Fri, 14 Mar 2003

PDI Perjuangan meeting fails to choose running mate for Megawati

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja and Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The national meeting of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) ended on a low note on Thursday as party executives left chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri to choose her own running mate for the 2004 presidential election.

Although the meeting failed to announce any names, it recommended the criteria for selecting vice presidential candidates, a practice which always preceded the presidential election during the past regime of former president Soeharto.

PDI Perjuangan requires that candidates for Megawati's running mate support the integrity and plurality of the country and be committed to the eradication of corruption, collusion and nepotism.

In her opening remarks on Monday, Megawati encouraged party members at the grassroots level to select her running mate.

Four names were mentioned during the national meeting as possible choices for the party's vice presidential candidate: Nahdlatul Ulama chairman Hasyim Muzadi, incumbent Vice President Hamzah Haz, Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Coordinating Minister for Peoples' Welfare Jusuf Kalla, who is also a Golkar executive.

PDI Perjuangan's failure to settle on a running mate for its presidential candidate, Megawati, further indicated the party's unreadiness to contest the first ever direct presidential election. Party executives are expecting the vice presidential candidate, who is almost certain to come from outside the party, to boost Megawati's chances at winning the presidency.

To make matters worse, the party's secretary-general, Soetjipto, said it was too early to disclose which party PDI Perjuangan would coalesce with to win the presidential election.

"We will decide the coalition when the time is right as we need to find a suitable partner for Megawati in order to win the election," Soetjipto said during a news conference after the closing ceremony.

Many doubt that the largest party could notch up a second straight win in the general election, due to its fragmentation and Megawati's withering popularity. PDI Perjuangan won almost 35 percent of the vote in the 1999 election.

The decision to provide impunity for corruptors in the Indonesian bank liquidity assistance cases, the reelection of Sutiyoso as Jakarta's Governor and efforts to prevent political moves against Akbar Tandjung, the Golkar party chairman who was sentenced to three years in jail for graft, have sparked widespread public distrust in Megawati.

Disappointment with Megawati has also led PDI Perjuangan members to challenge her policies or quit the party and form their own.

Political observers, meanwhile, said that overtures being made by political parties to ex-military leaders to become running mates in the presidential and vice presidential elections could hamper the development of democracy and civil supremacy in this country.

Bambang Widjojanto from the Center of Electoral Reform (Cetro) and Ifdal Kasim from the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) noted that the move by political parties to nominate retired generals indicated that civilian politicians were considered inferior to run the country.

Among the ex-military leaders mentioned by some political parties are Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Minister of Transportation Agum Gumelar, State Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief A.M. Hendropriyono and former Indonesian Military commander Wiranto.

"If this trend continues, it will stunt the political maturity of civilian leaders," Bambang told The Jakarta Post here on Thursday.

Ifdal emphasized that Susilo, Agum, Hendropriyono and Wiranto grew up with military tradition. "Their mind-set is one of authoritarianism and it is difficult to change that," Ifdal said.

Golkar leader Akbar Tandjung has also mentioned Susilo, Wiranto and Agum Gumelar as potential nominees.

Political analyst Rizal Malarangeng said it would be hard for political parties to nominate their own members to contest the presidential election.

Coalitions will be needed, Rizal said, because only a coalition government could help create a stronger executive branch.