Mega and rivals seeking alliances

Front-runners position themselves for Round 2 in September with both Mega and Bambang camps eyeing Golkar vote.

The jockeying and deal-making for Round 2 of Indonesia’s presidential election has begun, even before the results of Monday’s polls are in. With over 40 per cent of the ballots counted yesterday, former general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was still ahead with 34 per cent of the vote, followed by President Megawati Sukarnoputri (27 per cent), former military commander Wiranto (22 per cent), National Assembly chairman Amien Rais (14 per cent) and Vice President Hamzah Haz (3 per cent).

With those figures in mind, Indonesia’s politicians are scrambling to forge alliances ahead of the run-off election in September, which would see the top two contenders out of the field of five fighting to be No 1.

Golkar, the biggest party in parliament, has emerged as the crucial pivot in the calculations.

Buoyed by the better-than-expected showing, the Megawati camp is planning for an eventual confrontation with Mr Bambang in September. Her party members are sending out feelers for a grand coalition involving Golkar, her Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) and Muslim-based parties such as the United Development Party (PPP) and the Nation Awakening Party (PKB).

A PDI-P legislator involved in backroom dealings with Golkar told The Straits Times: ‘It is going to be a tough battle with Bambang. The only way we can beat him is to get all the other major parties on our side.’

Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung is understood to be agreeable to such an alliance, with his party said to have been offered40 per cent of the Cabinet seats if it backs Ms Megawati.

A more important consideration for Mr Akbar is retaining control of Golkar, which is likely to be threatened if Mr Wiranto, a party rival, comes to power.

The Akbar backers also fear that if Mr Bambang wins, he would try to secure control of Golkar through his running mate Jusuf Kalla, a party cadre.

Meanwhile, Mr Bambang is also eyeing the Golkar vote.

Besides wooing Muslim-based parties, he is also pursuing a divide-and-conquer strategy with Golkar and PDI-P, reaching out to disaffected elements in both camps. His targets include Wiranto supporters in Golkar at odds with Mr Akbar for siding with the President.

With internal splits, Mr Akbar may not be able to persuade all his party branches to support Ms Megawati. Likewise, many PDI-P members object to a union with Golkar and have threatened to join Mr Bambang.

Looking ahead, observers say the September poll showdown could feature a revived Megawati camp pitting an alliance of parties, however fractured, against Mr Bambang, who is leveraging on his popularity that cuts across party and ideological lines.

Said political observer Jusuf Wanandi of the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies: ‘It might end up being a battle of the giants. Megawati is a sleeping giant that has woken up and Bambang is a giant that refuses to go to sleep.’

IT MIGHT END UP BEING A BATTLE OF THE GIANTS. MEGAWATI IS A SLEEPING GIANT THAT HAS WOKEN UP AND BAMBANG IS A GIANT THAT REFUSES TO GO TO SLEEP.’
– Political observer Jusuf Wanandi, on the September poll showdown which could feature a revived Megawati camp pitting an alliance of parties against Mr Bambang, who is leveraging on his popularity that cuts across party and ideological lines

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