Head of Indonesia's Golkar Party Wants to Be Jokowi's Deputy

(Bloomberg) -- The head of Indonesia’s second-biggest political party doesn’t just want a seat at the cabinet table, he wants to be at President Joko Widodo’s side.

With less than a month to go before the deadline for nominations, Widodo is under mounting pressure to name his running mate for next year’s presidential election. Industry Minister Airlangga Hartarto is making a case for Golkar, the first party to back Widodo for a second term, to be rewarded for its loyalty and the stability he said it can bring.

“Golkar is the early bird supporter of the president,” Hartarto said in an interview in Jakarta on Wednesday. "We are asking for the early bird privilege.”

Hartarto would secure Widodo the support of one of the country’s most powerful political machines, as he prepares for a long campaign ahead of voting in April. The stability in the parliament that Golkar would likely offer would also be welcomed by investors as a crucial step towards locking in Widodo’s economic reform agenda for another five years.

Building Support

Less than a year ago, Golkar -- the party founded by authoritarian leader Suharto -- was embroiled in scandal. It’s then leader and former speaker of the house, Setya Novanto, was facing corruption charges. He has since been sent to jail for 15 years.

Now Hartarto said Golkar is confident of picking up 110 of the 560 seats in Indonesia’s parliament, up from the current 91. The legislative elections will be held on the same day as the presidential vote.

It’s an important factor for Widodo, known as Jokowi, to consider. When he took up office in 2014, his supporters held just 38 percent of seats in the parliament. He eventually managed to bolster his coalition, including winning over Golkar, to a more than two-thirds majority.

Hartarto said that since Golkar joined the government the president had won approval for his landmark tax amnesty and a new central bank governor had been appointed with the party’s support. “Bringing Golkar brings stability,” he said.

A poll taken earlier this month by Lingkaran Survei Indonesia showed the two issues that mattered most to voters were a strong government and the economy. Denny Januar Ali, a director with LSI, said Hartarto was seen as capable on both counts with 36 percent of voters rating him as the best option for delivering Jokowi stability in the parliament.

Growth Lagging

Golkar was the first party to back Widodo to run for a second term, months before the president’s own party PDI-P, run by former president Megawati Soekarnoputri nominated him. But the delay in naming a running mate has lead to speculation Golkar could pull its support, which would jeopardize Widodo’s ability to continue with his economic plan.

While Southeast Asia’s biggest economy is struggling to fire, growing at about 5 percent but well short of the 7 percent Jokowi has targeted, the president has been praised for his reform drive that’s earned Indonesia a crucial investment grade status from sovereign ratings companies.

“That’s precisely the consideration for Jokowi,“ said Umar Juoro, a senior fellow at the Center for Information and Development Studies and the Habibie Center in Jakarta. “He would like somebody with a strong political and economic background and Airlangga is somebody who can combine these things and get results.”

Others say that’s unlikely to happen. "Widodo may be amenable to enlisting him, but I doubt that Megawati would stand for it," said independent political analyst Kevin O’Rourke.

The president said Wednesday he is yet to make his decision but has narrowed the field to five contenders, without providing any details. “Be patient,” he said, adding he is still in discussion with coalition partners.

While Prabowo Subianto -- leader of the main opposition party and runner up in the 2014 election -- has accepted his party’s endorsement, it remains unclear whether he will actually run. Jokowi has secured the support of five of the 10 parties in parliament, leaving Prabowo’s Gerindra with just 13 percent of the seats. He has until the Aug. 10 to secure support from the few parties left in order to meet threshold requirements.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.