An alliance with Megawati to lead party? No way, says Soerjadi

PDI faces uphill task with in-fighting, lack of funds and poor media support

INDONESIAN Democratic Party (PDI) chairman Soerjadi has ruled out the possibility of an alliance with his party’s embattled former leader Megawati Soekarnoputri to save it from internal strife.

He said she had rejected peace overtures he had made to her to welcome her into the party fold under his leadership.

“I do not want an alliance with her to head the party. If she sees herself as a PDI member, then she should come forward and serve the party,” he told The Straits Times in an interview yesterday.

Mr Soerjadi has been the target of criticism of Megawati loyalists who are unhappy over the ousting of their leader in a government-backed congress last year.

They are also barred from contesting the May 29 general election as their names had been omitted from the list of candidates supplied by the Soerjadi faction.

Ms Megawati still claims to be the PDI’s legitimate leader and has ordered her supporters not to campaign in the polls. Her supporters in Parliament have called on the new PDI head to stop campaigning, claiming that he did not represent the Christian-nationalist coalition party and was unpopular.

“The party leadership under Soerjadi has obviously failed to gain public support,” said a petition signed by 17 PDI members in parliament on Friday.

“At each election rally, only several hundreds or as few as dozens of people attend. Sometimes security officers outnumbered rally participants.”

The PDI chief dismissed such charges as “fabrication”.

“This is a democracy and they are free to do what they like within the bounds of law,” he said.

He noted that people’s perceptions of the PDI were shaped largely by the local press, which he lamented were biased in their coverage of the polls campaign, which began on April 27.

“I hope the media will give fair coverage and not take sides with any of the three parties,” he said.

“What we have seen so far is biased reporting and support for Golkar. Indonesian journalists should abide by their code ofethics.”

Besides poor media coverage, the PDI does not have enough funds to campaign. Mr Soerjadi admitted yesterday that it was badly in need of funds and was forced to turn to supporters for money.

He declined to say how much the party had spent on the campaign so far. The PDI has begun selling scarves, stickers and T-shirts to cover the costs of its campaign.

PDI cadres told The Straits Times the party faced an uphill task because it lacked finance and was poorly organised, with one questioning privately whether it had enough good candidates to fill the extra seats it hoped to win.

Mr Soerjadi, however, has been more upbeat. Unaffected by the low attendance at his rallies, he has exuded confidence in the last two weeks of campaigning, making bold comments on political and economic reform in the country.

Besides calling for a fixed-term limit for the presidency, he also declared last week that the Indonesian armed forces (Abri) should review its role in the country. He said its dual-function role favoured the ruling Golkar party.

“We are facing some difficulties now but I am confident my party will do well this election,” he said, adding that the PDI hoped to achieve higher than the 15 per cent it secured in the last polls in 1992. It has 56 seats in Parliament.

He predicted that it would replace the United Development Party as the main opposition party in Parliament. “It is difficult to imagine this matter but we have already set our sights not only on increasing our vote, but our ranking as well,” he said.

Meanwhile, government officials have criticised his promise to fight for a special status for troubled East Timor, given its unique historical status.

“Soerjadi’s promise to help East Timor obtain special status is in violation with the agreement amongst political parties about the campaign,” regional head of the official campaign monitoring body, Mr Bonar Pardede said in the East Timor capital of Dili.

He said that President Suharto had clearly stated in the past that East Timor would not receive any special status.

Golkar chairman Harmoko said on Saturday that the East Timor issue was not up for debate.

“Golkar asserts firmly that the issue is finished,” he said. “Nobody can persuade others to reopen the case.”

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