Mon, 14 Jul 2003

Akbar's presidential candidacy keeps other participants away

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja and Andi Hajramuni, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta/Makassar

The possible emergence of Akbar Tandjung as a presidential hopeful, has swung the mood of some participants of Golkar Party's convention, underlining tough competition as a feature in the second largest party in the 2004 elections.

One of the most prominent figures to participant in the convention Nurcholish Madjid said he was reconsidering his plan to join the convention as Akbar is likely to enter the race.

"As the party's chairman, it is his right to join the convention, But there is pessimism whether it will be good for Golkar to have Akbar with his record as a convict to run for the presidency," the noted Muslim scholar told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

Golkar has opened a national convention to choose the party's sole presidential candidate to compete in the first ever direct presidential election next year.

Those who wish to participate have to register themselves with the committee before July 29, with the support of at least five provinces and 500 signatories.

However, as the proceedings continue, suspicions are emerging among the other possible participants, that the convention is merely a maneuver to facilitate Akbar's candidacy.

Sources within Golkar said that Akbar would receive support from at least 13 out of 30 provincial branches of the party, despite a possible backfire in the 2004 direct election due to his tarnished image.

Akbar is currently waiting for the Supreme Court verdict regarding his involvement in the misappropriation of state funds, in which he was sentenced to three years in jail by the lower courts.

As of Saturday, nobody had taken the registration form from the party.

Citing the recent development, Nurcholish said Golkar's national convention was not the only way for him to enter the presidential race.

"I am keeping all possibilities open," he stressed.

When asked about his preparation to register for the convention, he said that he would not force his way into the party and demand support from the party's regional branches as required by the convention regulations.

"I prefer a soft approach and I have never really tried to lure support from the party's regional branches, I just met them and hopefully will win their sympathy," he remarked.

Nurcholish said he had not yet officially registered himself for the convention or collected 500 signatures he needs to join the convention.

Another politician tipped as a presidential hopeful, Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, despite his presence at the preparation meeting of the convention last week in Makassar, said he would not register himself for the candidate scouting program.

"As long as nobody from the Golkar branches comes and proposes it to me, I will not register or approach any of the branches to support me," the sultan said.

Meanwhile, businessman Aburizal Bakrie kicked off his bid for election as Golkar's presidential candidate.

He visited Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi, on Sunday to provide donations for local small and medium-scale entrepreneurs and cooperatives linked to the party. The assistance totaled Rp 310 million (US$37,800).

Aburizal also donated thousands of Golkar flags and T-shirts.

When asked about the donations, Aburizal dismissed political motives behind his visit, saying he came in his capacity as the chairman of the Indonesian Chambers of Commerce (Kadin).

But he asserted that he was well prepared for the convention, saying he had been touring Golkar strongholds to promote his vision and mission.