Party takes advantage of PDI-P’s failings

INDONESIAN ELECTIONS

NEWS ANALYSIS

NEWFOUND OPTIMISM

Golkar leaders have chosen an apt party slogan.

Drawn from the lyrics of the final verse of the patriotic anthem Bandung In The Sea Of Fire, it reads: ‘Let’s win it back, brothers!’

These are confident words from a party that was once the bastion of support of the Suharto regime.

But Golkar’s newfound optimism is more than just political hyperbole.

After years in the doldrums, it appears to have rediscovered its nerve, emerging as the front runner for next week’s parliamentary election even as a brewing internal power struggle threatens the party.

Most surveys here suggest that Golkar will reap the largest number of votes at a time when confidence in other major parties such as the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) have ebbed.

In a poll by the US-based International Foundation for Election System (IFES), Golkar got 21.4 per cent of the votes, while President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s PDI-P got only 12 per cent.

Chairman Akbar Tandjung talks about a ‘new Golkar’ that is riding on the changing political mood in Indonesia.

There is now a gradual shift away from post-New Order concerns such as democracy to more pressing ‘bread-and-butter’ issues.

Golkar is exploiting that rising nostalgia among tens of millions of the wong cilik, or little people, for the cheap rice and stability of the Suharto regime.

At the election rallies, party leaders talk about improving the economy and eradicating poverty. They also promise to counter corruption – the one thorny issue that had ironically tarnished Golkar’s image for 30 years.

‘We will not repeat the weaknesses of the past,’ Mr Akbar declared at Golkar’s rally yesterday.

It is dreaming of victory this year.

In 1999, it secured 22.4 per cent of the votes, while the PDI-P was a clear winner with 33.7 per cent of the votes.

Mr Akbar told The Straits Times: ‘I am confident we can get at least 30 per cent of the votes. The margin of difference with PDI-P will be small, but we have a better chance of winning.’

Golkar seems to be capitalising on the failings of its archrival – confidence in the PDI-P has ebbed.

But Golkar’s survival and subsequent comeback have much more to do with the shrewd calculation of Mr Akbar and his party executives.

Five years ago, the mood was hostile.

Most Indonesians in the major cities said they would vote for ABG – Anything But Golkar – and the party suffered big losses in the heartland of Java, though it won in at least 12 provinces outside Java, especially in eastern Indonesia.

Since the 1970s, the party has methodically constructed a broad and loyal power base that reaches most provincial branches.

So it was no surprise that despite resentment towards the party in 1999, it emerged second in the polls.

But since then, Golkar has gone all out to cultivate the grassroots.

It recruited and trained almost a million cadres and developed the party along the lines of a new bottom-up philosophy.

The Golkar convention is an example.

The lengthy convention process served two broad aims for Mr Akbar. It deflected attention away from his legal battle that ended in February.

More importantly, the contestants are compelled to work the ground to win votes for the party.

They might be fighting for the presidential ticket, but ultimately, the party has benefited from the money and resources poured in.

The convention next month, however, has emerged as the source of strife between Mr Akbar and his enemies.

The most telling example of this is the latest scandal to afflict the Golkar leader.

Barely a month after being freed by the Supreme Court for corruption, a former government prosecutor is accusing him of reneging on promises to make under-the-table payments in exchange for inside information about his graft trial.

Observers believe that two of the Golkar candidates taking part in the convention might have had a hand in the saga to derail his presidential bid.

A likely victory at the ballot box next week might be a key turning point for Golkar’s ambitions for the presidency.

But it could also be the start of a battle for power in the months ahead, though chances of it tearing apart the party are slim.

The party’s appropriate slogan could then be: ‘Peace, brothers!’

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