Spring cleaning at Golkar

INDONESIAN POLITICS

Chairman Jusuf begins purge, marking return to pro-establishment orientation for party.

GOLKAR is clearing its decks. A new oligarchy, made up of powerful business tycoons running the party, including Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, and Suharto-linked cronies, has moved rapidly to weed out elements linked to former chairman Akbar Tandjung.

The ‘spring cleaning’ that began with Mr Jusuf’s takeover of the Golkar leadership in December signals a return to the party’s pro-establishment orientation when it ruled Indonesia for 30 years under former strongman Suharto.

The pendulum is swinging back with the party firmly in the government’s camp – six years after being in the opposition and inching forward on a purported reformist path.

Former Golkar executive Marzuki Darusman told The Straits Times: ‘The party is returning to its natural habitat which is all about the politics of power, business interests and money. For the party leadership, the main agenda is to support government policies. Whatever plans the intellectual apparatchik in Golkar had for reform have taken a backseat.’

To do that, he noted that the new party chief has gone all out to purge members who would oppose his plans. Indeed, over the past three months he has wielded the axe several times.

Top on his list was Golkar’s Central Executive Board. It has undergone a massive facelift.

Nearly all those associated with Mr Akbar – Mr Ade Kommarudin, Mr Mahadin Sinambela and Mr Rambe Kamarulzaman – have been replaced by Mr Jusuf’s allies. These include his younger brother Suhaili Kalla, Mr Malkan Amin and Mr Iskandar Manji, all of whom hail from his hometown in Makassar, South Sulawesi.

Mr Jusuf was also instrumental in replacing Mr Akbar’s pointman in Parliament, Mr Mohammad Hatta, with loyalist Andi Mattalata, who also hails from Makassar.

There are also attempts to expunge his enemies from the Golkar youth wing and women’s caucus. Clearly, moves are being made to get provincial and district branches to toe the party line.

A Golkar cadre in East Java disclosed: ‘Kalla and his allies have almost consolidated their grip at the national level. But the process is just starting at the grassroots. We are beginning to feel it, the warnings and threats if we challenge the central government.’

The effect of the purges has been to change the whole imagery within Parliament. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono took office facing a serious challenge from Golkar and the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P).

Today, with the largest party in Indonesia under his deputy’s charge, Dr Yudhoyono has effectively neutralised any challenge to his rule or opposition to government policies.

The recent fuel price hikes were instructive of the shift in support to the new administration. Golkar sided with Dr Yudhoyono’s Democrat Party in the legislature to push through the controversial policy even if there were rumblings of discontent within Golkar.

‘Resistance is still lurking in the party to the new players,’ said Mr Marzuki.

Clearly, Mr Jusuf has emerged as the mainstay of the new Cabinet. He and his Makassar crowd are reining in their opponents. But observers believe he has not established complete control of Golkar.

If anything, he has had to share power with at least two groups which backed his rise to the party’s top post.

The first revolves around a clique of powerful businessmen that include economic czar Abu Rizal Bakrie, media magnate Surya Paloh and Mr Ginandjar Kartasasmita, who served as economics minister in Mr Suharto’s Cabinet.

They lent financial muscle to Mr Jusuf to topple Mr Akbar. As payback, Mr Surya now heads the party’s board of advisers while Mr Ginandjar and Mr Abu Rizal have their share of proxies in Golkar’s executive council.

The second group is allied to the Suharto regime. They include old Golkar players such as Mr Sudharmono, Mr Harmoko and Mr Abdul Gafur, all disillusioned with Mr Akbar’s leadership of the party.

They fall outside the Golkar structure but still have the political and financial clout to influence the direction of the party.

It is clear that Golkar is returning to its roots. But whether this means a return to the glory days of old is anybody’s guess.

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