Who’s who in the race


On June 7, when Indonesians head for the polling stations, they will face a daunting choice of 48 parties. We kick off a regular series of special reports on the country’s watershed election with this analysis by DERWIN PEREIRA in Jakarta on the key players on the new political landscape and the likely outcome of the polls.

INDONESIA’s first multiparty election in 50 years will not result in a single party majority in Parliament.

There will be no clear winners as the country braces itself for a new era of fragile coalition politics after more than 30 years of dominance by the ruling Golkar party.

Golkar, of course, is only a rump of its former self after Mr Suharto’s fall last May. But it is slightly ahead of the front-runners from the 48 contesting parties to seize the crown in an election battle between two ideological camps- the warring Islamicists and the Pancasilaists.

No political saviour seems capable of uniting them at this point. There are no Sukarnos or Suhartos in the crystal ball. The formation of the next government and, in particular, the choice of Indonesia’s fourth president will be difficult to predict.

There will be much political horse-trading within parties and between them before a choice is made.

At this stage, the key players are holding their cards close to their chests in the inevitable power struggle. The real game and brinkmanship will only start once the election results are known.


SOCIO-CULTURAL and ideological divisions are still dominant in Indonesian politics. At issue here is how much the state ought to give special consideration to the purest Muslims, or santris, and their interests.

There are two broad groups:
* Islamic-oriented parties. These parties have no intention to create a state run on Islamic laws, unlike many of the religious-based parties in the ’50s.

Their main goal now is to establish a state in which Islam is the dominant religion, as in Malaysia. They want to give Indonesia’s 180 million Muslims their rightful place in society after being sidelined under the Suharto regime, which, they allege, favoured Christians and ethnic Chinese.

Heading this group is Golkar. The ruling party has become increasingly Islamic-oriented in the last five years despite basing itself on the Pancasila state ideology.

It has become the pre-eminent vehicle for President B. J. Habibie’s re-election and, by implication, perhaps for the dominance of modernist Islamic leaders for another five years.

Others in this group include Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (PPP), Partai Keadilan, Partai Bulan Bintang (PBB), Partai Daulat Rakyat (PDR), Masyumi Baru, Partai Nadhlatul Ummat (PNU), Partai Kebangkitan Ummat (PKU), Partai Ummat Islam (PUI) and Partai Suni.

Partai Amanat Nasional (PAN), led by opposition leader Amien Rais, straddles the Islamic-oriented faction and the Pancasilaists.

* Pancasilaists. These parties are conservative-oriented. They want to create a better New Order minus all the corruption. They represent the nationalist and benign face of an Indonesia rapidly vanishing under the social and political force of Islam.

Heading this group is Partai Demokrasi Indonesia-Perjuangan that is led by Megawati Sukarnoputri, the eldest daughter of the country’s founding father and first president Sukarno.

Also here is Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa (PKB), the “political arm” of the traditionalist Nadhlatul Ulama, the country’s largest Muslim organisation with 35 million members.

Former Defence Minister Edi Sudradjat’s Partai Kebangkitan dan Persatuan (PKP), a breakaway faction of Golkar, can be included in this camp, given its strong “merah-putih” nationalist orientation.

The three front-runners are joined quite ironically by Suharto loyalists – PNIFM led by Suharto’s half-brother Probosutedjo, Partai Republik and 12 others, all reportedly being financed by the fallen dictator.


DEALS and counter-deals in a smoke-filled political environment make many combinations possible after the election. But the core of any coalition really is its cultural identity.

If this is used as a measure, two coalitions become immediately obvious.

In the first scenario, Golkar heads a group of modernist and radical faces of Islam like PPP, PBB, PDR and Partai Keadilan. Despite variants along the ideological spectrum, they can all work together, given their shared interests to defeat the Pancasilaists.

They could collectively tally about 55 per cent of the seats in Parliament, covering swathes of Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi and eastern Indonesia and, to a lesser extent, small parts of Java. It translates into about 255 out of 500 parliamentary seats.

Interestingly, most of Golkar’s potential partners are led by politicians who are members of the Habibie-linked Association of Muslim Intellectuals for Indonesia (ICMI).

Partai Keadilan and PDR were set up with tacit backing from Cooperatives Minister Adi Sasono. Their primary aim is to undercut support for big parties like PDI-Perjuangan, PKB and PAN in the provinces, using the network of village cooperatives.

Only PPP’s Mr Hamzah Haz is not with ICMI. But despite this, his party is Golkar’s natural partner given its New Order affiliation, plus his links to Dr Habibie as a former minister in his administration.

The Islamic front appears to be stronger on paper, when compared with the Pancasilaists coalition spearheaded by PDI-Perjuangan and PKB.

Analysts believe that Ms Megawati’s party could garner about 32 to 35 per cent of the votes, pipping Golkar for the number one position.

PKB, led by Mr Matori Abdul Djalil, might secure 12 to 15 per cent. PKP will get the least support, perhaps, 2 per cent. Their combined percentages, most of which will be in Java, are no challenge to the Islamic parties.

PDI-Perjuangan’s weakness is its secular image that draws on the romanticised ideal of Sukarnoist nationalism. The party is unable to capture the Muslim ground and is constrained in its range of coalition partners.

Roping in the Suharto-linked parties is an option for the “merah-putih” coalition. But they are insignificant in terms of mass support and are Jakarta-based.

Moreover, it would be a political liability to be associated with such parties.

The party that could tip the balance in their favour is Dr Amien Rais’ PAN, which could get 12 to 15 per cent in the election. But PAN appears to be the odd man out in the political equation. Its modernist base, through its links with the Muhammadiyah group, is a “natural fit” with the Golkar-led coalition.

In terms of policies and its pro-reformasi drive, however, it has gone further than Golkar would be prepared to go.

It has called for Abri’s sacrosanct dual-function doctrine to be abolished and is also in favour of an Indonesian federation. Golkar would think twice before joining forces with PAN. The ruling party is being pragmatic. Their policies are designed to maintain Abri’s support.

If this means Golkar cannot work with Dr Amien, then so be it, given that it can turn to the other parties to make up the numbers.

PAN could then form an alliance against Golkar by joining PKB, PDI-Perjuangan and PKP. But here again, there are Herculean barriers. Their policies are radically opposed.

At the same time, Mr Wahid will be reluctant to work with the PAN leader, whom he perceives as a rival and political opportunist.


THE key to this rather messy political jigsaw puzzle is really Abri and its permanent 38 seats in Parliament, which Indonesian political scientist Mochtar Pabotinggi describes as “jata singa”, or lion’s portion.

It could change the balance of power between competing coalitions.

The military will continue to do what it did at the Golkar congress last year: back the political outcomes which suit its interests.

It is expected to go with the status quo, especially if Dr Habibie can buy off Abri by offering its commander Wiranto or any other general the vice-presidency.

Other guarantees are being made. There are indications that ICMI, through some of its retired generals, is offering support for Abri’s plan to increase its territorial commanders from 10 to 17 and also pledging that its lucrative business interests will not be touched.

Despite its public posture of neutrality, there is evidence that Abri will back the party created in the ’60s against the communists.

Insiders disclose that the Habibie faction through Mr Sasono and retired general Feisal Tandjung is making overtures to an influential three-star army general to instruct provincial and district military commanders to “support” Golkar in the polls.

They say there is a “50-50 chance” this senior officer will go with their plan.

Conventional wisdom suggests that the military would view a “hijau” (green) coalition with great concern. However, while the “merah-putih” versus the “hijau” divide is still present in Abri, this has been blurring slowly with the rise of a new generation of officers.

Abri’s core today is closer to modernist Islam than it was 10 years ago. At a personal level, General Wiranto’s ties with the President appear comfortable despite the occasional hiccup. It is a symbiotic relationship.

The Abri chief has generally been willing to subordinate the military’s interests to Dr Habibie’s. The East Timor decision is most instructive in this respect.

By November, he would have served 18 months with Dr Habibie. He may think twice before abandoning his political ally and making a leap into the dark with an untested new president.

But would Gen Wiranto be content to be just Dr Habibie’s running mate?

His closet aides say he might not fall for the bait and would rather go for the presidency. Other military sources, however, say he has little choice if political circumstances are not in his favour. A new administration is likely to separate the powerful Abri chief’s position from the less significant Defence Minister’s portfolio, both of which are being held by the Javanese general now.

They say that he is likely to retain only the latter post in any new Habibie Cabinet if he refuses the vice- presidential offer. Taking it is a calculated risk for his political career.

The only scenario in which Abri will not work with Golkar is if Dr Habibie and the party are trounced at the polls. Then, it will be forced to form a coalition with Ms Megawati, Mr Wahid, retired general Sudradjat and perhaps Dr Amien.

But given inter-party rivalries and personal ambitions, each could cancel out the other, leading to a search for a compromise candidate in Sri Sultan Hemangkubuwono X, Gen Wiranto or Islamic scholar Nurcholish Majid.

This scenario could also arise if the respective Islamic and Pancasila coalitions are equally balanced in the new Parliament. On a more general note, even if there is a balance between both groups, money will change the equation.

Party discipline and loyalty cannot be guaranteed. The highest bidder will buy off individuals.

In Indonesia today, as has been the case for the last 30 years, money politics will favour the incumbent.


THE only guide to next month’s election outcome is the 1955 election that was held under relatively free and fair conditions.

Then, 28 parties secured seats in the polls but only four got double figures in the legislature of 257. Apart from a spread of 51 seats among 24 parties, the leading four, including a now-defunct communist party, shared the rest on a more or less equal basis.

Highly unstable coalition governments divided by cultural and religious cleavages were the order of the day.

The divide closed in 1959 when Sukarno imposed the so-called Guided Democracy system with military support.

South-east Asia expert Professor Michael Leifer from the London School of Economics and Political Science argues that Indonesia faces a similar prospect today.

He notes: “Expectations of political renewal are likely once again to expose national divisions, particularly if the polls are punctuated by violence and widespread fraud.”

Victory for any party in the June election is likely to be an ambivalent result.

PDI-Perjuangan might win more votes but there is no guarantee it will form the next government.

Golkar could, with its large band of Muslim followers and provided it does not trail far behind Ms Megawati’s party.

As a result, innate hope in reformasi and the political process will give way to cynicism especially from the “merah-putih” supporters if they end up in opposition.

For many Indonesians, casting the ballot is meant to be an act of political cleansing, a catharsis, aimed at giving the country a fresh start.

One can only predict a similar response from the Islamic camp if the Pancasilaists win.

Problems could become compounded if the presidential election fails to reflect the political balance in Parliament.

Things would get worse, if there is no agreement on a compromise figure and law and order break down.

All these could plunge Indonesia into a dark era of uncertainty.

In such a situation, it is not unlikely that a certain General X could rise to the fore to restore order.

In an ironic replay of history, military intervention could bring Indonesian politics round full circle, right to the beginning of the ill-fated Suharto era.

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