16 April 2004

Golkar to hold convention to choose candidate

However, the race will largely be a fight between former armed forces chief General Wiranto and the party's chairman Akbar Tandjong. The rest of the candidates are expected to end up siding with either Wiranto or Akbar.

The candidates include former President Suharto's son-in-law Prabowo Subianto, media mogul Surya Paloh, businessman Abu Rizal Bakrie and Co-ordinating Minister for People's Welfare Jusuf Kalla.

In the preliminaries, Wiranto emerged as the most popular candidate, winning by a wide margin over his rivals and beating Akbar into third place.

But the victory of Golkar in the elections is expected to boost Akbar's chances as he played a major role in steering the party to its current victory. His political future is also much brighter after the Supreme Court quashed his graft conviction in February.

Akbar, 58, was convicted by the lower courts of misusing US$4 million (RM15.2 million) in funds from state food agency Bulog in 1999. The Supreme Court ruled Akbar was merely implementing his duty as a minister as ordered by then President B.J. Habibie.

Analysts and Golkar cadres say Wiranto has a slight lead over Akbar. And in a national context, Wiranto is far more popular than Akbar.

The charismatic general is one of the most popular figures for the presidential elections along with former security minister, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Megawati.

A senior Golkar official admitted Golkar would have a much better chance of winning the presidential elections on July 5 if Wiranto were their candidate.

'The best chance we have of challenging Susilo and Megawati would be Wiranto,' Golkar's cochairman Marzuki Darusman told the New Straits Times in a phone interview.

'Apart from Wiranto, we have gotten the message from our rank and file that they want a military person, someone who can straighten things out and Wiranto fit the criteria expressed by the people,' said Marzuki who added that he personally would prefer Akbar.

Wiranto is essentially an appeal to the Sindrom Aku Rindu Soeharto (I miss Suharto syndrome) vote. If you take Tutut's PKPD vote as a SARS proxy it stands at 2.13%. The parties which had spectacular improvements in their vote in the DPR elections were moderate Islamic parties opposed to korupsi. That suggests Wiranto may not be Golkar's best hope.

Choosing Wiranto would mean Golkar and PDIP would have to runs separate tickets and would make the PD's Yudhoyono the lead candidate. Most Indonesians are unaware that Wiranto is wanted for crimes against humanity in East Timor as generally they are unaware of the genocide in East Timor.

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