Mega likely to win – but by the skin of her teeth

Rival party Golkar poses the biggest challenge, but it lacks a leader with the kind of appeal the President has.


Crystal ball gazing is risky business in Indonesia.

Even more so for predicting outcomes in next year’s presidential election, which will be decided for the first time by a direct vote.

But parliamentary polls three months before that historic event could offer some clues on possible alliances and lead contenders for the prized post.

It narrows the range of players who will eventually fight for the presidency.

Given electoral requirements of a 3 per cent threshold, the big five – the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), Golkar, United Development Party, Nation Awakening Party and National Mandate Party – will dominate the show, along with the candidates who carry their banners.

And if history is a guide in post-independence Indonesia – especially the results of the country’s most democratic elections to date in 1955 and 1999 – mainstream nationalist-secular parties such as Golkar and PDI-P will be major winners.

Political polling is still in its infancy in Indonesia. But the most credible one, carried out by the International Foundation for Election System (Ifes), suggests that Golkar will reap the largest number of votes in the April election at a time when confidence levels in other major parties have ebbed.

This includes President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s PDI-P, which is seen as consumed by power and privilege. According to Ifes, mistrust of PDI-P has almost doubled over the past two years.

The ground mood is certainly changing in Indonesia. There is now a gradual shift away from post-New Order concerns such as democracy to more pressing bread-and butter issues.

Golkar is exploiting that rising nostalgia among tens of millions of the wong cilik, or little people, for the cheap rice and stability of the New Order regime.

Golkar loyalists are dreaming of a landslide in next year’s election. In 1999, it secured 22.4 per cent of the vote. PDI-P was then the clear winner with 33.7 per cent.

If Golkar wins by more than 35 per cent, it is most likely to enter and win the first round of the presidential race in June alone, with no coalition partners.

But most analysts doubt it could win by that majority. They point to two other scenarios which are more likely:

Scenario One: Golkar wins by a small margin over PDI-P. Mr Akbar Tandjung, who holds the party’s presidential ticket, is likely to have struck a deal with the palace to clear him of corruption charges. He or an appointed Golkar loyalist joins Ms Megawati as her running mate.

Scenario Two: Golkar loses the parliamentary election by a small margin. It forms a coalition with PDI-P on a split ticket, second to Ms Megawati as presidential candidate. Ms Megawati wins the race in the first round. There is no second round run-off.

Clearly, both point to an alliance between PDI-P and Golkar.

And significantly, together with the Ifes poll and other surveys, they highlight Ms Megawati as the presidential favourite.

She is trailed by the usual list of well-known figures such as Messrs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Hamzah Haz, Akbar, Wiranto, Nurcholish Madjid, Abdurrahman Wahid, Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X, Amien Rais and Yusril Ihza Mahendra.

PDI-P’s popularity is waning, but no one can deny Ms Megawati’s symbolic appeal as Sukarno’s daughter in the heartland of Indonesia.

Four years ago, her party gained the majority of the votes cast in 13 provinces: North Sumatra, Riau, Jambi, Bengkulu, South Sumatra, Lampung, West Java, Jakarta, Central Java, Yogyakarta, Bali, Central Kalimantan and East Kalimantan.

Given that the presidential poll will be personality driven, she is unlikely to have problems maintaining her popularity in these provinces.

There is another important factor at play: money.

As the incumbent, she has the authority to mobilise resources needed to win an election. In 1999, PDI-P generated millions of dollars when she was just party leader.

Her husband Taufik Kiemas has been critical in raking in funds through his links with businessmen. The patronage network is now even wider and more extensive.

Golkar poses the biggest challenge for the 55-year-old Indonesian leader, especially if it wins the parliamentary election. But it has not produced a leader with the national appeal of the President.

Ms Megawati may get into power again – but only just.

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