Power struggle within Golkar

INDONESIAN ELECTIONS
3 DAYS TO THE POLLS

NEWS ANALYSIS

The sacking of several senior Golkar members, seen as a pre-emptive strike by the chairman to retain control of Indonesia’s largest party, has instead exposed deep fissures.

These divisions, which have come to the fore openly for the first time, are expected to widen as rival camps engage in a protracted and bruising battle for the prized party leadership. This will be contested in November at a Golkar congress.

With a crucial election run-off looming next Monday, the party was thrown into disarray this week when chairman Akbar Tandjung fired Mr Jusuf Kalla, a party adviser and running mate of presidential favourite Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Some 14 other senior cadres, including Mr Marzuki Darusman and Mr Fahmi Idris, face the axe for not backing the party’s formal stand to support incumbent Megawati Sukarnoputri for the presidency.

Mr Akbar, who chaired a six-hour plenary meeting where the decision was made, said: ‘Any decision taken by the Golkar leadership must be followed by all its members.

‘We are trying to uphold party rules and discipline. There is nothing personal in the decision.’

But at the core, it is very personal. Mr Akbar has for weeks been seething at Mr Jusuf’s attempts to recruit Golkar men to the Bambang cause.

High-ranking Golkar officials have been in regular contact with Mr Bambang. A day before the first round of the presidential election in July, for example, party figures such as Mr Fahmi and Mr Sofyan Mile held talks with the former general and his team.

But it is Mr Jusuf who has been most active in courting the Golkar ground. He has held talks regularly with those in the party’s executive board, and provincial and district branches.

Mr Akbar told The Straits Times recently: ‘How can Jusuf do such a thing? He must get my permission if he wants to approach my cadres. I am the party chairman.’

The thinking in the Akbar camp has long been that Mr Jusuf, who hails from the Golkar stronghold of Makassar in South Sulawesi, was preparing the ground to capture the chairmanship if Mr Bambang won the election.

This takeover threat was one of the major reasons Mr Akbar threw his weight behind Ms Megawati.

A Megawati presidency would offer not just political benefits in terms of Cabinet positions.

It would also protect his top post in Golkar.

But insiders disclosed that the President’s waning fortunes just days before the election might have led Mr Akbar to weed out his pro-Bambang opponents now, rather than later when they would be in a stronger position to challenge him from within.

The dismissed Mr Marzuki said: ‘In all my years in Golkar, Akbar has been so cool and calculated in his decisions. But now he is in a state of panic. He knows his political lifeline is hanging by a thread.’

A Bambang victory will weaken his chances of being re-elected at the Golkar congress, where several groups will contest the party chairmanship.

Despite being ousted, Mr Jusuf and his followers will be able soon to contest the ruling at an executive board meeting.

A Jusuf aide explained: ‘We see this only as a temporary setback. It is only a matter of time before we get back into the party and challenge Akbar for his job. It is important we get it because we can then control Parliament.’

That paves the way for a potentially explosive confrontation between Akbar and Jusuf loyalists in November.

Others are expected to join the fray, including business tycoons Surya Paloh and Abu Rizal Bakrie. Both have ambitions to run Golkar.

In the past, the party has held together despite being faced with divisive issues that included Mr Akbar’s graft scandal.

Fault lines were kept in check because of Mr Akbar’s ability to wipe out his foes through his control of the party machinery.

His elimination of Mr Jusuf and company might well represent phase one of a ‘spring cleaning exercise’ to strengthen his grip on Golkar.

More of such sackings are likely to follow after the presidential election.

But as Mr Marzuki noted: ‘Except for a handful of members who have stood by him for their self-interests, the mood in the party is fast swinging against him.

‘Tensions are escalating. Golkar will be in for some turbulence in the months ahead.’

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