July 28, 2023
JAKARTA – President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has rejected a suggestion that his administration is behind a plot to oust Airlangga Hartarto as Golkar Party chairman and replace him with a politician from the President’s inner circle.
Appearing at an atypically tense press briefing on Thursday morning at Halim Perdanakusuma Air Base in East Jakarta before his departure to Chengdu, China, Jokowi distanced himself from the feud unfolding between the Airlangga camp and his potential rivals in Golkar.
Last week, Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Panjaitan and Investment Minister Bahlil Lahadalia, who are also senior Golkar politicians, expressed their readiness to take up the Golkar chairmanship after some party members openly called for Airlangga’s removal from the position.
“It is an internal Golkar affair and has nothing to do with us,” the President said in response to a reporter’s question suggesting that Luhut and Bahlil had been gunning for the Golkar chairmanship.
Jokowi then turned to stare at Luhut, who stood nearby to his right.
“If Pak [Mr.] Luhut, Pak Bahlil or Pak Bambang Soesatyo have such an intention, it’s their business, not ours,” the President said in a raised voice, referring to the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) Speaker, another Golkar politician who had emerged as a potential contender for party chair.
“It’s an internal affair of Golkar,” reiterated the President, who is a member of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).
Fellow PDI-P politician Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung, who was standing to Jokowi’s left, was spotted making a “cut” gesture to end the press briefing shortly after the President started answering questions about the Golkar feud.
Jokowi also refuted speculation that he had kept Airlangga behind following a budget meeting the previous day to discuss politics, saying that the only additional discussion that day centered on how to repatriate export earnings.
On Wednesday, the President gathered several ministers including Airlangga at the State Palace for a closed-door meeting to discuss the state budget, Kompas.com reported. But according to the media outlet, Airlangga was seen exiting the palace a few hours after his colleagues had departed.
Analyst Adi Prayitno said he expected the President’s remarks would clear the air and ensure that there was no state interference in Golkar’s internal affairs.
Airlangga has been eyeing a potential bid for the presidency, despite his persistently low electability in various opinion polls.
Putting its chairman on the party ticket has been challenging for Golkar, which does not have enough legislative seats to meet the 20 percent presidential nomination threshold, leaving it no choice but to form an alliance to field a candidate.
Meanwhile, its two electoral allies have been exploring different paths. The United Development Party (PPP) is now backing PDI-P presidential candidate Ganjar Pranowo. The National Mandate Party (PAN), on the other hand, has been exploring alliances with other parties to pair State-Owned Enterprises (SOE) Minister Erick Thohir for vice president with Ganjar or Prabowo Subianto, the presumptive nominee of the Gerindra Party.
Leading supporters of Airlangga, including Golkar advisory council chairman Agung Laksono and his son Dave Laksono, applauded the way Jokowi “respected the party” by not interfering with the party’s internal affairs.
Dave, who is a member of the Golkar central board, said the party had no intention to hold an extraordinary congress before Airlangga’s chairmanship ended next year.
Several Golkar members, including Ridwan Hisjam of the party’s advisory council and Lawrence Sibuarian, also voiced their doubts about Airlangga’s leadership leading up to the 2024 general election. This camp called for an extraordinary congress to remove Airlangga if he failed to forge an alternative electoral alliance by August to rally support for his presidential bid.
Amid the rumblings of discontent within the party, Airlangga has been subpoenaed for questioning as a witness by the Attorney General’s Office (AGO), in connection with its investigation into a corruption case blamed for contributing to last year’s cooking oil shortage.
On Thursday afternoon, Airlangga hosted PDI-P heir apparent Puan Maharani at his residence in South Jakarta, during which they discussed a possible partnership for the 2024 election. (jan)