Sat, 05 Jul 2003

Golkar presidential candidates begin campaign

Andi Hajramurni, The Jakarta Post, Makassar

The presidential race kicked off within the country's second biggest party, Golkar, on Friday, with five would-be candidates presenting their visions and missions on the first day of a three-day meeting of Golkar-affiliated mass organizations in Makassar, South Sulawesi.

The meeting, attended by representatives of the party's regional offices, is being held to introduce presidential hopefuls to the party, which served as the political vehicle for former dictator Soeharto over more than three decades.

Indonesia will hold its first ever direct presidential election between June and August 2004, preceded by legislative elections scheduled for April 5.

Two of the would-be candidates -- Jusuf Kalla and Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, are longtime Golkar figures.

The three others are noted Muslim scholar Nurcholish Madjid, former commander of the Army Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad), Lt. Gen. (ret) Prabowo Subianto, and Gen. (ret) Agum Gumelar, the incumbent transportation minister.

Jusuf Kalla, who is also the current coordinating minister for people's welfare, told the meeting that he was ready to run for the presidency in 2004.

He also said that he was optimistic he could meet Golkar's requirements.

Although he did not mention the number of local branches that backed his bid, Kalla believed he could gain enough support.

He also said that he did not consider Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung as a rival.

"If Pak Akbar is acquitted of all charges, he must be prioritized (as the party's candidate) due to his position as party chairman," said Kalla, adding that Golkar would not propose a single candidate for the upcoming election.

Nurcholish, meanwhile, said he would stay consistent to his commitment to using Golkar as a political vehicle leading to the presidency in 2004 despite requests from other parties to be their presidential candidate.

"I have chosen to be nominated by Golkar so the other parties can no longer nominate me. They could support me, however," he told reporters.

Nucholish, widely tipped as a strong rival to Akbar, said he had yet to appoint a vice presidential running mate. He explained that this would have to be someone who was willing to fight for democracy.

Nurcholish is known as a staunch supporter of democracy and for his reform credentials, and has no direct connection with the New Order regime.

Agum, meanwhile, said he would concentrate on law enforcement and nation-building if elected president. He also called on the people to eliminate corruption, collusion, nepotism, arrogance and dishonesty.

The sultan, on the other hand, said that Golkar must choose a figure who was committed to Golkar and the well-being of the people.

"We must choose a figure who is committed to Golkar. Don't (choose figures) who want to see Golkar disbanded," said the sultan, apparently referring to Nurcholish who once called for the party's dissolution.

Prabowo, on the other hand, said that he had not set himself any special targets.

"It is enough if I can take my place among the big five (Golkar presidential candidates)," said Prabowo, a son-in law of Soeharto.

He said he had attended the gathering as he wanted to learn and meet the people in a bid to ascertain their aspirations.

Prabowo also said that the Soeharto family had nothing to do with his nomination.

"I have no obligation nor responsibility to restore the image of the Cendana family," said Prabowo, referring to his in-laws.