‘Strong support’ for Megawati as president

In talks, she gets assurances that Muslim parties in the ‘Central Axis’will throw their weight behind her.

PRESIDENTIAL aspirant Megawati Sukarnoputri’s bid for Indonesia’s top job appears to have strengthened after she received backing in talks on Thursday with Muslim leader Abdurrahman Wahid and defence forces (TNI) chief General Wiranto, sources here said.

Amid speculation that her chance had faded as the fight for the presidency expanded into a three-horse race this week, she initiated the late night meeting to seek assurances that the presidency would not slip from the grasp of her Indonesian Democratic Party-Perjuangan (PDI-P).

Sources who attended the hour-long discussion at Ms Megawati’s residence said the daughter of the late president Sukarno appeared agitated, in particular over Mr Abdurrahman nomination for the presidency.

She sought clarification on where he stood on her candidacy given the earlier guarantees from the chairman of the 30-million-strong Nadhlatul Ulama that he would support her.

Mr Abdurrahman, also known as Gus Dur, gave the assurance that he would “throw the ball in her court” just before the 700-member People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) votes.

He would do this by getting Muslim parties in the “Central Axis” in the MPR to throw their weight behind her.

Political observers noted that his decision to back Dr Amien Rais as MPR Speaker was also to benefit Ms Megawati. In doing so, he curtailed the National Mandate Party (PAN) leader’s ambitions, as the position of MPR Speaker would compel Dr Amien to be neutral in the presidential election.

Mr Abdurrahman disclosed that he accepted being nominated by the likes of PAN and the Justice Party to pre-empt such parties from shifting to support President B.J. Habibie.

Citing a previous instance where parties switched positions, he noted that the United Development Party initially backed Dr Habibie. But after being co-opted into the “Central Axis”, it joined in the calls on the President to resign.

“I guarantee that my support will go to you for the presidency,” a source quoted him as telling Ms Megawati at the meeting.

“If I did not respond to the wishes of those parties that wanted to nominate me as their president, it would have undermined your chances even more.”

But Mr Abdurrahman was unsparing in criticising the PDI-P for remaining aloof and doing little to “get close” to Muslim parties that have a major role determining the balance of power in the MPR.

If an entente was forged between the two at the meeting, it was conspicuous yesterday as they headed together to Blitar, East Java, to pay respects at the Sukarno grave. Both then proceeded to Jombang where Mr Abdurrahman’s father and grandfather are buried.

Gen Wiranto, concerned by Mr Abdurrahman’s constantly shifting political stance, and indicating where the TNI stood, reminded him at Thursday’s meeting that he had to “respect the wishes of society”.

“Only someone nominated by a political party has the right to be president. If Gus Dur became president, Indonesians will ask what was the whole point of the election.”

Gen Wiranto’s own star appeared on the rise given the disposition among major political players to share power. The military is eyeing the vice-presidency and the General could get that on a PDI-P or Golkar ticket in a compromise deal. Golkar’s upcoming leadership meeting – just days after Dr Habibie delivers his accountability speech to the MPR – is expected to review its presidential choice.

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