Golkar could switch nominee

Heading the list of alternative candidates is General Wiranto, Habibie’s own choice for running mate.

EVEN as President B.J. Habibie picked Indonesian defence forces (TNI) chief General Wiranto as his running mate for next week’s presidential poll, his Golkar party maintained yesterday it could still switch its support.

Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung told The Straits Times the party’s choice for the Oct 20 poll would be determined “by the unfolding political situation”.

It might look for an alternative if Dr Habibie’s speech accounting for his policies and performance during his 17 months in office is rejected today by the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR).

“I will monitor and see what is the political situation,” he said. “We will wait until the last seconds. If we don’t get enough support in the MPR, it will be hard for us to back him. I will then have to ask all Golkar leaders to review his candidacy.”

He said senior party officials were concerned that the President would not get the 700 MPR members’ support, given the difficulty he faced in resolving the East Timor crisis, the Bank Bali loan scandal and the Suharto corruption probe.

Golkar has given its central board the mandate to do whatever is necessary if problems arose with Dr Habibie’s candidacy. Mr Akbar said that if the President failed to garner enough support, Golkar would be forced to opt for someone else – or set its sights on securing only the vice-presidency.

Heading the list of alternative candidates is Gen Wiranto – whom Dr Habibie had said was his pick for the vice-presidency if he won another term.

Sources in the Habibie-linked Association of Muslim Intellectuals and members of his election team said that of the four possible running mates, the President had “insisted” on the Javanese general, given the need to swing military support behind him.

The TNI holds 38 seats that could prove critical if there is a deadlock in the race with Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Habibie loyalists have watched with unease the growing rapprochement between Gen Wiranto and Ms Megawati, particularly after the independence offer to East Timor, a decision many believe has ruptured ties between the hawkish military and Dr Habibie “to a point of no return”.

Political analysts believe that by giving the vice-presidency to Gen Wiranto, whose own star has waned following a spate of violence, Dr Habibie might be “making a last-ditch attempt to save himself”.

Gen Wiranto announced his acceptance of the nomination late yesterday, after meeting Muslim clerics at a seminar, Reuters said.

It quoted him as telling reporters: “As a loyal soldier of the nation … if there is call of duty by the people or the government, we have to carry that out as best as we can.

“To Golkar … which nominated me, I say thank you for their faith in me. Personally, as well as for the armed forces, it is an honour.”

News of Dr Habibie’s nomination hit Jakarta’s markets because of fears this could trigger unrest. The rupiah fell to 8100/8150 against the US dollar, but share prices closed mixed.

The market’s concerns came in the wake of statements yesterday by some Megawati supporters – who have begun massing in Jakarta – that they will demonstrate if she is not picked.

Reports said military veterans, academics and scientists are also lobbying legislators not to give Dr Habibie a second term.

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