Presidency : Golkar keeps its pick open

INDONESIA’s Golkar party began a two-day congress last night with widespread expectations that it would endorse incumbent B.J. Habibie as its candidate for the presidency.

But Golkar leaders attending the meeting said that any backing for the embattled leader would not be cast in stone and would be subject to “the political mood of the people”.

Deputy chairman Marzuki Darusman told The Straits Times that while Dr Habibie was likely to be retained “as a matter of organisational principle” and to keep in line with an earlier party executive decision, Golkar was preparing political contingencies if the choice was called into question.

This was a likelihood, he said, given that Golkar would face “some difficulty” in pushing his candidacy at the Oct 20 poll against Indonesian Democratic Party-Perjuangan (PDI-P) chairman Megawati Sukarnoputri and Islamic scholar Abdurrahman Wahid.

“After three months, we are the only party that is supporting him,” he said. “We still stick to the decision we made earlier to nominate him as our president. But we would want to do it in a way that gives us the right to reassess Golkar’s choice for the presidency.”

The meeting would look into ways that would allow the party to do this.

Golkar sources said that backing for the German-trained engineer would be accompanied by “discretionary powers” for the party’s central executive board to overturn the decision in an “emergency situation”.

Said a Golkar leader: “If the legislators in the MPR reject his accountability speech and he is not supported across the board, we will find it hard to stand by him and we will need the authority to look for someone else just before the election.” Three names have been touted as alternatives – defence forces chief Wiranto, Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung and Yogyakarta Governor Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono.

All three, along with former economic coordinating minister Ginandjar Kartasasmita are now considered running mates for Dr Habibie if he secures the top job.

But Golkar’s sights could eventually be set on securing just the vice-presidency – if circumstances work against Dr Habibie. Sources said the front-runners would then be Gen Wiranto or Mr Akbar.

Mr Akbar told The Straits Times that if Dr Habibie’s accountability speech to the 700-strong People’s Consultative Assembly was rejected, Golkar might end up “aiming only for the consolation prize of being number two”, but insisted that at this stage, such scenarios are academic.

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