Golkar throws in its lot with Megawati

Its backing for V-P, to take over if Gus Dur were to step down mid-term, puts majority of legislators behind her.

Indonesia’s second-largest party yesterday backed Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri to take over from Mr Abdurrahman Wahid if he were to step down mid-term – an announcement that puts the majority of legislators behind her if she makes a bid for the presidency.

Golkar chairman and Speaker of Parliament Akbar Tandjung said the former ruling party “did not have an alternative choice”.

“Constitutionally, she is next in line for the top job,” he told The Straits Times. “And we all believe she is the best person
to lead the country out of the crisis.”

Political analysts said that with Golkar’s support, Ms Megawati would easily command substantial support in Parliament, given that her own Indonesian Democratic Party-Perjuangan (PDI-P) has the largest block of seats.

Along with the backing of Muslim parties like the United Development Party (PPP), the Crescent Star Party (PBB) and the National Mandate Party (PAN) – all of which have pledged support for her in recent weeks – Ms Megawati’s move to the top is likely to be a smooth one.

Sources said that the parties were driven by their own agendas in choosing to support her over Mr Abdurrahman. The PPP and PBB were hoping for a share of Cabinet positions and, perhaps, even the vice-presidency.

Golkar leaders, on the other hand, saw her leadership as the only way to save their party which had, of late, become a political target of Mr Abdurrahman and his supporters.

Mr Akbar said that if Ms Megawati did take over, Golkar and most other factions would support her until the end of the current presidency in 2004.

“All we ask from her is that she stick with the Constitution if she runs this country. She must also be open to criticism and respect Parliament, something that Gus Dur has failed to do as President,” he said.

Mr Abdurrahman’s periodic clashes with Parliament, which he has likened to a “kindergarten”, have left him with few friends among the 500 legislators, many of whom have chastised him for his erratic leadership style and policy blunders.

Indeed, several groups have already launched plans to impeach him by August this year.

There is a broad consensus in the House now that Ms Megawati’s taking over could end the political crisis and lend some confidence to the country, which is still being shunned by investors.

Golkar’s crucial backing for her came against the backdrop of reports that the PDI-P had set three conditions for a Megawati takeover. These were a guarantee that she will not be challenged before 2004, stopping the annual session of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), and leaving the vice-presidency vacant.

Mr Jacob Tobing, a leader of the PDI-P faction in Parliament, said that the conditions were not Ms Megawati’s idea and did not represent party policy.

“But a large number of us think it will be good for Indonesia. It gives the country a breathing space to recover. We can’t be changing governments all the time,” he said.

But there was some confusion yesterday as other PDI-P legislators denied that such demands had been made.

They said the only point Ms Megawati has ever made is that any change in the presidency should be done constitutionally.

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