“IF I happen to come across any false information about me, I will deny it,” Indonesian vice-president Jusuf Kalla declared after opening a World Press Freedom Day event in Jakarta.
He seemed to be responding to recent rumours that he was a key figure in an emerging power struggle within Golkar, Indonesia’s second-largest political party.
There was also a remark by senior lawmaker Zulkifli Hasan on Tuesday that Kalla played a key role in former minister Anies Baswedan running for Jakarta governor against the incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is a close ally of President Joko Widodo.
Kalla’s spokesman, Husain Abdullah, told CNN Indonesia that it was not a secret that the vice-president had suggested that Gerindra Party chief Prabowo Subianto field Anies for the Jakarta elections – but he denied any friction between Kalla and Joko.
Political insiders, however, say the statements hint at a growing rift between Joko and his No. 2.
These cracks, whether implied or explicit, have added to the mounting pressure on Joko as he continues to push through reforms, which will require the support of Golkar.
But with Golkar chief Setya Novanto being investigated for graft, there has been talk that certain factions within the party are preparing a candidate to be the next chief, with Kalla possibly playing kingmaker.
If Joko, or Jokowi as he is called, loses Golkar’s support, which will likely happen if Setya is ousted – with or without any intervention from Kalla – the ruling coalition will lose its 62% control of the House. This will undoubtedly make it harder for Joko to introduce policies or enact laws designed to take Indonesia forward.
Kalla’s support for Anies at the gubernatorial election would be taken as a personal affront by the president, said observers.
This is because Prabowo was Joko’s rival in the 2014 presidential election, while Anies was sacked as culture and education minister two months before he announced his candidacy with Gerindra last year.
That Basuki had lost so badly at the April 19 polls to Anies, has surely raised the stakes.
Joko has thus far kept his cards close to his chest and has not reacted to Basuki’s loss or speculation of a power play involving his own vice-president. But such undercurrents, or arus bawah in local jargon, cannot be ignored if he wants to be re-elected, said observers.
Many said the president will begin consolidating his power, starting with an upcoming leadership reshuffle, in a bid to gain new allies as he prepares for the 2019 election. He is expected to face Prabowo, who has indicated that he will run again for the presidency. — The Straits Times/Asia News Network