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Jakarta Post

Q&A: Sink or sail? What's ahead for the Golkar ship under diehard captain Setya Novanto?

  • Devina Heriyanto
    Devina Heriyanto

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, May 23, 2016   /  11:52 am
Q&A: Sink or sail? What's ahead for the Golkar ship under diehard captain Setya Novanto? Golkar Party politicians Setya Novanto (left) and Mahyudin (right) are attending the Golkar' Party's candidates' campaign in Medan of North Sumatra on May 8. Golkar;s Extraordinary National Meeting had declared Novanto as the new chairman in early morning on Tuesday. (Antara/Irsan Mulyadi)

Businessman cum politician Setya Novanto has again made the headlines. This time, in a good way, for having claimed victory and taken the helm as the chairman of the country’s second-largest political party. His rival in the race, politically wired legislator Ade Komarrudin, having withdrawn his candidacy. Setya’s win apparently underlines his status as a heavyweight politician given his infamous links to various scandals in the past.

Flashing back to how he climbed the rungs during his political career and navigated a list of high-profile graft cases unscathed may shed light on the mystery behind his victory in the wee hours of Tuesday morning.


Has he always been in politics?

No. Setya started out as a businessman, although young Setya Novanto certainly had showman qualities, being named Most Handsome Man in Surabaya, in East Java back in 1975.

Setya is a big name in business, making the fact that he was the richest candidate in Golkar’s leadership race unsurprising. During the campaign, he is reported to have Rp 115 billion (US$8.4 million) plus $49,150 in wealth.

After finishing high school in 1973, he sold rice and honey with his friends to fill in his free time in Surabaya. Initially, Setya wanted to continue his study at Airlangga University, also in Surabaya, but he changed plans because he was late to sit a necessary test.

Even after his rice business flopped, his career as a businessman only continued to grow. Along with the son of the director of BRI Surabaya, he founded CV Mandar Teguh. But soon after that, he started working as a salesman in Suzuki retailer PT Sinar Mas Galaxi and dissolved the CV. He was later promoted to become head of Suzuki sales for eastern Indonesia.

In the early 1980s, he moved to Jakarta and started studying economics at Trisakti University.

Setya started his own business, PT Obor Swastika, which operates in agriculture. His business grew thanks to a Rp 200 million loan from Bank Dagang Negara. Besides agriculture, he was also involved in the procurement of textiles from Naintex in Bandung, West Java, and became a supplier in the pulp and paper industry for state firms PN Padalarang and PN Sandang. Economy magazine SWA once attributed his success to his father in law’s name, Sudharsono, who was then the West Java Police deputy chief.

He later set his eyes on infrastructure, winning a project worth Rp 1.6 billion for the development of Marunda Industrial Estate. In 1986 he finished the Nagoya Plaza Hotel project in Batam, worth Rp 8.5 billion, and expanded his business to include developing the tourist industry on the island, resulting in the 400-hectare Talvas Resort Island Batam. His projects in Batam introduced him to tycoon and half-brother of Soeharto, Sudwikatmono. Together, they were involved in various projects in telecommunications, real estate, water and paper, all in Batam, as well as infrastructure development in Palembang, South Sumatra.

In 1993, he won an ASEAN Entrepreneur Award from educational consultants ASEAN Program Consultant.

( Fun fact: In the same year, he received the Best Dressed Man award from Best Dressed Indonesia! )

In 1998, he founded the Nova Group. In 1999, he was acting commissioner of PT Era Giat Prima, a company that was implicated in the Bank Bali cessie scandal.


How did his political career begin?

In 1974, he first became a member of KOSGORO, a business group affiliated with the Golkar Party of which then president Suharto was chief patron throughout the New Order regime from 1966 to 1998.

Setya became chairman of the group’s private-business branch. In July 1998, Novanto was elected deputy treasurer of Golkar.

From 1999 until last year, Setya Novanto managed to maintain a seat in the House of Representatives, representing East Nusa Tenggara province (NTT).


What makes him controversial?

Since 1999, Setya has been linked to various high-profile graft cases that have forced him to appear frequently for questioning at the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) headquarters. He never once, however, appeared in court.

Flashing back to how he climbed the rungs during his political career and navigated a list of high-profile graft cases unscathed may shed light on the mystery behind his victory in the wee hours of Tuesday morning.Flashing back to how he climbed the rungs during his political career and navigated a list of high-profile graft cases unscathed may shed light on the mystery behind his victory in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. (The Jakarta Post/Budhi Button)

In what cases has his name mentioned?

  • Bank Bali cessie case 1999

As chairman of PT Era Giat Prima, Setya was allegedly implicated in the Bank Bali case. Bank Bali and PT EGP had signed an agreement worth Rp 3 trillion, which later cost the state as much as Rp 546 billion. Setya was not convicted but his partner at Era Giat Prima, Djoko S. Tjandra, was found guilty.

  • Vietnamese rice imports case 2003

PT Hexatama Finindo, owned by Setya, imported 600,000 tons of rice but only paid customs on 90,000 tons. He was questioned once by the Attorney General’s Office.

  • Toxic-waste smuggling case 2004

As much as 1,000 tons of toxic waste disguised as fertilizer was reportedly smuggled into Batam from Singapore by PT Asia Pasific Eco Lestari (APEL), a company previously owned by Setya. Setya denied all allegations of involvement even though his name was reportedly mentioned in a document as the signatory of the transaction.

  • National Games Riau 2012

Setya’s name arose in a graft case related to the National Games construction in Riau, involving Riau governor Rusli Zainal. Setya, Golkar treasurer and leader of the party’s lawmakers in the House, was accused of asking Rusli for a $1 million bribe before Golkar lawmakers would approve construction projects for the games.

  • E-KTP 2013

Muhammad Nazaruddin, former Democratic Party treasurer who was convicted of graft in relation to a Rp 5.8 trillion electronic identity cards (e-KTP) project, mentioned Setya name among others in relation to the alleged budget mark-up. Nazaruddin also alleged that Setya was involved in the bogus procurement of Merpati MA-60 aircraft worth US$200 million.

  • Election dispute 2014

Setya was accused by witnesses of bribery and money laundering in relation to local election disputes that were heard at the Constitutional Court. The cases led to former chief justice Akil Mochtar being imprisoned for life.

  • Trump 2015

Setya, then House speaker, along with his deputy Fadli Zon, appeared at one of US presidential hopeful Donald Trump's campaign events on Sept. 3, 2015, in New York, the US. Setya was still wearing his House pin, leading to an ethical violation being ruled to have occurred after some legislators reported the pair to the House Ethics Council.

  • Freeport 2015

Energy Minister Sudirman Said reported Setya Novanto to the House Ethics Council for falsely invoking President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s name, based on a taped conversation. In the recording, Setya allegedly requested that a 20 percent share of Freeport Indonesia be given to Jokowi and Kalla in exchange for approval of the extension of Freeport's operating permit. The negotiation of Freeport’s permit extension is not set to begin until 2017. Setya denied all allegations.


Is he guilty?

Setya has never been found guilty, except in the Freeport case where the House Ethics Council declared him guilty of misconduct, leading to his resignation from his position as speaker in 2015.  He was also questioned as a witness by the Attorney General’s Office on Feb. 4 this year after refusing to meet throughout January.

The investigation is currently pending due to a lack of evidence. Setya continues to plead innocent, saying that it is not his voice in the recording. Forensic experts have confirmed that it was indeed his voice.


What are his plans for Golkar?

Setya has laid out a priority program for Golkar, which includes: consolidating the party to unite every part, from branches to the central board; strengthening the party base in districts and villages; giving greater roles to regional boards for managing the organization and partisanship; and transforming Golkar into a modern political party. He also plans to establish a members education and research center to develop the party professionally; to develop firm legislative policies and budgetary policies to help Golkar achieve its state vision related to welfare and national development; and to succeed at the 2019 general elections along with regional elections in 2017 and 2018.


What does Setya’s win mean for Indonesian politics in general?

Cabinet secretary Pramono Anung reportedly said that the election of Setya as Golkar chairman would help smoothen communications between the House and Golkar. Setya was House speaker before resigning due to the Freeport scandal. The current House speaker is Ade Komarrudin, who was his main rival in Golkar’s leadership race.


What will he do as the new captain of Golkar ship?

Now, he is playing peacemaker for Golkar, which was previously torn between two factions, led by Aburizal Bakrie and Agung Laksono, following Aburizal’s insistence on keeping his leadership and opposing Jokowi’s administration after the 2014 presidential election.

Golkar, under Setya’s tutelage, has a renewed ambition to regain its long-lost glory come the 2019 general election. "We are aiming for Golkar to win [the general elections] in 2019," Setya said during his campaign.

Golkar’s recent decision to jump ship from the opposition coalition and vow its allegiance to President Jokowi’s administration may signal that the party is back in business. With the infamous Setya now Golkar’s chief captain, the fate of Indonesia’s former ruling party might be headed in a new direction, for better or worse, to sink or sail. (dmr)

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