Scholar to challenge Megawati

NAME: Nurcholish Madjid
PARTY: Golkar
OCCUPATION: Indonesian religious academic

Indonesia’s respected Muslim scholar Nurcholish Madjid yesterday declared his intention to run for president on a Golkar ticket.

The move underscores a power struggle in the country’s second-largest party to challenge its corruption-tainted chairman Akbar Tandjung ahead of elections next year.

Announcing his decision to take part in Golkar’s party convention in October, where the presidential candidate would be selected, Mr Nurcholish, 64, said he was attracted by its ‘open and democratic’ selection system.

‘It is a bottom-up approach of garnering support and has nothing to do with getting the blessings of the party leadership, ‘the rector of Jakarta’s Paramadina University and professor of politics told a press conference.

Mr Nurcholish’s appeal lies in his clean image – untainted by corruption or links with former president Suharto’s discredited regime.

The scholar, who is known for his moderate views, coined the phrase: ‘Islam yes, Islamic parties no.’

Apart from him, party leaders said four others are likely to emerge as potential presidential candidates from the Golkar convention: Coordinating Minister for Welfare Yusuf Kalla, Transport Minister Agum Gumelar, former Suharto strongman Wiranto and tycoon Surya Paloh.

The convention is said to be a brainchild of Mr Akbar – who is fighting to overturn a jail term for graft – to fend off moves to topple him.

The two-phase selection process will see candidates nominated at the party’s regional chapters compete at the national convention.

Only those with significant political and financial support from the regional branches will be able to prevail.

With his grassroots support, Mr Akbar hopes to maintain enough backing to prevent a mutiny.

His rivals within Golkar – Mr Fahmi Idris and Mr Agung Laksono – have been looking for a man who can match Mr Akbar’s popularity.

And sources said this is where Mr Nurcholish, with his Islamic credentials, fits in.

In terms of stature among the leading scholars in the country’s second-largest Muslim group Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Mr Nurcholish is next only to former president Abdurrahman Wahid and NU chairman Hasyim Muzadi.

A senior Golkar MP close to Mr Akbar told The Straits Times: ‘This is a direct challenge to Akbar’s leadership. But it is clear that he is being made use of as a pawn.’

Some are sceptical whether the academic can survive the cut and thrust of politics.

But observers think his selection may persuade Islamic parties to support Golkar, thereby strengthening the party’s election hopes.

His entering the fray also tightens the screws on incumbent Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Analyst Meidyatama Suryodiningrat noted: ‘If he does get through the Golkar convention process, the party stands an even better chance of beating Megawati.

‘He is probably the only man in Indonesia today who stands toe-to-toe with Megawati in terms of charisma and popular appeal.’

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