Past failures and alleged scandals, especially the Lapindo mudflow disaster, will hound Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare Aburizal Bakrie as he assumes his position as the new chairman of the Golkar Party, a sociologist said on Thursday.
“His failures, such as his company’s role in causing the hot mudflow in Sidoarjo, East Java, will taint the image of Golkar,” said Endang Turmudi, a sociologist from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).
Endang said this will hurt Golkar under Bakrie’s leadership, including during the 2014 presidential election.
“To restore the image of Golkar as it was during Akbar Tanjung’s era will be hard for Bakrie because of this Lapindo case,” he said. “There is a joke that he is the minister for people’s welfare, but he brings disaster to the people.”
PT Lapindo Brantas, a Bakrie group company, was operating oil and gas wells in Sidoarjo when mud began to flow from a fissure close to a well in May 2006.
More than 15,000 residents were eventually left homeless after their villages were inundated with mud.
Lapindo insists the mudflow was caused by 6.3-magnitude earthquake in Yogyakarta two days earlier. Numerous international experts have rejected that explanation.
Lapindo subsidiary PT Minarak Lapindo Jaya was appointed to handle compensation claims from victims of the mudflow, but it has repeatedly failed to meet all of its financial obligations.
Endang said many social welfare issues during Bakrie’s tenure as minister needed to be addressed, including the huge number of people living below the poverty line.
“He must be able to decrease the poverty rate. During his administration, he had a National Program for Community Empowerment [PNPM], but the poverty rate remains high,” Endang said.
“He should be able to empower citizens or he will see his party’s downfall.”
According to the United Nations Development Program, about 37 million Indonesians are living below the poverty line.
Under the government’s antipoverty program, Rp 10.4 trillion ($1.10 billion) was allocated to every district, including Rp 1.7 billion for employment-related activities.
Bakrie won more than half the votes at the Golkar Party’s national congress on Thursday.