Golkar sacks Habibie man from top body

Minister Adi Sasono is removed from executive board after Kompas ad portrays him as presidential contender.

INDONESIA’s ruling Golkar party yesterday sacked a prominent Habibie loyalist from its executive board after a national daily carried an advertisement of him as presidential candidate for another party.

In a sign of internal rivalry with implications for the November presidential election, Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung told reporters that the decision was taken unilaterally by the board without consulting his deposed rival, Cooperatives Minister Adi Sasono.

“We don’t need to ask him,” he said. “The advertisements are enough proof that he wants to go it alone.”

He added that Mr Sasono’s “less than exemplary” track record over the last year was also taken into account, mainly his absence at meetings and failure to perform his tasks as a party executive.

Golkar sources told The Straits Times that the decision to dismiss Mr Sasono, popular for his controversial wealth redistribution programme, was long in coming.

“Out of respect and deference to the President, we held back for months,” said vice-chairman Marzuki Darusman. “Habibie always defended Adi Sasono’s actions. But we had no choice especially when he is being portrayed publicly as a president.”

Political observers said that fissures in the party became apparent when Mr Sasono declared in January this year that he would not campaign for Golkar. At the same time, he gave “moral backing” to set up the People’s Sovereign Party (PDR).

The PDR, which carried a full-page ad of him in the country’s leading daily Kompas last week as its presidential choice, was established by members of the Centre for Information and Development Studies, a think-tank of the Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals Association (IC MI) led by Mr Sasono.

Supporters of the 56-year-old Javanese politician said then that his decision not to campaign for Golkar was aimed at quashing suggestions that it was engaging in money politics to win votes given that Mr Sasono was known to hand out subsidised loans to cooperatives. But several analysts said that PDR’s formation indicated something more elaborate.

On the one hand, it was an attempt to join forces with Golkar in a coalition with President B.J. Habibie as presidential front-runner.

If this failed, the PDR would then counter-balance the ruling party by ganging up with other ICMI-linked Muslim-oriented parties contesting the general election.

Golkar sources said that was the aim until Mr Sasono’s ad appeared in Kompas. It suggested he could be going alone. “Habibie was very upset by the ad. That was why he gave us the go-ahead to axe him,” said a party executive.

But other sources noted that the President could actually be in cahoots with Mr Sasono over the issue, especially since being challenged by Golkar elders, including Mr Tandjung, over his re-nomination.

It was not in his interest, they argue, to cut a line to the anchor of his ICMI-dominated faction in Golkar.

Analysts believe that second thoughts about a Habibie presidency plus yesterday’s action seemed to indicate that Mr Tandjung’s supporters could be “pre-positioning” themselves for a battle with Dr Habibie’s supporters ahead of presidential polls in November.

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