18 April 2004

Indonesia Presidential Favorite Chooses Strong VP

Indonesian presidential favorite Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has picked a respected cabinet member as his running mate for the July 5 election, officials said on Sunday, dealing a blow to President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Social welfare minister Jusuf Kalla would partner Yudhoyono in the country's presidential election, said Akbar Tandjung, chairman of Golkar, the party of ousted autocrat Suharto.

'This morning, he said he will team up with Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for the presidential poll,' Tandjung said, but brushed off suggestions the move would hurt Golkar.

Kalla was one of several candidates for the Golkar ticket and Megawati had also been courting him as a running mate.

Megawati's Indonesia Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) is running second to Golkar with about two-thirds of the ballots counted from the April 5 parliamentary election.

Kalla is expected to follow Yudhoyono's example and quit her cabinet in the next few days. Yudhoyono, who is now being backed by a new political party that was formed before the parliamentary elections, was Megawati's chief security minister until he resigned last month. He has since surged to presidential favorite.

Yudhoyono has pulled off a coup and split Golkar while stealing the thunder of their nominating convention. For Kalla to run with Yudhoyono means he's rejected Megawati's effort to recruit him.

The election results have not shifted since I last blogged them. Within 24 hours we will know who Golkar's candidate is. At that stage it will be possible to start thinking about whther any rival ticket can overcome Tudhoyono's early lead.

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