Jakarta shadow play … Habibie : Will he pass muster?

Political manoeuvrings by the major political players and their supporters intensify behind the scenes in Indonesia as tomorrow’s historic vote on the presidency draws near.

The MPR will conduct a secret ballot today on whether to accept the President’s accountability speech

INDONESIA’S national assembly (MPR) will vote by secret ballot today whether to accept President B.J. Habibie’s accountability speech – with his supporters still hoping to get a slim majority from among the legislators to accept his track record.

Mr Yusuf Muhammad, a commission chairman in the 700-strong MPR, said continued disagreement among its 11 factions has forced the assembly to give up hopes of getting a consensus view on the speech – and to vote on it today instead. Five factions – including the Indonesian Democratic Party-Perjuangan (PDI-P), the Nation Awakening Party (PKB) and the National Mandate Party (PAN) – maintained their rejection of the accountability speech even after Dr Habibie made a second defence of his 17-month tenure on Sunday.

Mr Yusuf told reporters: “Because there is no consensus, the decision whether to accept or reject Habibie’s speech will be handed over to the MPR plenary session.”

The Straits Times understands that the decision for a secret vote was made at the insistence of Habibie loyalists.

Buoyed by their success in denying Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri’s PDI-P key positions in the MPR and Parliament two weeks ago by insisting on a secret ballot, sources said they believed the 63-year-old incumbent stood a better chance of winning – albeit by a whisker – through such a vote.

Of the 700 MPR members, they expected to secure at least 351 votes – enough to also justify Dr Habibie’s “moral right” to stand for presidential election tomorrow against Ms Megawati and Mr Abdurrahman Wahid, the PKB’s pick.

Analysts said a secret ballot would allow legislators to vote across party lines given the prevailing splits in major parties like Golkar, the PKB and the United Development Party (PPP). It was fertile ground for money politics.

The rationale for the late timing of the vote – on the eve of the presidential election – was also to pre-empt Golkar reformers, who had endorsed Dr Habibie reluctantly as their candidate, from putting together a plan of action to come up with an alternative candidate.

While Golkar has agreed to accept the speech with certain caveats, internal lobbying over the weekend saw two names proposed if Dr Habibie’s speech was rejected by the MPR: party chairman Akbar Tandjung as president and deputy chairman Marzuki Darusman as his running mate.

Another combination, though clearly less likely now, was Mr Akbar and defence forces (TNI) chief General Wiranto.

While Habibie supporters are working behind the scenes to keep their man in the running, their rivals within Golkar and in the PKB and PDI-P have been meeting to consider how to undercut such moves.

Such efforts have been spearheaded by key PDI-P figures like Mr Dimyati Hartono, retired army general Theo Syafei and Mr Soetarjo Soerjoguritno.

Despite initial pessimism, PDI-P officials appear confident of capturing more than 50 per cent of the votes.

“It is going to go very close, but when we join ranks, it is going to be very hard for Habibie to win not just in this round but the election as well,” said a Megawati confidante.

Legislators yesterday were still divided over what process to adopt if no clear winner emerges in the presidential poll. Some want a second-stage run-off between the top two candidates; others proposed whittling down the candidates over three stages of voting.

Dr Habibie has vowed to fight until the end, telling soldiers at the state palace yesterday: “I have to continue the struggle until the last minute. I don’t want to say goodbye.”

Posted in Indonesia