Habibie is Golkar’s presidential candidate


But party leaders leave open the choice of running mate. Four candidates have been shortlisted.

INDONESIA’S Golkar party early this morning endorsed incumbent Dr B.J. Habibie as its presidential candidate but left the vice-presidential slot open to four possible contenders, including defence-forces (TNI) chief General Wiranto.

But the President’s political fate continued to hang in the balance as Golkar leaders, at the end of their two-day party congress here, warned they could change their minds if the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) rejected his accountability speech tomorrow.

They have drawn up a contingency plan, giving the central executive board the mandate to withdraw Dr Habibie’s nomination and consider an alternative candidate.

“We felt there was a need to come up with some sort of a safeguard if the choice is rejected later,” deputy chairman Marzuki Darusman told The Straits Times.

Even if doubts remained among senior party officials over Dr Habibie’s chances in the Oct 20 presidential election, given his growing unpopularity, nearly all the provincial chapters yesterday reached a consensus to back him.

This showed that he was considerably stronger and more popular among the party rank-and-file than some analysts had predicted.

Four provinces – West, Central, East Java and North Sumatra – rejected the selection of Dr Habibie initially but relented after lobbying by the President’s supporters and Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung.

Mr Akbar did not want the party to “break up” at this stage and preferred that if Dr Habibie was to be rejected, it should occur at the MPR, where the 700 legislators could decide after listening to the President account for his policies in the last 17 months.

A Golkar elder said at the meeting: “There was a conscious attempt not to launch a ‘coup’ to give Pak Habibie some face and also to keep the party intact. The thinking is that it is best to go through the normal and legitimate process of the MPR if we want him out.”

If factions in the MPR rejected the President, then there was a strong chance that Golkar would convene an “emergency meeting” to select an alternative candidate, said Mr Marzuki.

The Straits Times understands that Mr Akbar or Gen Wiranto would be the likely replacement. Both of them, together with former economic tsar Ginandjar Kartasasmita and the respected Sri Sultan Hemankubuwono X, have been picked as possible running mates with Dr Habibie.

Habibie loyalists are preparing themselves for the possibility that some factions within the party could reject the President’s nomination at the last minute.

They are suggesting that if the central executive board is given “discretionary powers” to decide if Golkar should proceed with his nomination, such a decision would have to be made in consultation with provincial chapters.

They are also manoeuvring behind the scenes to lobby several Muslim parties from the “Central Axis”, and factions in Golkar to support the accountability speech.

A close presidential associate said: “If MPR members openly oppose Dr Habibie’s speech, others are going to stand up to support what he says.

“When push comes to shove, he is prepared to go to a vote on this one. And he is confident of getting through this round at least.”

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