Indonesia Elections 2014: Choice of running mate crucial to presidential victory

Indonesia Elections 2014: Choice of running mate crucial to presidential victory

JAKARTA - A military man, a Muslim leader or a macroeconomic guru? Political match-making is looming as the next big challenge for Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri's party even as it celebrated its comeback yesterday.

Pressure has been building up in recent weeks for her Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) to decide on a running mate for its presidential candidate, Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi.

Although the nomination deadline is May 16 and the presidential election is not due till July 9, the PDI-P has already had a few suitors knocking on its doors.

Now that the parliamentary elections are over, Ms Megawati will have to consider not only the qualities of the individual suitors but also the other parties' relative strengths in her calculations for the PDI-P presidential ticket.

Given the better-than-expected performance of the leading Islamic party, the PKB (National Awakening Party), and the 31 per cent of votes that went to the five Islamic parties overall, it could incline her to add a touch of Islamic green to her nationalist-secular party's ticket going into the presidential election.

What's more, she has to factor in as well that Mr Joko's chief rival in the presidential race, the Gerindra party's Mr Prabowo Subianto, will be looking to bolster his campaign with support from the Muslim ground as well.

Whichever way Ms Megawati tilts, the choice of running mate is a critical one, not least because voters have sent a strong signal that the wrong pick of a running mate will be a deal-breaker.

A recent survey by the respected Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) found that an unsuitable vice-president was No. 2 on a list of voters' top concerns, just behind corruption.

This is not surprising given recent history - President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, for instance, had a rocky relationship with his No. 2 Jusuf Kalla during his first term.

Indonesians also had to overcome great anxiety when Mr B.J. Habibie, whose forte was in technology, had to take over from then President Suharto, who was forced to resign in 1998.

Opinion polls and talk on the political grapevine suggest that the PDI-P essentially has to decide on one of three main options - someone close to the Muslim ground, a military figure or a technocrat, with the latter two seen as useful in addressing concerns about Mr Joko's relatively short stint in politics.

A former furniture businessman, he entered politics as mayor of Solo in 2005 before being elected as Jakarta governor in 2012. The PDI-P needs to look for someone who can help "make up for Jokowi's lack of experience in running a country", CSIS senior analyst Joseph Kristiadi told The Straits Times.

A name that surfaces regularly is that of Mr Kalla. He is seen as someone close to the Muslim ground, while also knowledgeable about business affairs.

"Jusuf Kalla is the perfect choice for vice-president," said Mr Natsir Mansyur, a deputy chairman of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

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