be wise to rid themselves of the disgraced Chairman and elect a new leader with an (at least relatively) untarnished image in order to ensure its long-term survival.

Charlotte Setijadi is Visiting Fellow in the Indonesia Studies Programme, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

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