Wiranto beats Akbar to be Golkar candidate

Party leader Akbar loses early lead in close fight to be No. 1.

FORMER military commander Wiranto clinched Golkar’s ticket to contest the presidency early today after a bruising battle with his biggest rival, party leader Akbar Tandjung.

The retired general scraped through after beating the Golkar chairman over two rounds of voting in an American-style party convention that began yesterday morning.

Mr Wiranto secured 315 votes to Mr Akbar’s 227 in a second round of voting.

His win now paves the way for a major fight with another former general, the popular Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, in the July presidential race.

It was a victory that followed weeks of intense horse-trading and acrimony between the two that surfaced once again at the convention.

Mr Wiranto took pains to outline his leadership in a slick video presentation. It showed him playing a key role in bringing stability to Indonesia following the May 1998 riots.

But in a veiled attack against his nemesis, Mr Akbar told some 1,000 cadres at the meeting: ‘They are with Golkar now but where were they in 1999 when the party needed them?’

The first round vote tally saw Mr Akbar and Mr Wiranto emerging as the top two candidates in the five-man race, with Mr Akbar ahead by 10 votes.

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 by even 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 our party branches across the country 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.

Indeed, uncertainty prevailed even after the first round that saw Mr Akbar win by a slim margin over his closest rival.

With the votes split among the five candidates, which included business tycoon Abu Rizal Bakrie, media magnate Surya Paloh and Mr Suharto’s son-in-law Prabowo Subianto, last-minute lobbying saw the votes gravitating towards Mr Wiranto in the second round where he secured a majority.

Having won Golkar’s backing, Mr Wiranto, who has been indicted in neighbouring Timor Leste for crimes against humanity, now faces the challenge of finding a running mate.

Observers believe this could come from the Nadhlatul Ulama, the Nation Awakening Party or the Prosperous Justice Party.

Yesterday’s one-day meeting had the feel of a victory party, since Golkar has emerged as the largest party in parliament following the April 5 parliamentary election.

With 91.4 million votes counted from the legislative polls, Golkar had 21.11 per cent compared with 19.49 for Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri’s Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle.

But one disappointed man this morning will be Mr Akbar, who told The Straits Times from the sidelines of the convention before the final outcome was known: ‘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.’

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