Sun, 10 Oct 1999

Megawati receives more support

JAKARTA (JP): Justice and Unity Party chairman Edi Sudrajat threw the weight of his party behind the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) presidential candidate Megawati Soekarnoputri on Saturday.

"We need a new leader and new government which is totally cut from the New Order and I think Megawati is the person," said Edi, a former defense and security minister, after a two-hour closed- door meeting with Megawati.

Megawati deserves the presidential chair as her party was the single largest winner of votes (more than 30 percent) in the June 7 election, he said.

"PDI Perjuangan's win of plurality in the polls shows that the majority of people chose her to be their new leader," added Edi, one of Habibie's strongest critics.

Edi's party is one of four political parties which make up the Indonesian Nationhood faction at the MPR with 16 seats. The other three party members are the Indonesian Democratic Party, the IPKI Party and the Justice and Unity party.

However, the faction's chairman Sutradara Ginting said that Edi's meeting with Megawati was "merely friendly talks to discuss various issues related to the MPR General Session.

"We didn't particularly discuss the presidential race but ... we might arrange official support for a certain candidate," added Ginting, who also attended the meeting.

Megawati denied the notion that the meeting was designed to clinch a back-door deal between her party and the faction.

"We only discussed the recent political developments in the country," Megawati said.

Megawati is expected to compete with incumbent President B.J. Habibie, who was nominated by the Golkar party, and leader of the 35-million-strong Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama Abdurrahman Wahid, who was nominated by the Reform faction, an alliance of the National Mandate Party and the Justice Party.

Edi welcomed the nomination of Gus Dur, as Wahid is known, saying it was better to have more than one candidate.

He added that he would strive to prevent Habibie from leading the nation for a second time.

Separately, political analyst Cornelis Lay of the Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, said on Saturday that Megawati might be in a big trouble if Gus Dur did enter the presidential battle.

"However, if Gus Dur resigns from the race, no other candidate would be able to defeat Megawati," Lay said.

He cautioned, however, that the situation is too fluid to allow for a reliable prediction of who would really fight in the presidential battle.

Gus Dur told reporters on Friday night that he had yet to get a green light from his senior Muslim scholars in East Java, and they would make their decision only on the eve of the presidential race.

Fear of clashes

Meanwhile, chairman of the University of Indonesia Alumni Association Azrul Azwar, urged the three presidential candidates to make public speeches to calm their respective supporters.

"We made this appeal after detecting the mobilization of masses around the MPR building," Azwar said after a meeting with MPR chairman Amien Rais on Saturday.

Azwar warned that if the political leaders could not cool down the emotions of their respective supporters, violent clashes could erupt after the presidential race.

Amien shared the association's concern and promised to have the presidential candidates and the MPR leaders issue joint statements to calm their respective supporters.

The MPR chairman also agreed that the decisions which would be taken at the coming MPR General Session, which starts on Thursday, should be effective in preventing national disintegration.

"Our nation is now on the brink of national disintegration and this potential disaster can be prevented only if the political elite is willing to sit down with a cool head to resolve all problems that threaten national unity," added Amien, who is also chairman of the National Mandate Party.

In Ujungpandang, South Sulawesi, communication expert at Hasanuddin University, Prof. A Muis, said on Saturday that of the three presidential candidates, Gus Dur was the most skillful in using the media.

"Gus Dur outdid Megawati and Habibie in building up positive public opinion through the mass media to enhance his political posture," Muis told The Jakarta Post.

According to Muis, if Habibie and Megawati did not change their political communications strategy, Gus Dur could emerge as the most favorite candidate in the eyes of international and local communities.

Megawati's silence is a big problem, he said. "If she does not clearly convey her ideas to the public, people may doubt her ability."

Habibie, according to Muis, is democratic enough, but his skill to manage issues is far below Gus Dur.

Gus Dur has always been the focus of media attention because of his prowess to throw up controversial issues, said Muis. "The media like it very much. And, from the public opinion point of view, his maneuvering benefits him. (emf/44/27)