Allying itself with the ruling coalition seems to be hurting the Golkar Party more than it is benefiting it, party members and political observers say.
After a recent survey indicated that the party had fallen behind its two main rivals in the popularity stakes, Golkar officials pointed on Monday to its membership in the Democrat-led coalition as the cause of the decline and said they would re-evaluate the tie-up.
“[Being part of the] coalition is resulting in a decline in [Golkar’s] popularity and it is the opposition party that is gaining votes,” said Priyo Budi Santoso, Golkar’s executive board chairman and a deputy speaker of the House of Representatives.
An Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) study released on Sunday showed that 18.9 percent of respondents would vote for the Democrats if an election were held this month, down from the 20.85 percent it won in the general elections in April 2009.
The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) came second with 16.7 percent, up from 14.15 percent during the polls. Golkar, which finished second in the 2009 elections, came third with 12.5 percent.
Priyo said it was curious to see the PDI-P seemingly benefiting from the Democratic Party’s decline. “The PDI-P is the one getting the votes from the Democrats’ decline,” he said. “This is an interesting phenomenon. Why aren’t they going to Golkar?”
“We will immediately discuss our future in the coalition with party chairman [Aburizal Bakrie],” he added.
Nurul Arifin, Golkar’s deputy secretary general, said the party’s membership in the coalition put it in a “difficult position.”
She cited the coalition’s contract that required Golkar and other member parties to be unified on policies or issues — a move meant to curb dissent.
But even when Golkar broke ranks, Nurul said, her party was suspected of twisting the Democratic Party’s arm for favors.
“We get a bad image. In fact, we truly want to criticize [the coalition],” she said. “So, when we leave the group, we can be seen as purely critical of the government, without ulterior motives.”
Nurul added that Golkar was considering a yearly evaluation of its membership in the alliance.
LSI researcher Burhanuddin Muhtadi agreed that Golkar was “trapped” in the six-party bloc, which he said was struggling with image problems.
“When the coalition does its job well, praise goes to the Democrats alone,” Burhanuddin said. “But when it fails, the criticisms are not only directed at the ruling party but also at the members of the coalition, including Golkar.”
The researcher said Golkar’s seemingly ambivalent approach — where it insists on staying in the coalition while denouncing it at the same time — sent mixed signals to the public.
When the entire coalition’s stance proves unpopular, he said, people usually turn to the “consistent opposition,” the PDI-P.
But Burhanuddin said leaving the bloc would not halt Golkar’s falling ratings.
“It should find another way by strengthening its infrastructure and members at the lower levels. It should improve its performance,” he said.
Burhanuddin said Golkar should not ride on the coalition’s coattails, but should instead focus on internal reforms. Though this would be difficult, he said, this would certainly attract the support of more voters.