Ghina Ghaliya, Jakarta – Airlangga Hartarto will remain at the helm of Golkar after members of the nation's second-largest party reelected him in a decision that was widely expected given that potential challengers had withdrawn from the leadership contest.
The move has disappointed many supporters of Bambang Soesatyo, the strongest challenger to Airlangga in the party's chairmanship race until he suddenly dropped his bid to support the incumbent instead.
Airlangga was elected by acclamation late on Wednesday during the party's national congress, with no other candidates contesting him after Bambang's withdrawal – which many believe is the result of interference by the State Palace in the power struggle within the party.
Most of the congress participants – comprising members of Golkar's regional executive boards at the provincial, regency and city levels – approved the selection of Airlangga, who is also the coordinating economy minister, as their leader.
Golkar's Aziz Syamsuddin, who chaired the meeting, asked the audience to bring the chairmanship election forward to Wednesday from Thursday if there was no one to challenge Airlangga.
"In this calm situation and since there are no more opponents, do you agree to wrap up the forum and set Airlangga as the party chairman for the 2019-2024 period?" Azis asked.
"Agreed," the meeting's participants replied in chorus. No party member interrupted the forum.
As the secretary of the meeting, Muhammad Sarmuji immediately announced that the congress "officially appoints [...] Airlangga as the chairman of the Golkar Party" to serve for the next five years.
Azis added that Airlangga had to arrange the composition of the party management within 60 days from his appointment date.
Some of Bambang's supporters attending the congress appeared to be disappointed with Airlangga's reelection.
Ikhsan Ingratubun, head of Golkar's South Jakarta branch and known as a Bambang loyalist, said many of Bambang's supporters still could not accept his withdrawal from the race, which many believed was the result of interference by the State Palace.
"We're still disappointed, but Bambang told us to come to the congress and face it," Ikhsan said.
Another Bambang loyalist, Ahmadi Noor Supit was silent and expressionless when the crowd praised Airlangga during the congress. "I have nothing to say," he said, smiling.
Bambang, who is also the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) speaker, did not attend the congress, but he told journalists over the phone that he and Airlangga had reconciled.
As part of their agreement, Bambang proposed some Golkar members who previously had supported his chairmanship bid to be included on the party's central executive board, including politicians Nusron Wahid, Robert Kardinal, Ahmadi Noor Supit and Darul Siska.
"From Airlangga's side, there are several names too, namely Agus Gumiwang Kartasasmita, Azis Syamsuddin and Melchias Marcus Mekeng. I hope we can accommodate all of them on the central executive board and understand each other," he said.
Upon being reelected, Airlangga said he would consider having someone as deputy chairman and putting Bambang supporters on the party's central executive board.
"There will be a discussion on the party structure later. The congress is not over yet," he said.
The party also appointed some board members during the meeting, namely Aburizal Bakrie to lead the party's consultative board, Agung Laksono as chair of its board of experts and Akbar Tandjung as the chair of the honorary board, members of which include senior Golkar politicians Jusuf Kalla and Luhut Pandjaitan.