No.1 isn’t unreachable anymore for Wiranto

THE political star of retired general Wiranto appears to be getting brighter.

The former military commander, who more than three years ago suffered an ignominious exit from politics, has now taken a big step towards clinching the presidency in Indonesia.

In a coup over his rivals, he secured the endorsement of the Nation Awakening Party (PKB) – the country’s third largest party, which is linked to the 40-million-strong Nadhlatul Ulama (NU).

And in a charm offensive on the international front, he is plotting a meeting with Timor Leste leader Xanana Gusmao tomorrow. The ex-general is accused of complicity in the 1999 Timor Leste imbroglio.

Winning PKB’s backing, however, seems to be more significant in terms of shifting the political balance in his favour.

It is a major boost for the retired general, who also has at his disposal the support of Golkar which won the most seats in Parliament in the April legislative election.

Golkar deputy chairman Marzuki Darusman, who led negotiation talks with PKB, told The Straits Times yesterday: ‘This is a major turning point in Wiranto’s campaign for the presidency. He has got the support of two big parties, which makes him a major force in Indonesian politics.’

PKB won 10 per cent of the seats in the parliamentary poll, most of the votes coming from the NU home base of East Java.

Mr Wiranto has picked as his running mate Mr Solahuddin Wahid, the younger brother of former president Abdurrahman Wahid who is PKB’s chief patron. Both brothers are top leaders of NU which is Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation.

Mr Abdurrahman played a key role in getting PKB to endorse the Wiranto candidacy after having been disqualified by the General Election Commission last week from taking part in the race.

He told reporters: ‘We’ve reached a decision to back Solahuddin Wahid as a vice-presidential candidate from PKB in a ticket with Wiranto. PKB needs someone in the race.’

The Wiranto camp is jubilant. But observers believe it is not going to be easy for him to galvanise total NU support. NU members traditionally do not vote in a single block. Part of the the NU vote could go to Mr Hasyim Muzadi and Mr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Indeed, at least one opinion poll last month indicated that the vote would split. However, former security czar Bambang remains the more popular candidate, recent polls have shown, with the support of 40 per cent of NU.

Mr Wiranto and Mr Abdurrahman are ranked very low on the list.

Mr Wiranto faces another problem. He also does not have the full backing of the Golkar machinery, with subversive elements in the party – led by chairman Akbar Tandjung – trying to block his chances.

But depending on whether he can strike a deal with Golkar and PKB – which is asking for several Cabinet seats, including a senior post for Mr Abdurrahman – Mr Wiranto has in effect the most potent machinery to deploy for the July 5 election.

The key is whether party machinery will count as much in Indonesia’s first direct presidential poll. The Wiranto camp thinks that its huge infrastructure and network will do the job for it.

It is now moving on the international front which has long been the Achilles heel of Wiranto’s candidacy.

Mr Marzuki disclosed that meeting with Mr Gusmao in Bali was aimed at ‘mending ties’ with the Timor Leste leader in the hope that the former Indonesian territory would back down on attempts to incarcerate Mr Wiranto.

A Timor Leste tribunal last week issued an arrest warrant for him over the violence, mostly blamed on pro-Jakarta militias backed by elements of the Indonesian military. Mr Wiranto was armed forces commander at that time.

At a broader level, Mr Marzuki said the goal was to project an image to the international community that the former general was taking the first step at reconciliation.

The key is whether such PR will have any bearing for the hawks on Capitol Hill.

Mr Wiranto’s star is shining, but major hurdles remain that make his chances of winning the presidency still far from certain.

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