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"New Leader to Help Improve Golkar’s Popularity" by Ulla Fionna

2017/71, 8 December 2017

Yorrys Raweyai, former Coordinator for Political, Legal and Security Affairs for the Golkar Party Central Committee and an important party figure, recently shared his views on the problems facing the party at a seminar held at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. The Golkar Party needs to dramatically improve its popularity to prepare for the 2018 rounds of local elections, and the 2019 legislative and presidential elections. Not shying away from pointing to the current chairman Setya Novanto as the party’s current biggest problem, Mr Raweyai shared his conviction that the party’s two main issues are leadership and image.

Golkar has generally done well in post-Suharto elections despite its status as the New Order party, and its solid network of branch organisations have demonstrated better capacity compared to most other parties. Still, the string of corruption cases against its top politician has severely dented its image, and the electronic ID case against Novanto has brought the party’s reputation to a new low. Indeed, the 2016 decision to endorse current president Joko Widodo (Jokowi) to run in the 2019 presidential candidate has given the party some boost in its popularity, yet it needs to do more to reach its target of 16 percent in the 2019 legislative election. Jokowi’s endorsement for Novanto was also crucial in ensuring the latter’s victory for chairmanship.

Controversially, Novanto’s name has been linked with a string of high-profile corruption cases, dating back to 1999. Despite his various alleged involvements, the e-ID case (in which officials have allegedly embezzled US$170 million/S$233 million in government money primarily by inflating costs), will be the first on which he is convicted for – if the court sides with the country’s prestigious Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). Mr Raweyai shared that although there is some resistance from Novanto’s supporters, Golkar generally is convinced of its need for a new leader, and will most likely decide on Airlangga Hartarto, the current Minister for Industry. As such, the party will likely continue a tradition of choosing business figures – following the likes of Jusuf Kalla, Aburizal Bakrie, and Novanto himself. Mr Raweyai explains that such tendency can be understood as a way for the party to source its finances, particularly given the lack of state funding for parties in general.

As Indonesia’s elections are mostly about the electability of figures, the party needs to pass the hurdles of selecting a new chairman, and urgently move on to strategising for the June 2018 round of local elections, as the deadline for candidate registration is set for 7 January 2018. This next round of local elections is important particularly because it include Java’s provinces, which represents about 60 percent of total voters nationally. Endorsing candidates with the highest electability, or forming coalitions to do so, will benefit the party’s standing in the local elections. Furthermore, Golkar needs to continue its close association with president Jokowi, whom despite his lack of decisiveness in the cases of Ahok and Novanto, continues to enjoy high approval ratings. As mentioned before, this particular strategy has bode well with voters and helped somewhat in the party’s effort to improve its image. Jokowi relies on Golkar’s support particularly as his position in PDIP, rather ironically, remains uncertain after party chairperson Megawati Sukarnoputri once referred to him as a mere party functionary. The mutually beneficial relations between the party and the president seems likely to continue to the 2019 elections, particularly as president Jokowi has given his approval for Airlangga Hartarto to take the party leadership.  

Dr Ulla Fionna is Fellow in the Indonesia Studies Programme, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.  No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission.