Sat, 06 Mar 1999

Golkar to officially declare itself political party

JAKARTA (JP): The ruling political grouping Golkar opens a new chapter in its history when it officially declares itself a political party on Sunday.

Andi Matalatta, chairman of the Golkar faction at the House of Representatives, said the decision was in line with the law and sweeping changes occurring in Golkar, formerly termed a "political grouping", in the past year.

The declaration will be made at the opening ceremony of a three-day Golkar leadership meeting.

"In accordance with the 1999 law on political parties, Golkar must register with the Ministry of Justice as a political party. This means a change in Golkar's legal status from a political grouping to a political party," Andi told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

During the three decades of the New Order rule, which ended with Soeharto's resignation last May, Golkar insisted it was not a political party, although its far-reaching role undermined the profession.

The fall of the authoritarian regime plunged Golkar, its major pillar, into troubled water. Yet Andi was optimistic the political organization would weather the difficult times.

Andi said that in its new incarnation, Golkar would contest the June 7 election in a fair manner.

"Preparations both at party headquarters and in provincial chapters and regencies are in place and will be finalized during the leadership meeting," he said.

Golkar executives are expected to focus on vote-getting programs and strategies.

The grouping was unchallenged at the past six elections amid allegations of vote rigging and other violations.

Golkar romped home with a record 74 percent of the vote in the last polls held in 1997.

Andi said a victory would prove Golkar still has a place in people's hearts.

"I believe Golkar has a bright future because it still has supporters and sympathizers across the country," Andi said, adding that Golkar intends to establish a legitimate and democratic government.

"You know that Golkar has undergone a total overhaul to pay for its past sins. We, Golkar, apply a new paradigm and stance on the changing national political stage."

But Golkar is not prepared to take the blame for New Order mistakes, Andi said, as it served only as a political tool of the former political elite.

"Following president Soeharto's resignation last May, Golkar has been free from any government interference," Andi said.

A new government regulation which bars civil servants from pledging their allegiance to political parties delivered a big blow to Golkar.

In the past, civil servants were obliged to vote for Golkar.

Andi believed it was a blessing in disguise for Golkar because it would strive to uphold democracy.

Andi said his party did not expect to enjoy the landslide wins of the past.

He said that despite continuous criticism and condemnation from a variety of sources, Golkar possessed many advantages in comparison to its challengers.

"They will pay dividends for us in the election."

Andi said its decade-long experience in mobilizing masses in elections enabled it to set up branches in all the provinces, regencies and subdistricts.

"Most importantly, Golkar has expert human resources to run a political organization and formulate brilliant strategies to win elections."

He claimed proreform figures dominated key positions in Golkar.

A recent exodus of important figures from the party would not adversely affect its image in its bid to win the election, he added.

A number of renowned figures -- including former minister of defense Gen. (ret) Edi Sudradjat, former state minister of sports and youth affairs Hayono Isman, former minister of environment Sarwono Kusumaatmadja, and former minister of transmigration Siswono Yudohusodo -- have left Golkar to establish their own parties.

Andi denied allegations Golkar applied a money politics strategy to win the election, but acknowledged the party has spent a lot of money to finance its programs. He countered it was a common strategy invoked by many other parties.

"Spending a lot of money to organize meetings with our supporters and sympathizers is not against the law."

He said Golkar was still involved in many cooperative programs with farmers and small and medium-sized companies in rural and urban areas.

"But it is not money politics if people participating in the programs vote for Golkar in the next election," he said.

Selection of legislative candidates and discussions to draw up criteria for presidential candidates will also be on the agenda.

"The meeting is not expected to unveil our presidential candidates because we will only name them after the elections," Andi said. (rms)