Who will be Mega’s running mate?

Her preference may be security czar Susilo or Nadhlatul Ulama leader Hasyim, but she will not be able to ignore Golkar’s rising fortunes.

The betting game is on: Who will be Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri’s running mate in the 2004 presidential election?

Clearly in recent months, the incumbent’s choices have narrowed down to three: security czar Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Muslim moderate leader Hasyim Muzadi and possibly a leading Golkar figure.

Her preference, her aides disclosed, is to team up with the retired army general or the leader of the 40-million-strong Nadhlatul Ulama (NU).

But realpolitik and Golkar’s rising fortunes might mean that she may have to join forces with the one-time juggernaut of the Suharto regime even if she appears reluctant to do so nine months before the election.

With about 120 million votes to be cast in the polls, a winner would need at least 60 million votes to clinch the presidency.

Ms Megawati’s Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P) and Golkar have reason to be confident, but each of them would still need to ally itself with another strong party or alliance to push its sponsored tickets first past the post.

Golkar is the biggest threat to the PDI-P given its grassroots reach and well-oiled infrastructure. But it also represents the most natural ally for Ms Megawati’s party.

Both parties represent the political mainstream and have the most acceptable ideological platform – secular nationalists – for the majority of Indonesians. A coalition between PDI-P and Golkar, according to some observers, would be an ‘irrepressible force’ at the presidential ballot box.

Ms Megawati’s game plan initially was to forge an alliance with one of Golkar’s leading executives, the Coordinating Minister for Welfare Jusuf Kalla.

But his poor showing at the preliminary Golkar convention last month has paved the way for others such as chairman Akbar Tandjung and retired general Wiranto to take the lead in clinching the party’s presidential ticket.

Two of these political figures present the biggest threat to Ms Megawati – and are unlikely to be coaxed easily into accepting the No. 2 position, especially if Golkar does well in the parliamentary election in April – unless there is some form of deal making.

Mr Akbar, who is also the Parliamentary Speaker, looks more inclined to cave in to the palace, especially with the Supreme Court deliberating his appeal against corruption charges.

Mr Wiranto and the other Golkar candidates have their own plans. The bottom line is that Ms Megawati will never want to accept any other arrangement other than being the next president.

This has forced her to keep her options open in courting others outside the political circuit to support her election bid. One of them is Mr Susilo, a Cabinet minister with broad exposure but no proven grassroots political support.

Ms Megawati has indicated privately to close aides that he is her preferred choice because he is loyal ‘and not prone to internal politicking’.

Oozing diplomatic charm and always dressed in executive suits, Mr Susilo is adept at projecting nationalist causes.

The President sees his military background as a crucial asset in dealing with problems of national security. But he does not have a significant political base or party, though there are indications that he might quit his ministerial post next month to join one.

Even then, there is little guarantee that he could bring in 10 to 20 million votes more for Ms Megawati. That leaves the President with a third option: the NU’s Hasyim Muzadi. By playing the Islamic card, Ms Megawati is certain to cover the electoral ground in Indonesia.

Indeed, her husband Taufik Kiemas is trying his level best to spread the patronage network to the NU home base in East Java, with the hope of winning their support.

But the baggage of toppling Mr Abdurrahman Wahid in 2000 will make it hard for Ms Megawati and the PDI-P to cultivate the Muslim ground.

It is still debatable whether Mr Hasyim would want to back her. For now at least, the bets are on Golkar.

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