Political parties still back Mega’s govt, says Akbar

Golkar chief throws his support behind the President, rejecting calls to oust her after protests over unpopular price hikes.

One of Indonesia’s most senior politicians, Parliamentary Speaker Akbar Tandjung, yesterday declared that three of the largest political parties in the country still backed President Megawati Sukarnoputri as he brushed aside speculation that there will be a new regime before elections in 2004.

In the first public comments on the stability of the Megawati government, Mr Akbar said that the 56-year-old leader had the ‘constitutional right to hold on to power’.

He told The Straits Times in an interview: ‘Ibu Mega is on strong ground. It is unconstitutional to overthrow the President if there is no valid reason. Trying to replace her now is not the right solution for Indonesia. ‘It will only invite more problems.’

The Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), Golkar and the United Development Party (PPP) that make up 70 per cent of the country’s legislature, he said, would not allow an emerging coalition of forces to replace her.

Ms Megawati, he noted, had also clearly signalled that she would not cave in to pressures after she challenged her opponents to fight her at the ballot box next year.

His backing for Ms Megawati follows Jakarta’s move to backtrack on fuel and utility hikes in the country after weeks of mounting protests.

But simmering resentment remains as groups that engineered the demonstrations continued to harbour hopes of toppling her.

The anti-Mega front comprised an ad hoc coalition of forces. They included at least five legislators from the Reform Faction, Golkar, the Nation Awakening Party and even the PDI-P that fell under the banner of the National Rescue Caucus.

Also on the list were small socialist parties, Islamic student groups, labour movements and senior political figures like former military strongman Wiranto, financier Fuad Bawazier, ex-president Abdurrahman Wahid and former activists Hariman Siregar and Adnan Buyung Nasution.

Mr Akbar’s rationale for backing the President, while based on ‘putting the country’s interest first’, is also predicated on his own political survival.

Mr Akbar, who held several ministerial posts in the Suharto government, has been convicted of corruption – the most senior Indonesian official to be done so.

The 57-year-old Golkar chief needs the support of Ms Megawati and the PDI-P to ward off attempts to throw him out of Parliament and his own party.

He faces a three-year jail term for allegedly ‘misusing’ 40 billion rupiah (S$8.4 million) in state funds intended for food aid. It is not clear what had happened to the money though it is widely believed to have been used to help finance Golkar’s election campaign in 1999.

His comments yesterday gave a glimpse of broad political alliances shaping up in the run-up to polls.

Analysts believe that Golkar and PDI-P members – with the exception of a few – will team up given their nationalist ideological link.

The Muslim-based PPP was a potential ally. Given that its leader, Mr Hamzah Haz, is the Vice-President, the party saw little interest in challenging the status quo. But observers said that key questions remained over the PPP’s political orientation with splits within the party.

That does not seem to be the case for the Reform Faction (PAN), the Nation Awakening Party (PKB) and other smaller Islamic parties.

PAN’s leader, Dr Amien Rais, who is also the national assembly chairman, said that he was ready to challenge Ms Megawati in the election after the President dared her rivals to a fight.

Mr Abdurrahman also indicated that he would join the fray in 2004.

Indonesians will directly vote for a president and vice-president for the first time in the elections after the supreme legislature last year decided to hand to the public the power to choose the country’s two top jobs.

Analysts believe that Golkar and the PDI-P each stand to garner more votes than any other party in the parliamentary polls, though some believe that they will see a drop in percentage points compared to 1999. But the outcome of the presidential election would be ‘less predictable’ after a runoff vote.

IN POLITICS: No true friends

‘In politics, you know who your real friends are when you are in serious trouble. Some of the people who I thought are my friends are now keeping their distance. They no longer visit me or call me to say hello. It is right when people say that in politics, there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests. I have found out that in good and bad times, your family is always your best friend.’

– Mr Akbar Tandjung on his disappointment with some politicians he thought were his friends for not standing by him after he was accused of corruption

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