Four-way battle shaping up

Many expect Megawati to clinch the run-off in the presidential election, where she will meet either Wiranto or Bambang.

The pieces of the Indonesian presidential election jigsaw are falling into place.

The wayang of coalition building has thrown up at least four contenders for the July 5 election.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri, National Assembly chairman Amien Rais and two retired generals – Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Wiranto – will slug it out in a protracted battle that could go into a run-off in September.

Jakarta has been rife with speculation in recent weeks over who might team up with whom. The possible tie-ups, or ‘packages’ as they are dubbed, could have a major impact on who could be Indonesia’s next president.

No one here is about to rule out Ms Megawati.

Despite her party’s embarrassing setback in the recent parliamentary polls, the President still has close to 20 per cent of the popular vote – most of them from diehard Sukarnoists.

Her alliance with Mr Hasyim Muzadi, the chairman of the 40-million-strong Nadhlatul Ulama (NU), has also given her chances a big boost.

On paper, the leader of the country’s largest Muslim organisation is an attractive catch. But he is burdened with an acrimonious relationship with former president Abdurrahman Wahid, who continues to wield enormous influence in the NU.

Without Mr Abdurrahman’s backing, there is little chance of Mr Hasyim winning over the NU majority. But he could still win a sizeable chunk of the NU vote pie with promises of goodies from the palace, should he win the election.

The talk is that Mr Abdurrahman is likely to back his younger brother Solahuddin’s partnership with Mr Wiranto, under the Golkar banner.

The combined machinery of Golkar and the NU-affiliated Nation Awakening Party would put Mr Wiranto in a strong position to mobilise voters across the country.

Questions, however, remain about his standing at home and abroad. His surprise nomination by Golkar sparked protests by human rights groups at home who describe him as a war criminal for being involved in the 1999 East Timor imbroglio.

It is also widely speculated that Washington would prefer a Bambang presidency.

Indonesian voters care little for US endorsement; they are hungry for economic progress. And Mr Wiranto offers the prospect of firm leadership and the stability of the good old Suharto days.

His biggest challenge will come from Mr Bambang, whose growing popularity has made him the favourite in the race so far.

The latest survey by the United States-based International Foundation for Electoral Systems shows that support for the 54-year-old retired general has soared to 30 per cent – aided in part by his coup in winning over the much-courted Jusuf Kalla to be his running mate.

Among the four presidential tickets, Mr Amien and his anointed deputy, Siswono Yudhohusodo, have neither the popularity nor the machinery to win the presidency.

That leaves Ms Megawati, Mr Wiranto and Mr Bambang with equal chances of clinching the country’s top job.

The popular view here remains that it will be a battle of the generals – in the first round at least.

But both men, trawling the same ground for votes, could end up nullifying each other’s appeal. This could see one of them being knocked out after round one, leaving the other to face-off with Ms Megawati in September.

The puzzle of who will be president is slowly unravelling. But be prepared for more twists and turns in the next few months.

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