Thu, 17 Jul 2003

Gubernatorial candidates vie in tightly contested election

Ainur R. Sophiaan, The Jakarta Post, Surabaya

Two pairs of rival candidates are struggling to grab the votes of the military/police faction that could tip the balance in the East Java gubernatorial election to be held here on Thursday.

The 10 votes from the Indonesian Military (TNI)/National Police faction in the 100-member provincial legislative council will determine the winner.

However, rumors circulated in the East Java capital of Surabaya that the TNI/Police faction will lend full support to incumbent governor Imam Utomo.

Utomo, paired with his secretary Soenarjo, has been nominated by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan). He has reportedly garnered at least 46 votes -- 31 from PDI Perjuangan councillors and 15 from the coalition faction.

Rival pair of former deputy Jakarta governor Abdul Kahfi and Ridwan Hisyam is reportedly supported by at least 44 councillors -- 33 from the National Awakening Party (PKB) and 11 from Golkar Party.

Sources told The Jakarta Post that Imam is poised to win the election as a secret meeting of military and police councillors with their superiors on Tuesday night decided to vote for the incumbent governor.

The meeting at a hotel in Surabaya was attended by East Java's Brawijaya Military Commander Maj. Gen. A.D. Sikki, East Java Police chief Insp. Gen. Heru Susanto and other high-ranking officers.

"From the beginning, the TNI/Police faction has been committed to supporting the candidate firmly connected to the people in East Java, who understands their conditions and is able to maintain stability," a source said.

The source was clearly referring to Utomo.

However, supporters of Kahfi dismissed the rumors, saying they believe the 10 military and police councillors will be split in the gubernatorial election.

They argued that the votes from the TNI/Police faction will likely be shared to the two pairs of rival candidates in order to ensure stability and balance.

"I am sure they will maintain the balance," said Wibisono, a member of Kahfi's Success Team.

Since Monday, most of the 100 members of the council have been "isolated" in separate hotels, making it difficult to contact them for comments ahead of the election.

The legislators believed to support Utomo have been staying at JW Marriot Hotel, and those supporting the Kahfi faction at Sommerset Hotel.

Days ahead of the race, former president Abdurrahman Wahid of PKB, House of Representative Speaker and Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung, senior leader of the National Mandate Party Fuad Bawazier and other top national politicians held a meeting in Surabaya to discuss the election.

It was apparently a vote-buying forum aimed at ensuring the success of their candidates.

Meanwhile, the East Java Police chief said he had deployed more personnel to provide security during Thursday's election.

He praised the East Java people for helping maintain stability ahead of the race. "I hope this process will continue until the electoral stages are completed."