But in the days since Monday's jubilant democratic elections, the idea has come full circle. As the counting of votes continues at a snail's pace, a remote but nasty possibility is taking shape: that Golkar might hang on as the leader of a democratically elected government.
The official count, of just 8.4 per cent of the votes, still had the ruling party in third place, after Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle (PDI-P) and its opposition ally, the National Awakening Party (PKB). But an unofficial count of 12.2 per cent of the votes, by the election media centre, put Golkar in second place and gaining, with 21 per cent of the vote compared with the PDI-P's 34.7 per cent.
The final result might not be known for up to six days. In some regions, less than 2 per cent of votes have been counted. But if the present trend continues, Golkar could find itself able to pull together a coalition of smaller parties and relaunch itself as a legitimate party of government.
A number of factors are working in its favour, most important among them the sheer novelty of true democracy in Indonesia. During the 32 years of Suharto's rule, elections were held every five years and pressure to vote for the ruling party permeated society. In big cities and in the central island of Java, the events of the past year have created a highly politicised and sophisticated population. But Indonesia is still overwhelmingly a country of villages, and it is in them that the battle will be won or lost.
An Indonesian civil servant yesterday described a visit to a remote village on the island of Lombok where the villagers all said they intended to vote Golkar. "We asked them why, and they said, `Because they have done so much for us. Look at our roads. Look at our schools.' To them, Golkar gets the credit for all the development of the last 30 years."
To many Indonesians, choosing the ruling party is a natural part of an election. The political analyst Wimar Witoelar compares it to the Stockholm Syndrome, in which the victims of hijackers identify with and fall in love with their captors. "People can't believe that it's possible for them to break away," he says. "It's like suddenly opening a cage - the animal doesn't want to walk out because it's been locked up for so long."
The second element that could work in Golkar's favour is the Indonesian military, which is guaranteed 38 out of the 500 parliamentary seats, a crucial 7.6 per cent. Their support for Golkar is not guaranteed, but no group is more conservative than the military, nor more vulnerable to the Stockholm Syndrome.
Yesterday, troops and soldiers were positioned around Jakarta. The official reason was to discourage demonstrators disgruntled with the slowness of the count. The Jakarta police spokesman, Lieutenant- Colonel Zairuni Lubis, said: "We hope parties could restrain themselves from going to the streets to celebrate victory." Of more concern, though, would be the squeals of outrage if an undead Golkar managed to haul itself out of the political grave.Reuse content