Copyright 2004 IPS-Inter Press Service/Global Information Network
IPS-Inter Press Service
May 13, 2004, Thursday
The six pairs of presidential and vice presidential candidates for the Indonesian election in July, revealed on Wednesday, are an interesting mix of secular and Islamic-based politicians.
The presidential candidates in the electoral race are incumbent President Megawati Sukarnoputri, Vice President Hamzah Haz, National Assembly chairman Amien Rais, former president Abdurrahman Wahid and two retired generals - Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Wiranto.
They will slug it out in a protracted battle that could result in run-off polls in September.
Megawati is still in the running despite her party's embarrassing setback in the April parliamentary polls. She has close to 20 percent of the popular vote, mostly from the nationalists.
Her alliance with her vice presidential candidate, Hasyim Muzadi, chairman of the 35-million-strong Nadhlatul Ulama, has also given her chances a big boost.
"Megawati still has a chance to win the first election. Don't underestimate her. She has brought economic stability during her rule," said Kwik Kian Gie, a close adviser to Megawati, in an interview with 'Tempo' magazine.
Hasyim, who chairs Indonesia's largest Muslim organisation, is also an attractive catch. But he is burdened with his acrimonious relationship with Wahid, affectionately known as 'Gus Dur', who continues to wield enormous influence in Nadhlatul Ulama.
Moreover, Gus Dur himself is running for the presidency along with his vice presidential bet, Marwah Daud Ibrahim, a female politician who used to head the Golkar Party established by the U.S.-installed authoritarian president Suharto in the 1960s.
But the Nahdatul Ulama has been parading not only Gus Dur and Hasyim. It also has Solahudin Wahid, Gus Dur's younger brother who is the vice presidential candidate of Wiranto, the former military commander accused of human rights abuses in Indonesia's former colony, East Timor.
A U.N.-sponsored judge has issued an arrest warrant against Wiranto on crimes against humanity.
The Wahids are considered to be a blue-blood political family in Indonesia. Their grandfather, Hasyim Ashari, was a charismatic Muslim teacher who helped found the Nahdatul Ulama in the 1920s.
Their father Wahid Hasyim was a progressive Muslim thinker who modernised the Nahdatul Ulama.
Gus Dur himself is known as a democracy activist during Suharto's time and a campaigner for religious tolerance. Solahudin is currently vice chairman of Indonesia's Human Rights Commission.
It is expected that many Nahdatul Ulama members, who are mostly villagers on the Indonesian main island of Java, may get confused with the presence of the three politicians from their group in the July electoral race.
Each might win a sizeable chunk of the Nahdatul Ulama vote, but it is not clear whether Gus Dur, who is legally blind and had two strokes in the past, can pass the difficult health test imposed by the Indonesian Election Commission.
The talk in town is that if Gus Dur fails the test, he would back his younger brother's partnership with Wiranto.
On paper, the candidate who wins more than 50 percent of the July votes will become president.
But with six candidates in the running, it is not easy to get a good amount of the votes. In the event a run-off election is needed, the first and the second candidates with the most number of votes will go for a final vote in September.
Who is the darling of the western world? It is widely speculated that the United States, an influential country in Indonesia, would prefer the U.S.-trained Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
His vice presidential candidate is Jusuf Kalla, a popular businessman who hails from Sulawesi island in eastern Indonesia -- another important factor in Java-dominated politics.
In Indonesian politics, the issues of whether a candidate is Javanese or non-Javanese, from the military or civilian sector, Muslim or non-Muslim, carry a lot of weight. Skilled politicians need to know how to use, or how not to use, those issues.
Yudhoyono is a Javanese, like most other candidates, but Hamzah Haz comes from the Kalimantan island.
Islam is a decisive card because Indonesia, a nation of 220 million people, is the largest Muslim country in the world. Today's presidential and vice presidential candidates are all officially Muslims, although the orientation of some politicians, including Megawati, is considered to be secular.
The latest survey by the Jakarta-based Indonesian Survey Institute shows that support for the 54-year-old Yudhoyono has soared to 40.6 percent of the 1,216 respondents' votes. He eclipsed President Megawati, a distant second with 14.7 percent of votes.
"Susilo and Megawati are the most likely winners in the first round of the presidential election," the executive director of the institute, Denny J A, said in a press conference on Tuesday.
Their biggest challenge will come from Wiranto, who is likely to be in a position to mobilise voters because he has the combined machinery of the Golkar Party, which won majority of seats in the April parliamentary election, and Solahudin's Nahdatul Ulama-affiliated Nation Awakening Party.
For their part, Amien Rais and his anointed deputy, Siswono Yudhohusodo, a former Cabinet minister in the Suharto era, have neither the popularity nor the machinery to win the presidency.
But Amien has the backing of the 30-million strong Muhammadiyah, the second largest Muslim organisation in Indonesia.
Still, it is a big question mark whether Muhammadiyah members, who are mostly urban middle-class citizens, would vote in accordance with the choice of their top leaders. Amien himself is a former chairman of the Muhammadiyah.
In contrast, the village-based followers of the Nahdatul Ulama are more likely vote according to their leaders' instructions.
Vice President Hamzah Haz, whose United Development Party came in third in the parliamentary poll, wooed Agum Gumelar, another retired general and currently transportation minister, to run in the July presidential election.
The Hamzah-Gumelar duo was the latest to enter the race because of the likelihood previously that Megawati would choose Hamzah to be her running mate once more. But Megawati obviously did not see Hamzah as having the ability to bring her votes -- and opted for her current running mate, Hasyim Muzadi.