Golkar – Wiranto, Akbar and Jusuf battle for party control

A battle is on for the heart and soul of Indonesia’s Golkar.

The party is split three ways, with its chairman Akbar Tandjung, presidential contender Wiranto and Mr Jusuf Kalla, who is the running mate to presidential front runner Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, all contending to sway members to their sides.

At stake is the critical question of who will be able to deliver Golkar’s backing to the two contenders in the presidential run-off in September.

Just days after the July 5 polls, the knives are out for the Golkar chairman.

He is accused of doing little to help the party’s presidential candidate Wiranto, who is teetering on the brink of defeat in the first round of the elections. It’s payback time, and Mr Wiranto’s supporters are conspiring to oust Mr Akbar from his powerful post.

Mr Akbar, the wily 57-year-old politician, will have to battle for survival as he draws up his own plans to weed out opposition before a crucial party congress later this year.

He will face a formidable foe in the Wiranto camp. Smarting from the lukewarm support they think they got from Mr Akbar during the campaign, Wiranto loyalists are even more riled by suggestions that he is now backing incumbent Megawati Sukarnoputri for the presidency.

A Wiranto loyalist declared: ‘All this while, he has been quietly supporting rival candidates and doing nothing to help Wiranto. Akbar can never be trusted.’

Indeed, senior Golkar sources said that such sentiments have been simmering for some time, especially since the March convention that saw Mr Akbar lose to his nemesis in a bruising encounter.

Golkar deputy chairman Marzuki Darusman said: ‘Wiranto did not feel comfortable confronting him all this time because he was convinced he would make it to the second round of the elections.’

A confrontation looks inevitable now. But what exactly can they hold against the Golkar leader?

Publicly, he did all the right things. He religiously followed Mr Wiranto on his gruelling month-long campaign trail across the vast archipelago.

He told The Straits Times recently in an interview: ‘I tried my best to help him win the election because it is my responsibiliy as chairman of the party. I followed him all over Indonesia and asked my supporters to vote for him.’

Mr Akbar’s followers argue that the blame falls squarely on the Wiranto camp, which preferred to use its own organisation rather than Golkar branches which it refused to fund during the campaign.

A Golkar cadre in East Java noted: ‘Money never went down to mobilise the grassroots. That is why the party machinery did not support Wiranto.’

In reality, Mr Wiranto could never draw on Golkar’s full backing for the simple reason that Mr Akbar was caught in a Catch-22 dilemma.

Not supporting him would have left him open to accusations from his detractors. But if he fully backed Mr Wiranto – and the general had won – it would probably have meant the end of the Akbar camp in Golkar.

Mr Wiranto’s aides would almost certainly have moved to take control of the party by wresting control of the chairmanship, through a proxy like former Justice Minister Muladi or senior Golkar legislator Agung Laksono.

They would also have made efforts to place Wiranto loyalists on Golkar’s all-important central executive board.

The key now for the Wiranto group is whether it can rope in other dissident elements – within and outside the party. These include those who took part in the Golkar convention, such as business tycoons Surya Paloh and Abu Rizal Bakrie.

Also waiting in the wings is Mr Jusuf Kalla, running mate to Mr Bambang. If the latter wins, he will certainly try to take over the defeated remnants of the Golkar party, to which he belongs.

Mr Akbar is not resting on his laurels. Sources say that the key for him is to keep the opposition divided so that there will not be a unified challenge to his leadership.

Mr Wiranto’s impending defeat has been a boon for him. It has paved the way for him to play the role of kingmaker, raising his political standing and allowing him to rein in elements that plotted his ouster during the convention.

Mr Marzuki noted: ‘Akbar has survived many challenges in his political career. If a cat has nine lives, he has many more. He may well pull through what might be his biggest challenge yet.’

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