Mega slips in polls for first time

Former security chief Bambang Yudhoyono overtakes her in latest election surveys.

PRESIDENT Megawati Sukarnoputri is in serious trouble just days before Indonesians cast their ballots in national polls. Two opinion surveys showed her slipping for the first time in the popularity stakes, shattering the myth of the invincible incumbent.

Until now, opinion polls have consistently ranked her as the front runner. But the latest surveys ahead of the July presidential election showed that former security czar Bambang Yudhoyono has overtaken her.

The Indonesia Survey Institute poll showed Mr Bambang winning 31.7 per cent of the vote to her 21 per cent in a field of five candidates.

The US-based International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) showed him getting 18.4 per cent of the presidential vote to 11.6 per cent for Ms Megawati.

Her Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) is also faring no better. IFES reinforced earlier polls by suggesting that Golkar could trash PDI-P in tomorrow’s legislative polls, leading the pack with 30 per cent of the votes, against PDI-P’s 16 per cent.

Golkar executive Fahmi Idris told The Sunday Times:

‘For the first time, Megawati is facing the serious prospect of losing. Her position has been weakening for some time, but these surveys tell us very conclusively that she is not invincible.

‘People are considering alternatives.’

Mr William Liddle, an Indonesian expert at Ohio State University, told Reuters: ‘This may be the watershed point.’

Analysts believe that she is losing support from three key blocs – new voters, former Golkar cadres who had crossed over to the PDI-P in 1999 and are now disillusioned, and the Muslim camp.

The 55-year-old President is clinging to her cult status as Mr Sukarno’s daughter but the rise of other presidential contenders is undercutting her.

One of them is Mr Bambang who could launch a presidential bid through an ad hoc coalition of parties against the Big Two.

But critics argue that even if he is popular, he does not have the backing of a major force, being a candidate for the small Democratic Party.

His best bet appears to be the vice-presidency. One possibility is for him to join forces with Golkar and its leader Akbar Tandjung if he is drafted into such a coalition on a ticket by the National Awakening Party.

For the President, this is an even greater threat. An Akbar-Bambang alliance can garner votes in and out of Java, and play the Muslim card.

But a more immediate problem for her now is getting the election off the ground.

Thousands of polling stations are still without ballots and parts of war-torn Aceh are considered too dangerous to hold the polls.

Separatist rebels have threatened to shoot residents who vote in Monday’s Indonesian general election, an election monitor said on Saturday.

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