Mon, 14 Jul 2003

Analysts say Golkar convention benefits Akbar

M. Taufiqurrahman The Jakarta Post Jakarta

The national convention held by Golkar to select its presidential candidate is a move to divert attention from legal problems involving its chairman Akbar Tandjung and may serve merely as a vehicle for him to secure the coveted ticket to the 2004 presidential election, an analyst says.

"Golkar has been mired by mounting problems, the latest being Akbar's three-year prison sentence, but it has to survive the turmoil and the convention is the way out," Bachtiar Effendi of the University of Indonesia said over the weekend.

Akbar was convicted of misusing state funds intended to feed the poor when he was the state secretary during the 17-month administration of president B.J. Habibie between 1998 and 1999. Akbar is currently waiting for the Supreme Court decision over his appeal.

Bachtiar said Akbar stands a great chance of winning the convention as he is a seasoned politician who has survived the difficulties faced by the political vehicle of New Order regime so far.

"It remains to be seen in the convention whether other candidates can match Akbar's political skills in gaining support from the party's provincial chapters," he said.

Akbar had survived moves from factions within and outside the party who wanted him to relinquish his post as party chairman and House of Representatives speaker following his conviction.

From July 11 through July 30, 2003, Golkar opens registration for presidential candidates who will represent the party in the 2004 election. The national convention is scheduled for February next year.

Several figures, including respected Muslim scholar Nurcholish Madjid, media tycoon Surya Paloh, Gen. (ret.) Wiranto and the former chief of the Army's Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad), Lt. Gen. (ret.) Prabowo Subianto have reportedly decided to join the convention.

The convention followed the House's approval of the controversial presidential election bill, which will enable a defendant to run for the presidency.

Separately, another political analyst Arbi Sanit expressed doubt that the convention would help build Golkar's new image as a political party that strives to uphold democracy.

He warned that the convention would be used by Akbar to gather popular support for his presidential bid.

"Golkar will be considered sincere in its efforts to select the best presidential candidate if the convention selects a figure like Nurcholish," he said.

He regretted the fact that the efforts to build democracy were made by Golkar party, not others who claim to be the protagonists of the reform movement that ousted former president Soeharto in 1998,

Separately, Akbar dismissed allegations that Golkar had hidden motives behind the convention.

"The convention will pave the way for all sectors of the community, especially those at the provincial level, to nominate their presidential candidates," he said on the sidelines of his visit to the Southeast Sulawesi capital of Kendari.

The convention would constitute a Golkar effort to apply the principles of democracy in the selection of presidential candidates, he said.

Akbar maintained that he was now concentrating on Golkar's preparations for the general election next year.

"My attention is now focused on my job as Golkar chairman. I have yet to think about other matters because of the daunting challenges we will be facing in next year's election," he said.