Akbar, Wiranto in close fight to be Golkar candidate

They slug it out to represent the party in presidential election in July.

VETERAN politician Akbar Tandjung was yesterday running neck-and-neck with his biggest rival – Mr Wiranto – for Golkar’s prized ticket to contest the presidency.

In a fight which observers see Mr Akbar ultimately winning, the 57-year-old Golkar chairman entered the second round of the United States-style party convention to face off with the retired four-star general and former military commander.

Last night, the two had emerged as the top contenders, after the first round of voting saw three other prominent candidates fall out. The second round was to take place early this morning.

The first phase vote tally showed Mr Akbar having secured 147 of the 545 votes from national and regional delegates. Mr Wiranto managed 137 votes.

But Mr Akbar, whose political life hung in the balance for almost a year until the courts freed him in February of a corruption scandal, looks the strongest candidate to enter the ring for the July race to become head of state.

He told The Straits Times from the sidelines of the convention yesterday: ‘I deserve to win this. I worked so hard to win the general election for my party.

‘None of the others in the convention have put in the sacrifices that I have made for Golkar over the last 30 years.’

The one-day meeting, the first-ever exercise to choose a presidential candidate, had the feel of a victory party, since Golkar has emerged as the largest party in Parliament following the April 5 election.

But the underlying atmosphere was one of acrimony against a backdrop of intense horse-trading to win votes from rival voting blocs.

Mr Akbar, in a broadside at his rivals, especially Mr Wiranto, told the 1,000 cadres attending the convention: ‘They are with Golkar now but where were they in 1999 when the party needed them?’

The battle between the two giants was predictable.

Mr Wiranto, coming into the race with a huge war chest and backing from military elements, had for months been the front runner in the convention, until the Golkar leader’s exoneration by the Supreme Court.

Mr Wiranto had spent the last six months campaigning across the country, and was seen even by some party executives as the man to lead not just the party but Indonesia.

Golkar’s deputy chairman Fahmi Idris noted: ‘There is a sense in some of our party branches that a military man like Wiranto is the right candidate.

‘But Akbar also has strong grassroots support and the backing of the central board.

‘It is a battle that could go either way,’ he added.

Uncertainty prevailed even after the first round.

With votes split among the five candidates, there was last minute lobbying to win over support from the losing camps.

Party sources said that media magnate Surya Paloh was likely to join forces with the former military commander. But the others – Mr Suharto’s son-in-law Prabowo Subianto and business tycoon Abu Rizal Bakrie could support Mr Akbar.

The Golkar chairman had earlier secured votes from Mr Jusuf Kalla, the former welfare minister in the Megawati administration, who quit the convention to team up with popular former general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

As a result, the power balance was clearly in favour of Mr Akbar who now stood the strongest chance of winning the convention.

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