Major revolt in Jakarta parties

Rivals’ problems will allow Bambang to consolidate his position.

Indonesia’s major political parties are tearing at the seams following the victory of former general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in the presidential election.

Deep fissures in Golkar, the Indonesian Democratic Party Struggle (PDI-P) and the Muslim-based United Development Party (PPP) will allow Mr Bambang to consolidate his small and tenuous grip on the legislature as part of a two-pronged strategy that includes placing an ally in the parliamentary speaker’s post.

The Bambang coalition was locked in battle with its Golkar-led enemies to clinch the powerful position late last night.

The main aim is to exploit dissension in the rank and file of the juggernauts as the three party leaders face the first direct challenge to their positions in years.

Golkar is the most telling. The party is in disarray, with chairman Akbar Tandjung desperately trying to retain party
control.

In a pre-emptive strike to maintain his grip, he fired 15 pro-Bambang Golkar members, accusing them of not supporting the party’s formal position of backing Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri for the presidency.

The next few months will be even more turbulent for Golkar and Mr Akbar. The divisions are expected to widen further as rival camps engage in a power struggle for the prized Golkar leadership that will be contested this December.

With his political lifeline hanging by a thread, Mr Akbar has been working behind the scenes, desperate to cobble together an opposition coalition in Parliament to Mr Bambang.

With PPP breaking ranks from the alliance and a divided PDI-P sending mixed signals, Mr Akbar is clutching at straws for ways to bolster his chances for the party chairmanship.

If he gets Golkar executive Agung Laksono elected as parliamentary speaker, he might win some reprieve. It might add a gloss to an otherwise tarnished image of a politician who has suffered defeats on at least two fronts over the past six months.

Firstly, he failed to win the Golkar presidential candidacy, suffering a surprise defeat at the hands of former general Wiranto in the April party convention.

Secondly, he was not able to deliver the presidency for Ms Megawati, despite all the bravado of leading a grand coalition to support her re-election bid.

But if Mr Agung wins, it might well be another setback to Mr Akbar’s ambitions.

According to insiders, Mr Agung is keen on capturing the Golkar chairmanship and has been lobbying party members and Parliament for support over the past year.

It paves the way for a potentially explosive confrontation in December when others, such as incoming vice-president Jusuf Kalla, Mr Wiranto, and business tycoons Surya Paloh and Abu Rizal Bakrie, are also likely to enter the contest for the partyleadership. Mr Akbar will clearly be under attack.

Ms Megawati, PDI-P’s chairman, is also staring at festering opposition to her leadership of the party following PDI-P’s crushing defeat in the general election and her loss at the presidential poll.

Party members have been drawing up a slate of candidates for the post. It includes her husband, Mr Taufik Kiemas, oil baron Arifin Panigoro and PDI-P executives Roy Janis and Kwik Kian Gie.

But none of them seems a credible alternative to Ms Megawati, who continues to ride on the name of her father Sukarno, Indonesia’s founding father.

A meeting of PDI-P leaders in Bali earlier this week yielded little opposition to her, with the air of recrimination changing rapidly to introspection and soul-searching to improve its performance in the 2009 election.

While her position is not as precarious as Mr Akbar’s, doubts remain as to whether she can turn around PDI-P’s fortunes as a crucial party congress early next year to pick a new leader looms.

PPP chairman Hamzah Haz, the outgoing Vice-President, is facing an internal revolt.

Party members are mounting calls for him to resign for doing badly in the parliamentary poll and joining forces with Golkar and PDI-P.

His detractors are drumming up support from various party branches to get a two-thirds majority to bring forward a national congress this year to topple Mr Hamzah.

There are ominous signs that Mr Hamzah is on his way out. More significantly though is that the fact that PPP seems to have dumped its fragile links with Golkar and PDI-P for the Bambang coalition.

On paper, the Golkar, PDI-P and PPP axis accounts for about 60 per cent of the 550 seats in the legislature. But, given the rifts in each party, there is no certainty of a cohesive parliamentary opposition to Indonesia’s next president.

Mr Bambang’s game plan is to tap the disaffected elements. His landslide victory is the psychological pull that will draw legislators over to him as ideology gives way to crude pragmatism.

The battle lines between Parliament and President are likely to become fuzzier.

And the more the big parties fragment, the stronger Mr Bambang will be.

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