Megawati’s game plan : Divide and conquer

NEWS ANALYSIS

The palace is plotting. With her political life on the edge as her party teeters on the brink of defeat, President Megawati Sukarnoputri is fighting back with a game plan to keep the top job and destroy her foes in the July presidential election.

This involves building a broad alliance led by the Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P) that will include members of the Golkar, the Nadhlatul Ulama (NU) and Islamic-based parties such as the United Development Party and Crescent Star Party.

The two Islamic parties are represented in Ms Megawati’s administration currently.

Dubbed ‘demolition strategy’ by PDI-P diehards, the main aim is to drive a wedge in both Golkar and NU by roping in key figures of both organisations.

PDI-P sources said that proposal was a response to Golkar’s refusal to be nudged into a partnership with its rivals – Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung has ruled out a coalition with the PDI-P, confident that his party will win the legislative election.

But of even greater concern for the palace is Golkar’s plan to form a ‘dream team’ with the Nation Awakening Party (PKB) – which draws much of its support from the 40-million-strong NU – and possibly the Democratic Party led by the popular General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

PDI-P, however, is upbeat.

‘We will not make it so easy for them,’ said a PDI-P legislator, who was involved in talks with the President’s influential husband Taufik Kiemas to identify potential running mates and coalition partners for the incumbent.

The game plan is to rope in Golkar’s Jusuf Kalla, the Coordinating Minister for Welfare, and make him the running mate to Ms Megawati.

He is an attractive catch for PDI-P, and not just because of his Golkar credentials.

He also hails from a non-Javanese background – a Bugis with strong Islamic credentials, given his grassroots links with several Muslim groups in South Sulawesi.

The palace believes that by winning him over, they could capture at least 20 million votes in his eastern Indonesian stronghold, crippling Golkar’s hold in that area.

But it is unknown whether Mr Jusuf will go along with the plot, though intensive horse-trading is going on between both sides. It is complicated by the fact that the minister is also being courted by a Bambang-led coalition.

PDI-P’s second target is NU chairman Hasyim Muzadi.

He is being offered a ministerial post in return for prodding the largest Muslim group in Indonesia to support Ms Megawati. But this too will not be easy.

Mr Hasyim might have a hold on some NU provincial branches, but the biggest influence in the organisation continues to be Mr Abdurrahman Wahid, its former leader.

It is unlikely that Mr Hasyim will be able to ensure NU’s total support if he does not have the endorsement of Mr Abdurrahman and other influential clerics.

But the palace plan here is not so much to win votes as it is to cripple the the ability of the NU-linked PKB to maximise its vote tally if it goes into an alliance with Golkar.

A similar logic applies to PDI-P drawing in the Muslim-based PPP and PBB into its coalition with pledges of Cabinet positions.

Both of them will eat into the NU pie, splitting the votes.

Ultimately, the strategy is to win over the Islamic swing vote that could be crucial in a battle against a Golkar-led alliance or against Mr Bambang who could ally himself with smaller Muslim parties.

Palace backers close to Mr Taufik were largely responsible for crafting PDI-P’s comeback strategy.

With three months to go in the presidential race, they said that Ms Megawati had the advantage of incumbency and could bounce back.

‘Don’t forget, she is still President,’ said an aide.

‘But she needs to work fast to win over the ground.’

Besides coalition building, the palace was also contemplating policies to curry favour with the wong cilik or poor – a big voting base which backed her rise to power in 1999.

Some of the measures being talked about include tax reductions and tariff cuts for electricity.

Supporters also want her to break her silence over the country’s rampant corruption to win back voters.

Mr Kwik Kian Gie, a PDI-P leader and Cabinet minister, was quoted by AP as saying: ‘Megawati must convince voters that, although she did little about fighting corruption in the past four years, that she will fight it in the future if she is re-elected.’

With 44 million votes counted out of a possible electorate of around 147 million, the PDI-P maintained a slim lead with 20.82 per cent to Golkar’s 20 per cent.

This was cold comfort for the PDI-P, for it’s a dramatic decline in support from the 34 per cent share of the votes it won in 1999.

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