All smiles, the bitter feud is over. Agung Laksono, coordinating minister Luhut Pandjaitan, confirmed chairman Aburizal Bakrie, and former leader Jusuf Kalla (from left)
Partyforumseasia: On December 10, 2014, we were asking whether Golkar was close to a suicide by internal power struggle (Linkhere). Party leader Aburizal Bakrie was more than disappointed with the result of the presidential election on July 9, 2014. After he could not be the top candidate himself or promote another Golkar candidate, his political gamble to support Gerindra leader Prabowo Subianto failed. Neither his Golkar party nor many million $$ from his family business could prevent the victory of Joko Widodo.
Against instinct and inclination of the Golkar leadership, Bakrie managed to prevent the party from switching from the losing Prabowo camp to the winners around the new president. This was splitting the party, leading to rival factions, competing party conventions in 2014 and the election of two party leaders, Bakrie being supported by the Prabowo camp and Agung Laksono by the faction open to president Jokowi. The rivalry was brought to the courts, producing different rulings, until on October 20th, 2015 the Supreme Court finally decided that Bakrie is the rightful chairman, one day after the 51st anniversary of Golkar.
Factional strife is absolutely normal in political parties but the visibility of this one has certainly affected the image of Golkar among Indonesia’s voters on top of their image problem after decades of being the political vehicle for president Suharto‘s authoritarian rule. Compromise, though, is the essence of democracy, and it was high time to give up the sulking attitude of the election loser. Indonesia has enough problems to solve and supporting the Jokowi administration is certainly more patriotic than obstructing him in parliament. Golkar’s 91 seats will make it much easier for the president to speed up legislation.
Affiliation of the parties in the Parliament so far(Wikipedia):
The Golkar factions and their leaders will now have to organize the practical part of their reconciliation and bring the party back to unity. But one may wonder whether the urge to save the party from suicide has been boosted by more concrete advantages. So far it is not clear that calls for a cabinet reshuffle will result in any ministerial posts for the party leaders. But it is not necessary to be a political cynic to expect that in due course…
Partyforumseasia: “Voter Demands for Patronage: Evidence from Indonesia” is the title of a recent research paper by Jae Hyeok Shin, assistant professor of political science at Korea University, in Journal of East Asian Studies 15 (2015), 127-151. Based on field studies in selected suburbs of Jakarta by means of interviews and questionnaires, the results more or less confirm the hypothesis with which it started, namely that poorer and less educated respondents are more interested in individual benefits or patronage and much less in long term policies like education and health care. The study is theoretically based on the vast political science literature discussing whether patronage is more demand or supply-side driven. For the political practitioner the difference looks trivial in view of the complexity of political cultures in Southeast Asia. As usual, it needs two to tango, and developed democracies know more or less subtle examples of patronage as well. Though the paper derives its results from asking the voters and does not discuss the viewpoints of politicians and their constraints in such an environment, it is certainly laudable to do this research in the field, even when the rural parts of Indonesia are left out.
One of the most interesting findings, however, is that “politically active, wealthy voters tend to desire patronage as strongly as do politically inactive poor voters”.
Not too surprising for the political practitioner, the poor know how to calculate anyway by necessity. But members and supporters of political parties are not only idealists either. Ironically, PDI-P sticks out here with high results. And the ongoing debate on the “rivers of money” from Malaysia’s UMNO is certainly another case in point. Partyforumseasia would strongly encourage more research in this important area since money politics in Southeast Asia is one of our constant concerns. Maybe the scholars could avoid the cliché of “poor and uneducated voters” as greedy simpletons. These people understand quite well what the political elites are up to and they see their own advantage before and on election day!
See also our paper “Party Funding and Party Finances in Southeast Asia”
(by Wolfgang Sachsenröder), available at http://www.academia.edu
Partyforumseasia: The legendary Indonesian flexibility allows not 50 but up to 98 shades of gray, leaving little space for clear-cut black and white if you take the political reality at 100. But Golkar’s long march from Aburizal Bakrie‘s stubborn sticking to the Prabowo opposition after losing the presidential election to join the Jokowi coalition seems to have come to an
Aburizal Bakrie and Agung Laksono before the leadership struggle.
With the memory of saving its privileged government experience under Suharto well into the democratic era, it is no wonder that Bakrie’s opposition course would face stiff resistance among party members and leaders who prefer to be in power. If old fox Bakrie did not see this trap this may signal the end of his political career. But don’t count him out yet, the shades of gray may give him a second chance.
The internal struggle had developed in rather dramatic form with a party split and the election of two competing leadership teams under outgoing Aburizal Bakrie and new leader Agung Laksono.The Jakarta Globe on 17 March describes the rift as “The war between two rival factions of Indonesia’s oldest party reached a new height on Tuesday, with claims, accusations, lawsuits, threats and sanctions flying between the sides.” (Link here)
After inconclusive attempts to solve the problem with the internal party tribunal or the Central Jakarta District Court, the decision for Agung Laksono has been made by his growing support in the party, defections from the Bakrie camp, and finally by Bakrie dropping his law-suit against Agung last Tuesday, 17 March.
Under the Agung Laksono leadership Golkar will support the Jokowi government with its 91 members of parliament and finally tip the scale against the so far dominating Red-and-White opposition coalition. A parliamentary majority for the president is certainly good for Indonesia and a smoother legislative process. But Golkar is not yet part of the ruling coalition. In a meeting with PDI-P chair Megawati this week, neither Agung nor Megawati mentioned the accession to the government coalition. The open question is of course the compensation for the support in terms of government positions, not easy to solve when all the posts are filled already. The shades of gray may help!
Partyforumseasia strategy-wise: The presidential race has narrowed down to the two top candidates Prabowo Subianto and Joko Widodo (or Jokowi). As Prabowo, a former general with accusations of human rights violations, underlines an image of decisive and tough leadership, the so far hugely popular Jokowi comes across as humble and approachable. While he is still leading in the polls by nearly 10%, Prabowo is catching up, harping on leadership and the Sukarno legacy. Underlying traditions, especially in Java, may add to the attractiveness of this campaign strategy.
Golkar leader Aburizal Bakrie had to give up his own presidential ambitions after hopelessly trailing in the polls. Nevertheless, the business tycoon, one of the richest Indonesians, refused to simply drop out and accept defeat. In a surprise move, which seriously affects the cohesion of his party, he now supports Prabowo and tries his luck as kingmaker. According to his own information for the media Bakrie will be compensated with a new cabinet post of “Menteri Utama” or first minister, though the presidential system in Indonesia does not foresee a Prime Minister. Unable to be the “king”, he has managed to belong to the kingmakers like PDI-P leader Megawati and outgoing President Yudhoyono who cannot run again after two terms.
The question is, whether the Indonesian electorate will be impressed by this traditional horse-trading style of coalition building, which on top is burdened by a new corruption scandal concerning the leader of the United Development Party (PPP) which supports Prabowo’s campaign coalition.
According to Indonesian analysts there is a swing development among the country’s voters away from traditional back room and horse-trading politics, “facilitated” with huge sums of money, and what Jokowi seems to represent: a new, more democratic and cleaner political style with more attention to the people. If he wins the presidency the expectations will be sky-high.
Partyforumseasia: Jon S.T.Quah has chosen a very telling title for his new book, published by ISEAS, Singapore, this year: “Curbing Corruption in Asian Countries. An Impossible Dream?” The latest political corruption scandal in Indonesia seems to underline the impossibility of the dream. Too much money is at stake, too costly are the election campaigns, too greedy the political players, and too toothless the anti-corruption programs of the government.
The Golkar Party seems to be especially vulnerable after rolling in money for decades as the main political instrument of president Suharto who was more than well known for the corrupt practices of his extended family. Indonesia expert Marcus Mietzner* from Sidney University reports that Suharto withheld 100 million US$ from Golkar party funds after his fall in 1998. This gives an idea of the financial dimensions the party was used to.
But Suharto also urged his cronies not to show their wealth with too flashy villas. This advice has obviously been forgotten by Banten governor Ms Ratu Atut and her billionaire family empire. If being known for their collection of Maseratis and Lamborghinis alone was incautious, a direct involvement of the clan in the bribery scandal around the chief justice of the Constitutional Court is a graver political mistake. Madam governor’s youngest brother is accused of offering 1 b Rupiah (about 92,000 US$) to the judge for a favorable decision in an election dispute. A number of Ms Ratu Atut’s close relatives are mayors or district chiefs in Banten province close to Jakarta…And Golkar chairman Aburizal Bakrie, himself one of the richest businessmen in Indonesia, is being quoted as saying that the problem is not the political dynasty!
*Mietzner, Marcus (2007), Party Financing in Post-Soeharto Indonesia: Between State Subsidies and Political Corruption, in: Contemporary Southeast Asia, Vol. 29, No. 2:241
Partyforumseasia: Here’s a new contribution to our (young) collection of scholarly contributions to the topic of how political parties in Southeast Asia work. Ulla Fionna is a visiting fellow in Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, which has published this paper in its series ISEAS Perspective available at the homepage http://www.iseas.edu.sg