Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Indonesian Presidential Election's Hard-Fought Second Round

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Indonesian Presidential Election's Hard-Fought Second Round

Article excerpt

Indonesian President Meeawati Sukarnoputri has a fighting chance of winning reelection following her better-than-expected performance in the July 5 presidential elections. As no candidate secured more than 50 percent of the vote, a run-off between the two leading contenders will be held Sept. 20.

The most formidable candidate in the earlier race was Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a former lieutenant general who had been in charge of security affairs in Megawati's government. His Democratic Party came from nowhere to win a respectable 57 parliamentary seats in the April general election. With his promises to fight corruption and provide the strong leadership that has been lacking under Megawati, he attracted such strong support that there never seemed any doubt that he would emerge as the leading contender in the first round. The big question was: Who would he face in September?

Retired general Wiranto looked like a strong contender. He was officially supported by Golkar, the party that won the biggest vote in the general election, and was endorsed by Indonesia's largest Muslim organization, the 35 million-strong Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which also told its followers not to vote for a female candidate-implicitly an anti-Megawati move, as she was the only woman running for the presidency.

Wiranto's base of support was not as formidable as it seemed, however. He won the Golkar nomination only after a brief but bitter fight with party chairman Akbar Tandjung. Wiranto supporters have claimed that Tandjung secretly supported Megawati in the hope that the ex-general would be defeated, leaving Tanjung well placed to head off any challenge for the party chairmanship later in the year. Tandjung denies this, but the Golkar party machine certainly was not fully mobilized behind its official candidate. Neither was the NU solidly behind Wiranto at its grassroots level, as the results of the July poll showed.

Megawati understood very well that her only chance of re-election was to win second place in the first round and then focus upon rallying support for the September contest. Before the NU came out in support of Wiranto, she had chosen its chairman, Hasyim Muzadi, as her vice-presidential running mate. The NU suspended him from the chairmanship, but he was still expected to be able to attract some support from members. Megawati also courted support from inside Golkar. Her tactics were successful. In the first round, Bambang won 33.5 percent, Megawati took 26.6 percent, and Wiranto came in third with 22.2 percent.

An opinion poll conducted by the Washington-based Independent Foundation for Electoral Systems suggested that Bambang would win the next round handsomely, with 65 percent of the vote against 25 percent for Megawati. If the president found this discouraging, however, she did not show it. While Bambang concentrated on winning grassroots support, Megawati focused on bringing established organizational networks over to her side, though she was seen to do her share of baby kissing and handshaking, as well. She offered eight cabinet seats to Golkar in exchange for its support. In a bid to attract support from the NU and the political body associated with it, the National Awakening Party, she met former president Abdurrahman Wahid at her home. As the head of NU, he exercises great influence within the party-but, understandably, has had a distinctly chilly relationship with Megawati since, as his vice president, she took part in ousting him from office, and replaced him. Her approach to the Muslim United Development Party, which won 8 percent of the general election vote, was successful: it has openly declared its support for her.

Even if these maneuvers sway support to Megawati, however, she would still need the Bambang bandwagon to run out of steam ahead of the September election in order to win. If she does, it would be a victory for the status quo in Indonesia and, as such, would leave those whose hopes for change have drawn them to Bambang's campaign dissatisfied. …

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