Hubby pulling the strings to get Mega re-elected

Behind every man is a powerful woman, or so runs an old cliche. In the corridors of Indonesia’s presidential palace, the roles have been reversed.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s husband Taufik Kiemas is exerting his influence in politics to get his wife re-elected next year and bolster his own standing within the Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P) that he is being tipped to lead.

Insiders say that his manoeuvring does not have the full support of Ms Megawati. But the business tycoon, who was instrumental in her rise to power two years ago, is undeterred.

With or without her backing, he has been removing obstacles that could block her chances next year.

A palace source told The Straits Times: ‘Mega has her own views on things but she does not articulate them as forcefully. Taufik is playing the role as a shadow president’, making sure that Mega stays on track.’

With elections looming, his focus has been to forge political alliances with parties that can make up the numbers to give Ms Megawati a majority in a direct presidential poll. Top on his list of targets is Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung.

He has been holding meetings with Mr Akbar to get the backing of the wily politician and his party’s grassroots reach and well-oiled infrastructure.

In return, Mr Akbar was offered a chance to join the presidential ticket as Ms Megawati’s No. 2.

Both Mr Taufik and the president see Golkar as the natural ally for the PDI-P.

Both parties represent the political mainstream and have the most acceptable ideological platform – secular nationalism – for the majority of Indonesians.

But they differ in their choice of Golkar candidates. Ms Megawati is more inclined towards Mr Jusuf Kalla, who is the Coordinating Minister for Welfare.

On balance, Mr Taufik’s instincts might be sharper given that the Golkar leader controls more than 70 per cent of party branches.

But Golkar is not the only party he is cultivating. He is also reaching out to Indonesia’s largest Muslim group, the 35-million-strong Nadhlatul Ulama.

And then, within the PDI-P, he has been weeding out opponents of the president. He has been instrumental in getting Ms Megawati to axe at least 20 members from provincial party branches.

He is also in the running to head the PDI-P. But there are at least three other contenders including the president’s youngest brother Guruh Sukarnoputra, who is believed to be Ms Megawati’s choice.

If his track record in politics over the past two years is any guide, Mr Taufik looks set to play a bigger role.

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