Habibie’s man looks set to be the winner

Golkar chapters back the President’s choice for the top party post, strengthening Habibie’s political base.

INDONESIA’S President B.J. Habibie appeared set to strengthen his political base when a large number of the party’s provincial leaders at the Golkar congress yesterday declared their support for his preferred candidate for the post of party chairman.

By the afternoon, State Secretary Akbar Tanjung had secured the backing of 11 of the 27 Golkar provincial chapters for the party’s top post.

His rival, retired general Edi Sudradjat, whose name was forwarded by supporters of former President Suharto, was trailing with the support of eight chapters.

Golkar sources said that a victory for the pro-Habibie forces seemed inevitable because of the remaining eight provinces that have yet to declare their preference, three have indicated that they were leaning towards Mr Tanjung.

Said party executive Theo Sambuaga: “It is really a foregone conclusion now.

“There is a realisation among many in the party that we need someone who can take the lead in pushing for political reform. Akbar Tanjung is that man.”

Mr Tanjung, however, was modest. “Theoretically, I have a better chance than my competitor, looking at the statistics so far. But I am not celebrating yet because politics is so unpredictable. Anything can happen.”

The die will be cast today when the 1,000 delegates at the three-day extraordinary meeting cast their ballots for the chairman’s post. However, they are expected to vote along the lines of their provincial leaders.

Mr Tanjung stressed that if he was elected Golkar chairman, his main task would be to back the Habibie administration’s political and economic reform initiatives.

Analysts believe that with Mr Tanjung in the top Golkar post, Dr Habibie would have strengthened his own position which has been weak given his tenuous political base.

He needs allies in the Golkar leadership to ensure his political survival. With his men at the top, he would be in a better position to influence the country’s political agenda leading up to general and presidential elections next year.

Noted a Jakarta-based diplomat: “Now it will be difficult for the Suhartoists to dislodge Dr Habibie and almost signals the death knell for them.”

Indeed, pro-Suharto elements suffered another blow when the provincial delegates yesterday decided to abolish all three of Golkar’s patronage bodies, one of which was headed by Mr Suharto and which had veto power over party decisions.

The key to Dr Habibie’s survival though is still the powerful armed forces (Abri).

Military intelligence sources told The Straits Times that while Abri did not back any candidate, there was a preference for “someone who would not clash head on with Dr Habibie on national issues”.

Golkar party sources said that a “compromise” was reached with the military agreeing not to block Dr Habibie’s candidate in return for the appointment of a senior Abri officer as party secretary-general.

Mr Tanjung did not comment on whether a deal had been struck but confirmed that a military officer, Major-General Tuswandi from the National Resilience Institute, would fill the post.

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