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Analysis: Golkar faces pressure over presidential nominations

Jakarta Post - October 17, 2022

Tenggara Strategics, Jakarta – Since the NasDem Party recently declared outgoing Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan its presidential candidate, the Golkar Party might be buckling under the pressure to finalize its choice candidate too. Though the party previously maintained it would back chairman Airlangga Hartarto's presidential ambitions, a final decision has yet to be made.

Golkar appeared to have fallen into slight disarray when the party's advisory council chairman Akbar Tandjung expressed his support for Anies' presidential bid. Golkar central executive board chairman Ace Hasan Syadzily as well as other party executives were quick to explain that Akbar was simply congratulating Anies. Ace underlined that the party still insists on nominating Airlangga as a presidential candidate, in accordance with the party's national congress in 2019.

However, because Golkar alone did not meet the presidential threshold mandated to make a nomination, it formed one of the earliest electoral alliances ahead of the 2024 elections, the United Indonesia Coalition (KIB), which includes the National Mandate Party (PAN) and the United Development Party (PPP). But despite being often dubbed a "Golkar-led coalition", the party itself still has no name strong enough to rival the frontrunners in most public opinion polls.

Even as a member of the Cabinet, Airlangga still has consistently scored low in opinion surveys. In a recent survey conducted by Political Weather Station (PWS), of the ten names that were mentioned, only 1.8 percent of respondents would vote Airlangga for president, whereas Gerindra chairman Prabowo Subianto garnered the most votes (30.8%), followed by Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo (18.8%) and Anies (17.5%).

In this sense, it seems as though Golkar is gradually losing its bargaining power if it cannot bring a strong contender to the table. Meanwhile, though several Golkar executives have confirmed Airlangga's candidacy, both PAN and PPP claimed that the alliance had not yet decided who it will nominate.

PAN secretary-general Eddy Soeparno said that Airlangga was one of nine figures being considered a potential presidential candidate. Of this number, the party plans to shortlist the candidates to three to five names in its national leadership meeting later this month.

Similarly, PPP deputy chairman Arsul Sani added that each party in the alliance was entitled to conduct its own screening process to determine suitable presidential and vice-presidential candidate pairs. Arsul also added that the KIB was open to backing any presidential hopeful, including Ganjar. This raises a few questions as Ace also claimed that the KIB will not be nominating anyone outside of the coalition.

Presidential and vice-presidential hopefuls can only officially register their candidacies next year, meaning there is still much time for the political map to change. In fact, the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) has also yet to announce who it will be nominating for the presidential election. Talks of Golkar and PDI-P possibly joining forces also emerged after PDI-P deputy chair Puan Maharani met with several political party executives, including Airlangga.

Puan and Airlangga reportedly discussed economic stability ahead of the elections, emphasizing there was a time for cooperation as both parties are part of the ruling coalition and a time for political contestation.

What's more

According to a recent survey conducted by the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI), Airlangga's chances are better as Ganjar's running mate. In a simulation of three presidential and vice presidential candidate pairs, 30 percent of respondents would vote for Ganjar and Airlangga, followed by Prabowo and Puan (23.9%), then Anies and Democratic Party chairman Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono (AHY).

Similar results were found when another simulation pitted Ganjar and Airlangga (31.1%) against Prabowo and National Awakening Party (PKB) chairman Muhaimin Iskandar (29.6%) as well as Anies and Puan (14.1%).

LSI researcher Denny JA explained that Ganjar and Airlangga would do well amongst five types of voters, namely Muslim, Javanese, low-incase voters based on education, grassroots voters based on income and Facebook users. Moreover, both the PDI-P and Golkar were the two largest parties to emerge from the last presidential election in 2019, now occupying 22.3 percent and 14.8 percent of seats at the House of Representatives respectively.

To remain relevant, Multimedia Nusantara University communications lecturer Silvanus Alvin suggested that Golkar consider other presidential candidates. If the party insists on nominating Airlangga, then it should be open to having Airlangga contest as another candidate's running mate. On the other hand, Golkar needs to rethink its approach toward voters of the 2024 election, which will be largely dominated by the younger generation.

What we've heard

Several Golkar politicians deem the party won't be able to maintain unity in the upcoming presidential election as happened in the past. A source said several key factions within the party have already pin their hopes on Anies Baswedan. Formally, Golkar has decided to nominate Airlangga.

Several Golkar cadres that have openly expressed their support for Anies include former chairman Akbar Tandjung. Both Anies and Akbar are alumni of the Islamic Student Association (HMI). The source added that other HMI alumni in Golkar would also most likely back Anies.

According to the source, Jusuf Kalla's group within the party would also support Anies as they supported him during the Jakarta gubernatorial election in 2017. This group, the source explained, bears the Jenggala Center flag and is led by politician Ibnu Munzir. On Sept. 17, the Jenggala Center invited Anies to discuss the issue of identity politics.

The Jenggala group often differs in political choices compared to the party's official decisions. In the 2014 election, when Golkar supported Prabowo as a presidential candidate, the group supported Jokowi and Kalla. The source said that Jenggala will drive Anies' victory not only in the South Sulawesi region but across eastern Indonesia.

The party's formal structure actually also acknowledges that Airlangga's electability has not been improving. Groups of young people in the party covertly want to support Anies' candidacy and have begun secretly lobbying him. This group is led by Maman Abdurrahman, who is also the House of Representatives Commission VII chairman. "They call themselves the Pandawa Group," said the source.

Realizing the threat to Airlangga's candidacy was growing stronger, his supporters also made their move. The source claimed that they are starting to consider pairing Anies with Airlangga, which could boost Airlangga's electability. According to this source, this option will be conveyed at the party's anniversary on Oct. 20. "Some believe, however, that it would actually lower Anies' electability in return," the source said.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2022/10/17/analysis-golkar-faces-pressure-over-presidential-nominations.htm