Battle Royal

INDONESIAN ELECTIONS
THE PLOTS

Election Scenario 2

PDI-P and Golkar face off.

Things could change dramatically if Golkar wins.

Mr Akbar Tandjung is in a defiant mood these days. He believes his party will win the election, and that he has a shot at the presidency.

Much of this is due to Golkar’s rising fortunes as reflected in almost all surveys on the election.

The most credible one, conducted by the US-based International Foundation for Election System (IFES), suggests that Golkar will reap the largest number of votes at a time when confidence in other major parties like the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) have ebbed.

A broad, complex extrapolation of the IFES data indicate that the final tally could give Golkar as much as 30 per cent of the vote on Monday, with PDI-P trailing badly in second place at 16 per cent, followed by PAN and PKB at 9-10 per cent each.

In the 1999 election, Golkar secured 22.4 per cent of the votes. The PDI-P was the clear winner with 33.7 per cent.

Today, Mr Akbar is riding on Golkar’s newfound popularity.

He told The Straits Times: ‘I am confident we can get at least 30 per cent of the votes. The margin of difference with PDI-P will be small but we have a better chance of winning.’

If Golkar wins, he will go for broke. It will be difficult for him to surrender the presidency whatever the deal the palace might want to work out with him. It is a ‘point of no return’ for him.

It is all about personal ambition – and the fact that he sees it as his destiny to secure the top post. Indeed, he pointed out in a recent interview why it might be difficult for him to wait another five years.

‘I will be 62 in 2009,’ he said. ‘Don’t you think I will be too old to be president then?’

As party chairman, he will want to take credit for leading it to success in the polls.

There are also practical considerations. How can he accept anything less than the presidency when five other candidates taking part in the Golkar convention are pitching for the No 1 post?

Two other factors explain his growing confidence and refusal to be nudged into a coalition with PDI-P.

His exoneration by the Supreme Court has allowed him to consolidate his grip on Golkar that may well see him emerge as the party’s top contender for the presidency.

For months, the court case was an albatross around his neck. It casts doubt over his ability to sway regional branches to support him.

Secondly, the resignation last month of security czar Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono amid a political row with President Megawati Sukarnoputri has presented an ideal opportunity for a coalition partnership.

Indeed, the Akbar camp even has drawn up plans to dump PDI-P as an alliance partner if it loses the polls, especially by a
small margin. The proviso? That it has Mr Bambang on board as his deputy.

If brand recognition is a key factor in the presidential race, then Mr Bambang will do wonders for Mr Akbar.

Oozing diplomatic charm and looking good on TV, the US-educated general is popular. His approval rating is high – way ahead of Akbar.

Much, however, depends on whether he is willing to be a running mate to the Golkar chairman. Relations are somewhat strained between them. Some trace the roots of their problems back three years ago.

Then Mr Bambang had agreed to run in the vice-presidential election at the National Assembly on the understanding that Mr Akbar would withdraw his own nomination at the last minute and throw Golkar’s support behind him.

That did not happen. In the end, it was Mr Akbar who progressed to the final runoff against the eventual winner.

Whatever his views, analysts believe Mr Bambang faces the stark reality that his options are limited. If he were to make a presidential bid, he could team up with Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) chairman Hasyim Muzadi or Golkar’s Jusuf Kalla.

But either choice will not guarantee that he can secure maximum votes because both will not be able to win the endorsement of their respective organisations.

Mr Bambang’s ambition would by then be limited to being vice-president, especially if his Democratic Party does not meet the 3 per cent electoral threshold.

It leaves him with the option of being drafted into Golkar on a joint ticket with PKB in what some in Golkar describe as the Dream Team. It is still an open question whether Mr Bambang will be part of this Dream Team, but PKB is certainly courting him. In fact, he was invited to take part in a PKB campaign rally last month.

A Golkar-PKB alliance gives Mr Akbar the best chance of winning over a significant share of the NU vote. Ultimately, the battle will be for the Muslim vote – a fact that has dawned on Ms Megawati.

She told The Straits Times: ‘The ideal coalition for me is one between the nationalist-religious and religious-nationalist.’

Besides Mr Jusuf, her list of candidates includes her current deputy Hamzah Haz, Education Minister Malik Fadjar and Mr Hasyim.

Increasingly, her attention is turning to Mr Hasyim. Their high-profile meeting in February in Malang, East Java, has politics written all over the script. But like her other choices, she faces a dilemma in not being able to extract maximum votes from him.

Mr Hasyim might have the support of several NU provincial chapters, but he does not have the backing of PKB. He has yet to find a party that will sponsor his candidacy.

He might go alone but there is no guarantee he can capture the NU ground. The votes will split given that parties such as PKB and the Muslim-based PPP are also drawing support from the country’s largest grassroots organisation.

One way to unite the NU vote is for him and the palace to make peace with their nemesis, former president Abdurrahman Wahid, who continues to wield enormous influence in the organisation.

But that seems to be a tall order with the ailing cleric veering towards Golkar.

Here, Ms Megawati, running out of options, could just hang on to Mr Hasyim or rely on Mr Hamzah to bring in the Muslim votes. They might even consider roping in Mr Jusuf with the promise of a senior Cabinet appointment to try and split the Golkar vote.

They will face off against a possible coalition of Mr Akbar and Mr Bambang – if Golkar succeeds in wooing him over – together with at least two other presidential tickets that include former military commander Wiranto and Dr Amien.

Ms Megawati and Mr Akbar are likely to go through the first round as the top two presidential tickets. No one would get a majority, forcing the race into a second-round battle.

Ms Megawati faces a dicey situation for the run-off. Golkar’s game plan then would be to cut a deal with Islamic parties and those opposed to Ms Megawati in a grand alliance. In this scenario, it is anybody’s guess who will win.

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