Fate of Indonesia’s Golkar May Lie in the Balance as Party Chooses Leader

By webadmin on 09:45 am Oct 05, 2009
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Febriamy Hutapea

Hundreds of delegates from the provincial branches of the Golkar Party
converged on Pekanbaru, Riau for a four-day national
leadership meeting beginning Monday.

At issue is who will
replace the outgoing chairman, Vice President Jusuf Kalla, criticized
by many for the battering the party took in April’s legislative
elections.

The congress comes at a critical juncture in
Golkar’s long history. A number of analysts and critics have predicted
the party chairmanship would go to the richest candidate rather than
the most concerned about returning the party to its former glory.

The
party overcame its ties to former President Suharto’s New Order regime
to win the legislative elections in 2004. But it was soundly thumped by
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party and just edged
out by former President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s Indonesian Democratic
Party of Struggle (PDI-P) in April.

It is not expected that
the frontrunners for the chairmanship, Aburizal Bakrie and perhaps
Tommy Suharto, will be able to overcome their serious image problems to
restore Golkar to its former governing role.

Tommy, getting a
head start on his rival candidates, was the first to arrive in
Pekanbaru on Sunday. He was greeted by Riau Governor Rusli Zaenal, the
chairman of Golkar’s Riau branch, at the airport and reportedly had a
one-hour closed-door meeting.

Rusli, who is known to back
Bakrie, would not be drawn on whether Tommy sought to secure his
support. “We were just talking about investment in this province,”
Rusli said.

On Saturday, media mogul Surya Paloh, another
candidate for the chairmanship, held a closed-door meeting in Bali to
reaffirm the support of dozens of branch chairmen from across the
country and to draft a strategy for the party congress.

The
candidates may have their own interests in competing for the party’s
No. 1 seat, which could prove beneficial to their business interests,
give them influence over government policy and even provide a vehicle
toward the 2014 presidential election.

Regardless, many
observers believe Golkar is at a crossroads, and the path it chooses
this week will determine whether it returns to a leadership role or
becomes increasingly irrelevant. The party congress should prove the
pivotal moment in determining its fate for the next five years, at
least, they said.

The meeting is scheduled to be officially opened by Kalla this afternoon.

Which contender will win the race for the party’s top job?

Aburizal Bakrie
The
controversial businessman and outgoing member of Susilo Bambang
Yudhoyono’s cabinet needs the political protection that the Golkar
Party chair can provide. It is highly unlikely that the Sidoarjo
mudflow disaster, which has been linked to Bakrie’s PT Lapindo Brantas,
or his low approval ratings will hold much sway with Golkar branch
chairmen, with critics saying that his deep pockets will have the most
bearing on their decisions.

The clear frontrunner for the
chairmanship, Bakrie has secured the support of former chairman Akbar
Tanjung and Golkar deputy chairman Agung Laksono. He is also expected
to align Golkar with Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party-led ruling coalition.

Yuddy Chrisnandi
The
up-and-comer within Golkar promoted himself as a reformer within the
struggling party but then sought the blessings of former dictator
Suharto’s family for his candidacy. Yuddy has pledged to shake up the
party that has, according to critics, flagged under the leadership of
outgoing chairman Jusuf Kalla.

Although not expected to be in
any position to make a serious stake for the Golkar crown because of a
lack of funds and networks, Yuddy maintains that he will be able to
secure the support of at least 30 percent of the party’s regional
branches. His vision is to place Golkar as an independent party, but
says that he will take cabinet seats if they were offered.

Surya Paloh
The
flamboyant media mogul and veteran Golkar leader claims he has the
support of 362 provincial and district branch chairmen. Not averse to
using his media outlets to tout his candidacy or to feature stories
about the out-of-pocket victims of the Lapindo mudflow disaster, the
bearded Paloh has vowed to move Golkar out of the government for the
first time in its long history.

He views the former ruling party
as an equal partner to Yudhoyono’s government and one that must be
critical and proportionate. He has pledged to reject any cabinet seats
and instead focus on consolidating and rebuilding the party ahead of
the 2014 elections.

Tommy Suharto
The former
high-flying playboy prince of Cendana is not about to let his little
conviction for ordering the murder of a Supreme Court justice who had
the temerity to convict him of corruption get in the way of running for
chairman. Nor, it seems, will Golkar. It can only be assumed that the
branch chairmen will relish the prospect of a wealthy businessman
throwing his hat in the ring, even if his election meant another nail
in the party’s coffin.

The favored son of the late Suharto
claims he has the support of 300 branch leaders, but will not identify
them. He has promised to reject positions within the government and to
form an independent party.