July 26, 2023
JAKARTA – Coordinating Economic Minister Airlangga Hartarto of Golkar Party showed up for questioning on Monday as a witness in the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) investigation into a corruption case about a domestic cooking oil shortage last year.
Airlangga reportedly arrived at the AGO headquarters in Jakarta on Monday morning.
He skipped the first summons last week without explanation and after having asked investigators to push back the questioning from a day before.
AGO spokesperson Ketut Sumedana previously said that the investigators would seek information from Airlangga about export permit procedures and his policies related to crude palm oil (CPO) exports during the period when the corruption case took place.
AGO investigators are currently seeking to hold three private palm oil companies criminally liable for misconduct in obtaining export permits at a time when shipments were restricted.
Five people, including a high-ranking government official, were sentenced to prison earlier this year for conspiring to secure permits for exporting CPO and its derivatives through illegal means from January 2021 to March 2022, following an AGO investigation.
The convicted individuals include the Trade Ministry’s international trade director general Indrasari Wisnu Wardhana, three executives from three private companies and an economist, all of whom were arrested by the AGO at the peak of the cooking oil scarcity last year.
The government has been restricting exports of CPO and its derivatives following a shortage in cooking oil at the end of 2021. Among the new policies introduced to address the issue was a domestic market obligation (DMO) policy, requiring CPO exporters to allocate at least 20 percent of their produce for the domestic market.
AGO summonses come at a time when Airlangga, who has been considering a presidential run next year despite his persistently low electability in various opinion polls, is losing support from his own party.
Two senior Golkar politicians, Luhut Pandjaitan and Bahlil Lahadalia, last week presented themselves as viable alternatives to Airlangga to help rejuvenate the country’s oldest party after some members, namely Ridwan Hisjam of the party advisory council and Lawrence Sibuarian, openly called for Airlangga’s removal from the party’s top post.
Rumblings of discontent within Golkar became apparent earlier this month after Ridwan and Lawrence openly pinned the blame for the party’s worsening performance on Airlangga’s poor electability and failure to consolidate the party’s machinery at the grassroots level. They called for an extraordinary congress to replace Airlangga should he fail to form an “alternative electoral alliance” to secure his presidential ticket by August.
Under Airlangga, who was elected to the top post in 2019, the party’s electability rating has nosedived into the single digits in the run-up to the February 2024 legislative and presidential elections. The latest opinion poll from the Indonesia Survey Institute (LSI), conducted from July 1 to 8, found that Golkar’s electability fell to only 6 percent from 11 percent in August 2022.
The fact that Luhut and Bahlil are members of the Cabinet has led to speculations that President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration was pushing for Airlangga’s political end, which Luhut has denied.
On Monday, Luhut took a more moderate tone when answering journalists’ questions about his intention to lead Golkar, saying: “Let’s see how things go. I’m not hands on.”
Airlangga and his top allies, including Agung Laksono, however, appeared to have no intention of relinquishing control of the party. The party chairman reiterated recently that the party’s leadership has no intention of holding an extraordinary congress and anyone wishing to run for the party’s top post is welcome to do so when his term ends in 2024.
Akhmad Ma’ruf Maulana, head of the Golkar office in Riau Islands province and Airlangga’s loyalist, urged Bahlil to focus on his ministerial task of investment affairs instead of talking about politics. He wanted Bahlil to stop sowing confusion, saying: “The issue makes us, Golkar members in the regions, worry. We got the impression that the party is breaking apart.” (jan/ipa/yba/yer)