Golkar set to back Jokowi's coalition

The opposition Golkar party is poised to officially back Indonesian President Joko Widodo's ruling coalition in a move that promises to shift the balance of power in South-east Asia's largest nation.

Golkar chairman Aburizal Bakrie on Monday pledged to support the government after a closed-door meeting with Mr Joko at the presidential palace. "We want the government to be able to realise its vision and mission and carry out steps to develop the nation to help our people," he said.

Party insiders told The Straits Times last week that the decision to leave the opposition Koalisi Merah Putih (KMP), or Red White Coalition, to support Mr Joko was discussed over several meetings among Golkar's cadre members.

All that is left is for the party to formalise the switch at a national meeting at the end of this month, Golkar's deputy secretary-general Lalu Mara Satriawangsa told The Straits Times yesterday.

Political watchers say that if the move indeed happens, it may pave the way for Mr Joko, popularly known as Jokowi, to push through much-needed reforms and policies, including government projects that will help generate new jobs and growth for the country.

Mr Joko, who has been backed by a minority government since he was elected in 2014, is often held to ransom by an opposition majority in Parliament. Apart from the KMP, he also has to work with the Democratic Party, which is not part of the ruling or opposition coalitions.

A political outsider with few ties to the Jakarta elite or Indonesian military, President Joko has been unable to quickly drive through reforms and that has made him a target for criticism.

A flagging economy, with its growth rate slowing since 2009, has not helped his cause.

Recent developments in Jakarta, however, seem to have turned the tide. These include the sacking of House Speaker Setya Novanto, a Golkar politician, over a scandal involving kickbacks from an American mining firm.

He was replaced by a pro-Jokowi Speaker, Golkar's deputy chairman Ade Komarudin.

The continuing speculation over an impending Cabinet reshuffle has also helped Mr Joko by keeping his detractors and supporters on their toes.

Golkar won 91 seats in Parliament in the 2014 legislative polls, just behind the 109 won by Mr Joko's Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle.

But Golkar has been part of the majority KMP opposition bloc. The ruling coalition controls 256 of the 560 seats in Parliament but this will rise to 347, or 62 per cent of the House, once Golkar's move is official.

Speculation over the switch by Golkar had been circulating for months, but it came to a head on Tuesday when KMP patron Prabowo Subianto publicly said he would not oppose a plan by the party to support Mr Joko.

Political analyst Katjung Marijan said one reason for Golkar's sudden change in allegiance could be that the party was promised Cabinet posts in exchange for its support. "Secondly, Golkar may also put forward its interest, and influence government policies, for example the Lapindo case."

Professor Katjung was referring to Lapindo Brantas, a company owned by the Bakrie family which has been trying to revive its oil and gas exploratory operations in East Java.

That drilling site was shut down in 2006 after a mudflow erupted, burying more than 600ha of land and displacing 39,700 people.



This article was first published on January 14, 2016.
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