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INDONESIA POLLS: The rise of Gerindra's Prabowo and fall of Golkar's Bakrie

Publication Date : 23-05-2014


Perhaps it was not planned this way, but the Golkar party once again has a foot in each camp as Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) front runner Joko Widodo squares off against Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) leader Prabowo Subianto in the July 9 presidential election.

The catalyst in both cases is former Golkar chairman Jusuf Kalla, who ran with president-to-be Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono against his own party's official candidate in 2004, and is now the vice-presidential candidate to Joko, the town mayor Prabowo helped launch to political stardom.

The only difference this time is that unlike a decade ago, when candidate Wiranto gave Kalla the go-ahead to run with Dr Yudhoyono, Golkar chairman Aburizal Bakrie has been forced out of the race and taken Golkar into Prabowo's camp.

At least that is what it looks like on paper. Prabowo now heads a six-party coalition that also includes running mate Hatta Rajasa's National Mandate Party (PAN), the syariah-based United Development Party (PPP) and Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).

But Golkar is badly split over the move. After serving as president Suharto's political machine during his 32-year rule, it has remained the quintessential governing party through the democratic era as well. Being in the opposition is not part of its DNA.

For all his wealth, which is now shrinking, Bakrie never came up through the party ranks like his nemesis, chief patron Akbar Tanjung. He has therefore not been able to build a popular base of support, relying instead on a circle of hand-picked loyalists.

With his standing in the polls always lukewarm at best, Joko settling on Kalla as his election partner, and Dr Yudhoyono's Democrat Party staying on the sidelines as a self-styled honest broker, he had little choice but to throw in the towel.

Political insiders say it is clear the popular Kalla, who currently has no formal position in Golkar, can call on significant support from the rank and file, particularly those on the off-Java islands from where the party draws much of its strength.

Bakrie initially appeared to be joining PDI-P, but that alliance fell apart after PDI-P chairman Megawati Sukarnoputri only smiled politely and said nothing when he demanded eight Cabinet posts in any new Joko-led administration.

Prabowo, on the other hand, promised him seven portfolios and a position similar to that of a prime minister.

In the face of Megawati's intransigence, it was something tangible Bakrie thought he needed to take to the party membership.

For all of Joko's popularity, the election could be a lot closer than anyone previously imagined. The PDI-P's complacency has given Prabowo traction in the polls following Gerindra's third-placed showing in the April 9 legislative elections.

A post-election Indikator survey showed Joko still maintaining a 15-point lead over Prabowo. But his support had declined from 55.7 per cent in mid-March to 45.5 per cent late last month, with Bakrie on 11.6 per cent and 12.8 per cent undecided.

If Prabowo had not received the support of the moderate Islamist PAN - and Bakrie - he would have had to get fully into the bed of political expediency with the PKS and PPP, both of which advocate the creation of an Islamic state.

That would have unsettled his church-going brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo, who recently felt compelled to reassure a gathering of Pentecostal ministers that the tough-minded Prabowo will be able to control the more radical elements in the two parties.

Hashim, a wealthy businessman, is part of the Kebayoran congregation of the Indonesian Christian Church Yasmin, whose Bogor church was sealed by municipal leaders in 2010 and has remained shut in defiance of a Supreme Court order.

Prabowo clearly scored a coup by bringing on board Hatta Rajasa, the Sumatran-born nationalist who resigned as Dr Yudhoyono's chief economic minister on May 13 to run as Prabowo's vice-presidential candidate.

He can thank PDI-P and Hatta's own ambitions for that. The PAN leader turned to Gerindra after Ms Megawati refused to consider him as Joko's understudy.

While much of PAN's support is rooted in Muhammadiyah, the 30 million-strong mass Muslim organisation founded in the early 1900s, it has a secular platform built around Pancasila, the state ideology.

Hashim must have a sense of deja vu to see Prabowo coalescing with the PPP and PKS.

Back in 1998, he angrily lashed out at reports that his brother was courting "green" (Islamic) generals and other hardliners, noting that their own mother was a Christian.

Again, it was all about political expediency. Prabowo needed support from the Muslim community, extremist or otherwise, in what turned out to be a losing power struggle with armed forces chief Wiranto, now head of the People's Conscience Party.

Asked this week if he was feeling uncomfortable with his brother's new-found allies, Hashim told me: "Not really. It's politics. They accept our platform. The vice-presidential candidate is not from one of those parties. That was my condition."

Prabowo's rise has been Bakrie's fall.

"No one wants to coalesce with us," one exasperated Golkar stalwart complained as the horse-trading went down to the wire. "Ical (Bakrie) is a drag on everyone."

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