Fight me at ballot box, Mega tells rivals

Her challenge shows how seriously she takes threats by an opposition front to topple her 18-month administration.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri fired the opening salvo in her campaign for next year’s election by challenging her rivals to ‘fight’ her at the ballot box.

In her first public comments on her intention to contest the presidential polls, the 55-year-old leader underlined just how seriously she took threats to topple her 18-month administration, when she raised the political ante against her opponents.

‘Those who want to riot, who want violence, who are trying to provoke the situation, I want to challenge them,’ she told hundreds of supporters of her Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) on Tuesday night. ‘Are they brave enough … to face me directly in the forthcoming elections?’

Her challenge came against a backdrop of her government’s roll-back of fuel and utility price hikes after nationwide demonstrations.

Sources said the government caved in after receiving an intelligence brief which warned of groups plotting to overthrow the government.

The anti-Mega front comprised forces grouped under the banner of the National Rescue Caucus. They included at least five legislators from the Reform Faction, the former ruling Golkar party, the Nation Awakening Party and even her own PDI-P. Also on the list, according to the weekly Tempo magazine, were small socialist parties, Islamic student groups, labour unions and senior political figures like former military strongman Wiranto, ex-president Abdurrahman Wahid and former activists Hariman Siregar and Adnan Buyung Nasution.

Reflecting the concerns of those in the coalition over the price hikes this month, Mr Abdurrahman was quoted as saying recently:

‘The upper levels have already got back on their feet, but at the bottom all they are concerned about is what they are going to eat.’

PDI-P officials said her comments on Tuesday underscored a determination to ensure that her administration would not face any ‘unconstitutional challenge’.

Said party official Amris Fuad Hasan: ‘If the opposition wants to remove her, they will have to do it through the ballot box.Any other means will be deemed unconstitutional and throw this country further back.

‘That was the broad message she was trying to deliver.’

Observers believe that while Ms Megawati’s opponents could ride on the momentum of public anger against the price hikes to dent her image, they were not in a position to topple her given the continued backing of the military and the broad support she still has in Parliament.

Analysts said her decision to openly declare she will contest the 2004 election would inject confidence in Indonesia where rumours have swirled about plans to topple her.

Said a Jakarta diplomat: ‘By coming out openly about her ambitions, she has managed to assuage fears at home and abroad that she might be stepping down or be forced out because of the price hikes.

‘What she has also done is to show her opponents that she is not what they think she is – a meek housewife. She has raised the stakes of the game.’

Indonesians will vote directly for a president and vice-president for the first time in 2004 election.

Analysts say a direct election could inject greater uncertainty about the outcome but most neutrals believe she has a stronger chance of winning given the ‘glaring absence of a better alternative’.

Not a meek housewife

What she has also done is to show her opponents that she is not what they think she is – a meek housewife. She has raised the stakes of the game.’
– A Jakarta-based diplomat

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