Battle Of Generals

With two military honchos riding on public hankering for firm leadership, Mega’s chances look shaky.

It is shaping up to be a battle of the generals.

Mr Wiranto’s surprise victory at Tuesday’s Golkar convention pits him against presidential frontrunner Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in a shoot-out that might kill Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri’s chances for re-election.

The two men are cut from the same cloth and riding on public support for a military figure at the helm of Indonesian politics.

But Mr Bambang, 54, is clearly the flavour of the month. His choice of running mate in former Coordinating Minister for Welfare Jusuf Kalla took him a big step forward in clinching the nation’s top office.

Opinion polls suggest that a Bambang-Jusuf partnership stand the best chance of entering office. It also has the backing in Washington circles that see a match between the reformist Javanese general and the South Sulawesi-born business tycoon as an ‘unbeatable alliance’.

At home, Mr Bambang is acutely aware that he is riding a wave of populist support, not the backing of a major party. Sources say his failure thus far has been the inability to cobble a coalition involving the major parties. The original game plan was to form a pact with Golkar, the Nation Awakening Party (PKB) and his small Democratic Party.

But chances of a grand alliance appear to be fading. Negotiations with the PKB, led by former president Abdurrahman Wahid, appear to have stalled amid creeping resentment towards Mr Bambang and his advisers.

A PKB insider revealed: ‘They want to do things their way. They are arrogant and aloof.’

Golkar is also out of the question, especially with Mr Wiranto lining up for battle on the party ticket. The 55-year-old general is known these days not just for his crooning.

He has developed into a wily politician and field operator far superior to Mr Bambang, emerging as a greater threat than Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung.

He had spent the last six months campaigning across the country to get Golkar cadres to back him for the party’s ticket.

Spearheading last-minute backroom deals, he scored a major coup by winning a majority of 315 votes compared to Mr Akbar’s 227 at an American-style party convention which ended early yesterday.

He has also forged links with Islamic-based parties, like the PKB and the 40-million-strong Nadhlatul Ulama (NU) – most of which he can draw on for his coalition.

He might get a range of parties behind him, but the problem now is to identify a running mate who is non-Javanese.

The top two on his list are Javanese: Mr Hidayat Nurwahid of the Prosperous Justice Party and Mr Solahuddin Wahid of NU.

He is backed by a slick and well-financed personal organisation, but there is no guarantee it can get the backing of the Golkar machinery.

Some are concerned that the party could tear apart if rival camps do not reconcile after the bruising battle at the convention.

Mr Wiranto faces another problem. While he offers the promise of firm leadership like Mr Bambang, it does little to assuage the fears of US and European countries that see him as a Pinochet type figure.

Indeed, prosecutors in East Timor have indicted him over alleged abuses that accompanied the territory’s vote to break from Jakarta’s rule in 1999.

He might be a brand name at home but he is still far behind in the popularity stakes compared to Mr Bambang.

The reality is that the reformist general has an edge given the mood for change in Indonesia.

Given that none of the presidential tickets are unlikely to win the first round with a majority, Mr Bambang is the favourite to go into a run-off phase.

That leaves Mr Wiranto and the other strongest contender, Ms Megawati, to slug it out to enter the second round.

Increasingly, her chances are dimming.

If she fails to beat Mr Wiranto in Round One, the fight will be between the two generals in the finals – a battle that could go either way.

But even if Ms Megawati gets through the first stage, there is little chance of her winning against either general – each of whom will also draw support from the powerful Muslim bloc.

Mr Jusuf Wanandi of the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies explained: ‘Wiranto and Bambang now look the best placed to win the gunfight at the OK Corral.’

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