ASIA/INDONESIA - Candidates and strategies in first direct presidential elections

Saturday, 3 July 2004

Jakarta (Fides Service) - This is the first time that Indonesians will vote their president. During the dictatorship (1966-1998), and in the following years, the President was elected by the People’s Consultative Assembly, a branch of parliament trimmed down by the new electoral law which offers Indonesia’s democracy another important test in which the candidates for presidency will be chosen directly by 147 million voters.
There are five main candidates. General Wiranto, former army chief and minister of defence charged by an East Timor court of crimes against humanity at the time of that country’s referendum for independence in 1999. Wiranto is the leader of the Golkar Party a political organisation created by former dictator Suharto which is backed by a military lobby and civil bureaucracy. This party which fell into disgrace at the end of the Suharto era won elections in April this year, becoming the main party of Indonesia’s new parliament. Wiranto took the opportunity to stand for presidency. The General is a possible candidate, capable of governing at this difficult time for Indonesia’s fragile democracy, marked by terrorist attacks over recent years including the Bali bombing in which 200 people were killed. He also has total support from the Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa (PKB), started by former president Abdurrahman Wahid, known as Gus Dur.
Wiranto will have to beat outgoing president Megawati Sukarnoputri whose party crashed during the April elections this year. Megawati, daughter of Indonesia’s first president, has the support of the powerful Muslim Nadlatul Ulama, organisation with 40 its million members, whose leader Hasyim Muzadi, is Indonesia’s Democratic Party Struggle PDIP vice president candidate coupled with Megawati. Her election campaign was based on promises of economic reforms and the creation of 13 million jobs, reduction of poverty, improvement in education, health care, elimination of corruption.
There is another former general who stands a good chance according to opinion polls, Susilo Bambang Yudoyono, Former minister of Security and leader of the new Democratic Party which won 7.5% of the votes at the elections last April. Unlike Wiranto, who based his campaign on patriotic and populist themes, Susilo Bambang did not insist on questions of insecurity or the ghost of national fragmentation. Yudoyono instead gambled on real problems rather than nightmares presenting himself with the profile of the statesman: recurrent discourses on the war on terrorism and separatism, reform of bureaucracy, economic growth and elimination of corruption.
Observers give less chance to two other candidates: Amien Rais, former leader of Muhammadiyah Muslim organisation and former speaker of the Indonesian parliament, who aimed to win support among small shopkeepers and the middle lower classes in general.
Another candidate is Hanzah Haz , chosen as vice president by Megawati in 2001, who is backed by Muslims in rural areas: he has promised mosques in schools and impulse to education and healthcare.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 3/7/2004 lines 45 words 450)