Ghina Ghaliya and Karina M. Tehusijarana, Jakarta – The leadership race in the Golkar Party has led to an internal rift as potential contender Bambang Soesatyo demanded the party hold a national congress soon to elect its next chairman.
Bambang's supporters staged a rally recently that blocked access to the party's headquarters in West Jakarta.
Current party chairman Airlangga Hartarto, meanwhile, wants to stick to the schedule, saying the national congress should be held in December, given the fact that he was elected at an extraordinary national congress in December 2017.
Bambang, who is also the speaker of the House of Representatives, has called on the party's central executive board to hold the national congress (Munas) before President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo is inaugurated for his second term in October, so that "the party can consolidate better."
On Sunday, Bambang supporters of Golkar's youth organization AMPG staged a protest at Golkar headquarters, blocking access to the party's main office.
AMPG deputy chairman and protest leader Nofel Saleh Hilabi said the protesters were calling for the board to hold a plenary meeting.
"The board hasn't held a plenary meeting since 2018," he told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday. "How can we work toward [electoral] victory if we never meet?"
Nofel said the schedule for holding the congress in December, as suggested by Airlangga, was not valid, because it did not follow party mechanisms. Normally, the date for a Munas requires a central executive board plenary decision followed by a national leadership meeting (Rapimnas).
Nofel, who is also a central executive board leader, said he planned to hold a plenary meeting with other executive leaders "as soon as possible," even without approval of the chairman.
"We will move forward with other executive leaders to reach a quorum, as stipulated in the party's rules regarding the congress," he said. "The meeting will evaluate the results of the 2019 legislative elections and set the date for a leadership meeting," which would then set a date for the Munas.
Ikhsan Ingratubun, head of Golkar's South Jakarta branch, which has publicly declared support for Bambang, said he felt that the House speaker was the ideal candidate because of his grassroot ties.
"He has leadership roles in Golkar's wing organizations, such as the Forum of the Children of National Police and Indonesian Military Officers and Pancasila Youth, which would help us recover our vote share," he told the Post.
Ikhsan, however, said the South Jakarta branch would leave the date of the Munas up to the central executive board, adding that both Airlangga and Bambang had good reasons for the dates they proposed.
"The important thing is that it is held before the end of 2019, we will leave it up to the party mechanisms," he said.
Bambang's challenge to Airlangga comes amid a soul-searching moment for Golkar, Indonesia's oldest political party.
Once the political vehicle for then-president Soeharto, Golkar had always finished in the top two in legislative elections – until this year. The party's share of the vote in April's legislative election declined to 12.31 percent from 14.75 percent in 2014, putting it behind the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and the Gerindra Party.
Firman Noor, head of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences' (LIPI) Political Research Center, said the power struggle in the party seemed to follow a historic pattern.
"It seems that there is never an orderly transition of power at Golkar," he told the Post, citing leadership disputes dating back to the era of Agung Laksono and Aburizal Bakrie, who each claimed to be the chairman between 2014 and 2016.
The internal power struggle also comes at a time when the country's two other largest parties, the PDI-P and Gerindra, are pushing for an amendment of the 1945 Constitution to reinstate the long-defunct policy framework for long-term development plans (GBHN).
If passed, the amendment would strengthen the authority of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), possibly giving parties more power than the executive branch.
Airlangga met with PDI-P chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri to discuss the amendment in July, but Golkar secretary-general Lodewijk Freidrich Paulus said the party would "further study" the amendment before making a decision on whether or not to support it.
Bambang, meanwhile, questioning the need for GBHN today and therefore expressed reservations about the amendment, just after Jokowi had signaled opposition to the idea.
Before Jokowi spoke about it, Bambang had strongly supported the amendment, saying repeatedly that the country needed a policy framework for long-term development in many spheres, such as politics, economy and defense.
Bambang also voiced support for a New Order-style electoral system that removes the people's right to directly vote for their leader, citing that the current system was too "Western-ish" and had more disadvantages than advantages.
Firman said Golkar's final decision would depend on whom the party would rely on: President Jokowi or the PDI-P.
"As far as I can tell, the next Golkar chairman, whoever he is, will be more dependent on Jokowi," he said. "So, if Jokowi signals approval for the amendment, Golkar might go that way, or vice versa."