Grand Alliance

INDONESIAN ELECTIONS
THE PLOTS

Election Scenario 1

Golkar teams up with PDI-P.

THE palace does not want a protracted battle. It wants an alliance with its biggest foe.

There is an ideological fit between the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) and Golkar.

Both represent secular-nationalism in a partnership that some, such as President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s husband Taufik Kiemas, describe as ‘the best coalition for political stability’.

More significantly, the combination would almost certainly clinch the presidential race in the first round.

Analysts expect them to secure a total of 55 per cent of the national votes in the general election.

But for a coalition to happen, PDI-P must win by a significant margin to force a second-placed Golkar into such an arrangement.

The President and her backers believe that PDI-P will capture as much as 50 per cent of the votes.

But this might be bluster. In reality, PDI-P’s popularity is waning.

Indeed, Ms Megawati is now trailing in the popularity stakes.

The latest poll by the United States-based International Foundation for Election Systems shows her getting just 11.6 per cent of the presidential vote, compared to 18.4 per cent for former security czar Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Observers say she could lose at least three blocs of supporters.

The first is the crop of new voters who make up 15 per cent of the estimated 148 million voters.

Many of them protested against price hikes earlier this year.

Another is the large number of former Golkar cadres who crossed over to the PDI-P in 1999 and have now jumped ship once again.

The third group is predominantly from East Java, the base of the Nadhlatul Ulama (NU) that former president Abdurrahman Wahid once headed.

They have not forgotten her ‘constitutional coup’ against him in 2001.

As a result, some in the PDI-P think the party might lose up to nine percentage points.

But diehards think otherwise. They are riding on the cult figure status of the President even if others have eaten into her lead.

She has symbolic appeal as the late president Sukarno’s daughter.

Four years ago, her party gained the majority of 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.

She and her party are unlikely to have problems maintaining her popularity in most of these regions.

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, the PDI-P generated millions of dollars when she was just party leader.

Her businessman husband was critical in raking in funds through his connections. The patronage network is now more extensive.

The plan is to rope in not just Golkar but also the National Awakening Party (PKB), which draws much of its support from the 40-million-strong NU.

‘There won’t be a runoff in September,’ declared Mr Taufik, who is also an influential PDI-P legislator. ‘We will win in the first round.’

According to his plan, Coordinating Minister for Welfare Jusuf Kalla will be the running mate.

Described as ‘the President’s man’, Mr Jusuf is the best catch of the three politicians that Ms Megawati is courting.

Being a Golkar man, the thinking is that he will be able to draw the support of a vast party network. He also has a non-Javanese background – a Bugis with strong Islamic credentials, given his grassroots links with several Muslim groups in Indonesia.

Significantly, he also enjoys close ties with the President, a point he is quick to highlight.

‘We complement each other in many ways,’ he told The Straits Times. ‘I have a good private and professional relationship with Ibu Mega.’

But the palace is realising that for every potential winning coalition partner, there is a political price to pay. Things are never that simple amid the ebb and flow of Indonesian politics.

A lot depends on what Golkar chief Akbar Tandjung wants – and he is unlikely to just surrender the vice-presidency to someone whose mass appeal is confined to South Sulawesi and who does not have the political backing of his party’s provincial branches.

If Mr Akbar wins the Golkar convention next month, and his party comes in second to PDI-P in the general election, he will almost certainly put his name forward as a deputy, albeit reluctantly, given that his relationship with Ms Megawati is far from comfortable.

The feelings are mutual. The President will be hard-pressed to accept a wily and ambitious politician at her side.

Ms Megawati has shown in the past that she is prepared to forge political alliances with her rivals to shore up her power base.

A classic example is co-opting the Muslim camp in Parliament by backing Mr Hamzah Haz for the vice-presidency in 2001. She withdrew her support for Mr Akbar in favour of Mr Hamzah, who was seen as ‘the lesser of two evils’.

Today, however, she might have very little choice, given concerns that dragging the election into a second round could lower her odds of winning further.

The palace realises that its grand coalition idea will work only if it gets Golkar and Mr Akbar on board. And for some time, it appeared as if its rivals subscribed to the plan.

Some within Golkar were even contemplating an alliance if the margin of difference between the Big Two is small – 2 to 3 per cent in Golkar’s favour.

Explained a Golkar senior: ‘Why take the risk of running the country when things are not likely to improve? The aim was to secure key economic portfolios, especially control over state enterprises or cash cows that could build up the party’s war chest over time to prepare for the 2009 polls.’

But such views are fast disappearing with Golkar’s rising fortunes.

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