Silver lining, but no guarantees

The presidency is not yet in the bag for incumbent Megawati Sukarnoputri.

There might have been a silver lining in the clouds for the 57-year-old leader after Indonesia’s largest party endorsed her candidacy on Sunday night.

But Golkar’s support does little to guarantee a second term for her.

The clamour for change symbolised by an ex-general and the apparent irrelevance of party machinery in garnering votes in a historic direct election may well affect her chances in the September run-off.

But the force behind Golkar’s alliance with Ms Megawati – party chairman Akbar Tandjung – seems unencumbered by such concerns.

He is driven by a combination of factors in backing her.

On the surface, he is concerned about militarism rearing its ugly head in Indonesia again if Ms Megawati’s rival Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a former military officer, is elected to power.

Probe deeper, and he offers more compelling reasons.

Mr Akbar argues that if Mr Bambang gets into power, he will use the powers of incumbency to build up his Democrat Party.

He explains: ‘I see the Democrat Party as the biggest challenge to Golkar if Bambang becomes President. He will do his best to make sure his party and its network grow much stronger and wider in five years when he makes his bid for anotherterm in office.’

Senior Golkar sources believe that the President and her Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P) will not present a similar challenge.

The PDI-P, torn apart by internal rifts, is unlikely to be a serious threat to Golkar.

More significantly, Ms Megawati would be serving her last term in power.

A coalition with the PDI-P now provides Golkar with a springboard to capture the country’s highest office in 2009.

The impetus for teaming up also comes from Ms Megawati’s influential husband Taufik Kiemas. He has offered Golkar at least eight Cabinet positions in a new government.

In the grand scheme of things, Mr Akbar gets the coveted post as head of a newly formed and potentially powerful presidential advisory body.

Such deal-making, according to the Golkar chief, comes because of the ‘good chemistry’ between the two juggernauts.

Both parties will be able to mobilise regional chapters across Indonesia to back the incumbent.

But it is deceptive to think that this alliance, together with the support of other parties such as the Muslim-based United Development Party, will clinch the presidency for Ms Megawati.

The July election was instructive of just how irrelevant party machinery had become in a direct poll.

Mr Wiranto was then one of the strongest, on paper, among the five candidates in the first round – with the backing of Golkar, the Nation Awakening Party and the 40-million-strong Nadhlatul Ulama.

But he failed to get through.

A more united Golkar today under a party leader desperate to reign in his foes might help Ms Megawati close the gap on MrBambang.

But she is still not assured of victory.

Party leaders might make deals but their supporters might vote differently.

There is a second related factor: The mood for change in Indonesia, with many voters looking for a new face.

That new face, or political symbol, happens to be Mr Bambang.

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