Bakrie cements hold on Golkar chairmanship

MR ABURIZAL Bakrie is likely to retain the chairmanship of the opposition Golkar party, an outcome seen as a blow to President Joko Widodo and his reform plans.

Mr Bakrie had brought forward the four-day party congress, which ends in Bali today, in a controversial move that sparked unhappiness and conflict with other party leaders.

He sacked a faction opposed to him yesterday, plunging the party into deeper turmoil.

The election was conducted through a consensus, or acclamation, system.

The coal and media tycoon was the lone candidate after two others pulled out, while some were blocked from registering their candidacy.

"I pulled out of a process that has been manipulated and filled with irregularities, one that has made it impossible to vote for other candidates," former parliamentarian Airlangga Hartarto told The Straits Times.

He was the last man standing between Mr Bakrie and the chair, but withdrew his candidacy late on Monday, citing "undemocratic" methods being used to secure victory.

On Sunday, former industry minister M.S. Hidayat pulled out, after which he threw his support behind Mr Bakrie.

Party deputy chairman Agung Laksono was not invited to the meeting, while senior cadre and former lawmaker Priyo Budi Santoso was denied entry.

Golkar had never been in the opposition until this year, when Mr Bakrie chose to stay with the seven-party Red-White coalition led by former general and defeated presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto.

The coalition controls 63 per cent of the national Parliament and has threatened to block reforms pushed by Mr Joko's ruling Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P). An ongoing gridlock in Parliament is proof of this bitter stand-off that persisted after the presidential election.

Many had hoped that a new chairman would bring Golkar into Mr Joko's ruling coalition.

Mr Bakrie thanked party cadres for backing his re-election bid, but many said intimidation methods masked the rising rejection of his leadership.

First, party cadres had to openly state their choice of candidate in a signed letter, then the 540 local chiefs who represented them were made to declare the result at the congress. This "open" system is a departure from the normal secret ballot.

"If they don't vote for Mr Aburizal, they will lose their position as municipal or regional chief," said a party insider who declined to be named for fear of reprisals.

In a leaked 122-minute recording, a voice identified as that of Mr Nurdin Halid, who chairs the congress' steering committee, is heard telling cadres at a closed-door meeting last Saturday to get votes for a candidate he did not name.

Calls for Mr Bakrie to step down have been growing, with critics saying he has not delivered good results for Golkar in the past five years.

"The party has become one led by the interests of one man who has joined a coalition that says it is opposed to whatever actions the ruling party makes," Golkar central board member Yorrys Raweyai told The Straits Times.

"Golkar has always positioned itself as working with, and not against, the government," he said.

He and Mr Agung have formed a "Save Golkar" presidium that is gathering evidence for a legal case to annul Mr Bakrie's re-election.

They had planned to hold their own national congress in Jakarta next month, but their sacking yesterday could jeopardise their future actions.

This article was first published on Dec 03, 2014.
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