Bambang gets top running mate

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PRESIDENTIAL front-runner Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has taken a big step towards clinching the nation’s top office.

In a coup over his arch-rival Megawati Sukarnoputri, he secured Coordinating Minister for Welfare Jusuf Kalla as his running mate – a partnership which could topple the incumbent in the July election, opinion polls show.

The move could prove fatal for the 55-year-old incumbent.

Her bid to stay in power has become even more tenuous as not only Mr Jusuf, but also others, like Justice Minister Yusril Mahendra, look set to desert her for an alliance with the retired general who until last month served in her administration as security czar.

Losing Mr Jusuf, who has long been courted by the President, appears to be a setback for the Megawati camp.

But it is a masterstroke for the Bambang camp which, after weeks of intense horse-trading, now believes it has formed an ‘unbeatable alliance’.

Sources from both sides say a formal announcement will be made by Wednesday, when Mr Jusuf is expected to hand in his resignation letter to the palace.

A senior aide to Mr Jusuf said the partnership could score big with voters within and outside Java.

Mr Jusuf is an attractive catch not just because of his Golkar credentials. In contrast to Mr Bambang, he hails from a non-Javanese background – a Bugis with strong Islamic credentials, given his grassroots links with several Muslim groups in South Sulawesi and eastern Indonesia.

The two have been working out a ‘power-sharing’ formula. According to the plan, Mr Jusuf would oversee the economy, while Mr Bambang would handle political and security issues.

The pact between them leaves Ms Megawati in a precarious position.

Her options for a running mate are fast running out. She could turn to her current Vice-President Hamzah Haz or Mr Agum Gumelar, a retired general and a long-time loyalist.

Both options are seen as weak.

Well-placed sources say she is also being pressured to consider a link-up with her old foe, Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung.

A confidante of the President’s influential husband Taufik Kiemas disclosed: ‘We can’t attract the right partners. No one wants to join a losing party.’

With over 90 million votes counted after the April 5 poll, Golkar had 21.05 per cent, compared to 19.58 per cent for Ms Megawati’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) – way below the 34 per cent it secured in 1999.

Mr Bambang is acutely aware that he is riding on a wave of populist support, not the backing of a major party.

Sources say he is looking to build a coalition involving Golkar, the Nation Awakening Party and his small Democratic Party.

But chances of a grand alliance appear to be fading.

Critics argue that if he is elected to office, it could spell problems. He will be up against an all-powerful Parliament led by the Golkar and PDI-P juggernauts.

Mr Martin Hughes of the Jakarta-based Control Risks Group notes: ‘If he wins and fails to co-opt the big parties, Indonesia might just be heading ominously for yet another period of Italian-style revolving door governments, where every public policy issue is put through the grinder of party politics.’

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