By Albert W Nonto
Erwin Aksa has played a pivotal role in recent Indonesian politics by bridging the different interests of Indonesia’s political parties, helping them regain dominance. He may be destined to play an even bigger role.
Prabowo Subianto, chairman of the Greater Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) credits Erwin Aksa as the critical player in encouraging former education minister Anies Baswedan to nominate as a candidate in the Jakarta gubernatorial race.
As if to celebrate, Erwin used his private helicopter to fly Anies to the Jakarta governor’s office for a meeting with the man he had just beaten in the second round of the election – incumbent Basuki Tjahaya Purnama or Ahok - to discuss the transition.
Erwin, 43, is a member of Golkar Party, which had formally thrown its weight behind Ahok. He bucked his party’s line and opted to support Anies instead. Many believe that there is a separate agenda at work in the bigger picture of Indonesian politics. Erwin is a nephew of Vice President Jusuf Kalla and observers believe his role in backing Anies represented his uncle’s desire.
In Golkar Erwin is deputy chairman in charge of industrial affairs. His role in national-level politics started when he backed Aburizal Bakrie, or Ical, to be nominated as the party’s candidate at the presidential election in 2014.
The public was not convinced. Few believed that Ical was qualified for the race, prompting Erwin to move to back his uncle to pair with Joko Widodo. Initially, JK, as the uncle is widely known, is believed to have doubts about Jokowi’s ability to become president but he changed his mind and agreed to be paired with the upstart former mayor of Solo in Central Java.
After that Erwin played a pivotal role in securing the candidacy and collecting support from his colleagues in Golkar, as well as raising funds for the campaign.
Erwin has been able to spend time building strong links to the political elites and national leaders, becoming one of the key players in the political landscape.
Erwin’s talent for politics comes from his father, Aksa Mahmud, a long-time member of Golkar. Aksa has been one of a small number of significant players in elite political power plays for the past 15 years. He has bridged the varied interests of Indonesia’s Islamic political parties with nationalist parties, and particularly Golkar. His wide network of connections and - most importantly - his wealth have made him a power to be reckoned with.
Aksa’s relationship with political elites has been developed over a long time. He is on good terms with Ical, Surya Paloh of the National Democrats (Nasdem), and most of the Islamic parties, such as the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the United Development Party (PPP), and with Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s (SBY) Democratic Party.
Aksa was among the key players who engineered the election of Abdurrahman Wahid as president in 1999, of Amien Rais as head of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) and Kalla’s first term as vice president to SBY.
In the Jakarta gubernatorial election, Erwin became a major player behind the scenes. He convinced Anies Baswedan to accept nomination, while his father actively approached PPP, the National Mandate Party (PAN) in which Amien Rais remains powerful, and the PKS. While Anies was not their first option, Kalla’s high-level lobbying convinced them to back him, with PKS choice Sandiaga Uno as his running mate.
Erwin and Sandi have similar backgrounds as businessmen. Erwin was Sandi’s successor as head of the Young Indonesian Entrepreneurs Association (Hipmi) and both are active in the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin).
Business and politics
Erwin is just one of many businessmen who also play politics. Others who figure on GlobeAsia’s Rich List include Surya Paloh, with interests in media, hotels, energy and catering. He heads Nasdem, a strong supporter of Jokowi. Another magnate, Harry Tanoesoedibjo, has founded the Indonesian Unity Party (Perindo) and is aggressively developing party branches throughout Indonesia. He and Prabowo are said to have a grand plan for the general election in 2019.
Sources in Erwin’s Bosowa Group confirm that since he took over as president commissioner in place of his father, Erwin has been able to spend time building strong links to the political elites and national leaders. With his wide network of relationships, Erwin now becomes one of the key players in the political landscape.
Many believe that Jusuf Kalla’s political dynasty is planning to play a bigger role to regain influence in both politics and business.