Megawati’s security czar quits Cabinet

The move sets the stage for him to battle for the presidency.

INDONESIAN security czar Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono quit his Cabinet post yesterday after falling out with the President. His resignation – the first by a minister in the current administration – is the clearest signal yet that he is gunning for the presidency, a move that could pit him against incumbent Megawati Sukarnoputri in the July polls.

Mr Susilo told reporters: ‘The situation has become difficult, for me to carry out my duty as a minister. I have sent a letter to the President to offer my resignation.’

Speculation has been rife over the past week that the 53-year-old retired general would quit, after signs of a growing rift with Ms Megawati.

The Straits Times understands that the row between the two emerged after he snubbed her request for him to run as her deputy.

He was one of three candidates the palace had lined up – the others being Coordinating Minister for Welfare Jusuf Kalla and Mr Hasyim Muzadi, chairman of Nadhlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation.

But Mr Susilo, influenced by his clique of advisers, decided to go for broke without making clear to the President what his intentions were.

A ministerial source said that from ‘that point on, their relationship took a steep dive. Ibu Mega felt uncomfortable dealing with him because she could not trust him’.

That explains her decision to leave him out of key Cabinet meetings, a point made public by one of his aides.

Members of Ms Megawati’s Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) also accused him of seeking a head start in the polls with a TV appearance calling for peaceful elections.

Mr Susilo sent a note this week to the President seeking clarification of his role, a note the palace brushed aside as inappropriate.

But the last straw was a public scolding from Ms Megawati’s influential husband Taufik Kiemas, who accused him of being ‘childish’ in complaining to the press.

One of his advisers said: ‘Susilo took the cue from that message that it was time for him to leave.’

His resignation leaves a big question on who will fill a key portfolio in the five months before a new administration is elected.

Surveys show he is rising in popularity, just behind Ms Megawati in public support.

But analysts believe that his chances for the top job are slim as he lacks a huge party base like the PDI-P or Golkar.

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