GlobeAsia Man of the Year 2018
Airlangga Hartarto, 55, was elected by acclamation at a Golkar Party general session on December 13, taking on the tough job of leading the party to regain support in the face of declining electability and negative perception from the public. By Albert W. Nonto and Yanto Soegiarto
The public perception of Golkar has turned negative as a result of the corruption scandal involving former chairman Setya Novanto. It is Airlangga’s job to turn around this perception and restore the faith of the grassroots following that has been the backbone of the party’s electoral appeal for more than 50 years.
Airlangga promised to focus his leadership on governance, with the aim of making the party more transparent and ridding it of the taint of corruption.
At Golkar’s extraordinary session (munaslub) on December 18, Airlangga said he would transform the party to become number one again. “We have been number one, number two and we will not allow Golkar to become number three,” he proclaimed.
Asked whether there would be new faces in the line-up of party officials under the new leadership, Airlangga assured there would be “elements of change. It’s going to be transformational but of course we have to work together with the best cadres within the party to forge that,” he told GlobeAsia/BeritaSatu TV in an interview.
Airlangga becomes the fifth Golkar chairman with a solid business background during the past 20 years, following in the footsteps of Akbar Tanjung, a businessman turned activist; Jusuf Kalla of Kalla Group; Aburizal Bakrie of Bakrie Brothers Group; and Setya Novanto, who has interests in lifestyle and property.
When the organization was the political machine of the Suharto regime, Golkar had always been close to the business world. Harmoko, another former chairman, was active in media with a significant interest in Pos Kota Group, a publisher of media with printing and paper operations.
Many believe Golkar has made the right choice and that Airlangga is the right person to maintain balance among the different factions within Golkar. Charta Politika Indonesia executive director Yunarto Wijaya says that Airlangga’s image as the “middleman” will serve him well in his efforts to heal the public perception of the party, galvanize internal support and - most importantly – win electoral support.
Golkar has long experience in managing internal conflicts within the dynamic organization, reflecting its historic roots as a political machine tacked together from a number of social organizations. At many times, however, those conflicts have been deep and damagingly divisive.
Golkar served the late President Suharto well as a political vehicle allied with the military and the bureaucracy in the initial battle in the early 1960s to combat the power of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). With the fall of Suharto in 1998, Golkar managed to re-invent itself as a genuine political party and while it never came near the near-monopoly of power it achieved under the old autocrat, it remained a force within the Indonesian political spectrum.
Airlangga has responded to the call, promising to manage the party fairly, working closely with factional leaders to develop equilibrium.
Over the past decade, led first by Jusuf Kalla and Aburizal Bakrie, it maintained a position at the center of power, even though some of its early leaders split away and formed their own political parties. The party was increasingly torn by bitter conflict, wide differences of views, further accelerating declining electability and encouraging many members to move elsewhere.
One member of the party elite, Agus Gumiwang Kartasasmita, believes Airlangga will be able to improve the party’s image and gain electoral support. Many survey companies have painted a similar picture of the electoral map: On November 26, pollster Poltracking Indonesia put support for the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) at 23.4%, the Greater Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) in second place with 13.6% and Golkar in third with the support of 10.9% of respondents, down from 14.75% in the 2014 general election.
Airlangga’s position as Minister for Industry in the Joko Widodo government has reinforced the party’s support for the president, he believes, while Golkar itself has to overcome its internal factional struggles and allow talents with strong capabilities and experience in politics and - most importantly - good moral standards to take the lead. It is common knowledge, says Agus, that the party in recent times has been managed by the wrong people with too little experience in politics.
Airlangga has responded to the call, promising to manage the party fairly, working closely with factional leaders to develop equilibrium. His aim, of course, is to win more support for the party’s candidates in this year’s regional elections and next year’s presidential and legislative polls.
“As chairman, I will ensure that Golkar maintains its stance to support Jokowi in the coming general election and will work hard to make this come true and secure the president’s position until 2024,” Airlangga told the media following his election. But to lead the party, he may have to give up his ministerial position.
Jokowi, who attended the session which unanimously declared Airlangga to be Golkar’s new chairman, made it clear that the new leader had plenty of work to do. “To tell the truth I know the large influential groups inside Golkar. Pak Jusuf Kalla’s camp, Pak Aburizal Bakrie’s, Pak Luhut Binsar Panjaitan’s, Pak Akbar Tanjung’s and Pak Agung Laksono’s. They are silent but they are there,” he said. The represent Golkar’s old guards, who have dominated the powerful political party and often fought over the spoils.
“Regardless of the different factions, especially since we are entering the year of politics, Golkar must be solid because internal problems can influence national politics as a whole. Golkar must become solid once again, productive and professional,” the president said. “I was worried last November that internal rifts within Golkar would cause political headwinds.”
He also revealed that he had heard of aspirations of regional Golkar chapters wanting a party leadership change. That promises a potential battle royal for Hartarto to deal with.
Airlangga virtually grew up in Golkar. His father Hartarto Sastrosunarto, who died in May last year at the age of 84, occupied the same position the son now holds in Suharto’s cabinets from 1983 until 1993, then becoming coordinating minister for production and distribution until the fall of the Suharto government in 1998.
Airlangga has been a member of Golkar since the last years of the Suharto regime. He has been a member of the House of Representatives since 2004 and has headed a number of parliamentary commissions, including those dealing with energy, environment, research and technology and more recently industry, trade, small and medium enterprises, investment and state-owned enterprises.
In 2004 he became Golkar’s deputy treasurer and served as co-chairman of the party along with Aburizal Bakrie. When the party held the 2016 general assembly at which Setya Novanto was elected chairman, he worked on the steering committee along with Nurdin Halid.
During his time at the DPR he wrote a book setting out a road map to boost the competitiveness of Indonesia’s industry. As a member of parliament he initiated the Industry Law as the basic platform for the country’s industrial development.
Appointed to his present position in July 2016, Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung said President Jokowi saw that Airlangga’s extensive experience in parliament and in-depth understanding of industry made him a logical choice for the post. Pramono assigned him to re-visit his road map for national industry in order to make it a backbone of the economy to replace the volatile commodity sector.
Airlangga claims that industry has already shown its ability to support national income growth. This year the sector is expected to contribute about 17% of gross domestic product, with basic metal industry, food and beverages, machinery and equipment as well as transportation equipment leading the way.
As a businessman and professional, Airlangga has interests in companies including PT Graha Curah Niaga, a mineral trading house. Since 1989 he served as president commissioner of Surabaya-based paper-maker PT Fajar Surya Wisesa. He has been president director of engineering, procurement and construction company PT Jakarta Prime Crane. He has been president commissioner of Lippo Group-affiliated company PT Ciptadana Securities and of Cargill’s PT Sorini Corporation.
Born in Surabaya on October 1, 1962, he went to Catholic senior high school Kanisius College in Jakarta and earned his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from Gadjah Mada University (UGM) in 1987. He attended the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1993 and in 1996 topped that off with an MBA from Monash University in Australia, finishing off his education with a Master of Management Technology (MMT) from Melbourne Business School at the University of Melbourne a year later.
He won an award from the ASEAN Federation of Engineering in 2004 and the Australian Alumni Award for Entrepreneurship in 2009. At home, he was honored for his contribution to the country with the Satya Lencana Wira Karya award in 2014. He has been active in the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin) and the Indonesian Engineers Association (PII).