The ruling political party in Indonesia throughout the dictatorship of General Suharto, from 1965 to 1998. It was one of only three parties permitted, and it always won an absolute majority in national elections, having the integrated support of both the military and the civil service.
It was founded in 1963, an alliance of farmers, fishers, and professionals. The name Golkar comes from its full title Sekretariat Bersama Golongan Karya, meaning the Joint Secretariat of Functional Groups. In 1971 it won a majority in the Dewan or lower house, in the first legislative elections since 1955. It adopted President Suharto as its candidate for the presidency. This combination was repeated in the national elections of 1977, 1982, 1987, and 1992.
It achieved its best showing in 1987, with 73% of the popular vote giving it 299 of the 500 Dewan seats, and majorities in all 27 provincial assemblies. In 1993, when it had 35 million members, the information minister Harmoko was elected the first civilian chairperson of Golkar.
Throughout this time the two other permitted parties were the nationalist PDI (Indonesian Democratic Party) and the moderate Islamic PPP. In 1996, when corruption and economic downturn were badly hitting the Suharto regime, several other parties were founded, and banned. The PDI leader Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of President Sukarno whom Suharto had ousted, was removed from leadership by poodles favouring continued cooperation with Golkar. She formed a breakaway PDI-P, which was refused recognition.
In May 1998 Suharto finally resigned. Vice-president B.J. Habibie announced electoral law would be reformed. Many other parties came into existence, conditional only on opposing communism and adhering to the national ideology pancasila. From 1999 civil servants were no longer obliged to support Golkar. In national elections on 7 June 1999 Megawati's PDI-P won a clear majority with 34% and 154 seats, Golkar made a surprisingly strong showing with 20% and 120 seats, and third place went to the PKB of the blind cleric Abdurrahman Wahid, with 59 seats. Golkar accepted the result in the sense of not staging a military coup, but threw its numbers behind Wahid, who thus emerged as president, with Megawati relegated to vice-president.
Wahid was removed from office in 2001 and Megawati became president. For presidential elections in July 2004 Golkar controversially nominated Suharto's former security chief, General Wiranto as their candidate. He was indicted for war crimes by the government of East Timor over the rampaging of Indonesian troops and militias there. The party chose him over their main figure, Akbar Tanjung, but Wiranto did not make it past the first round. Tanjung continued to lead the party until December 2004, when Indonesia's vice-president Jusuf Kalla was chosen, despite having run for president against Wiranto. This has strengthened the position of Golkar in the government of president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.