JAKARTA - As the smaller Indonesian political parties pick their sides for the presidential election, a main question many are now asking is whether the Golkar Party of tycoon Aburizal Bakrie and the Democratic Party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will enter the race together.
If they do not, then July 9 is likely to be a straight race between Mr Joko Widodo of the Indonesia Democratic Party - Struggle (PDI-P) and Mr Prabowo Subianto of Gerindra.
Senior party leaders say the probability of a Golkar-Democrat tie-up cannot be ruled out.
Golkar won 14.75 per cent of the vote in the general election, and the Democrats won 10.19 per cent.
Yesterday, senior Golkar leader Hajriyanto Thohari disclosed that some two weeks before the general election on April 9, President Yudhoyono had invited Mr Bakrie to form a coalition.
But Mr Bakrie did not give it much thought then, Mr Hajriyanto told a panel discussion, as one of the conditions was that Mr Bakrie should not contest.
The new party alignments, however, appear to put pressure on both parties to work together on a centrist coalition that might see Mr Bakrie abandon his presidential bid.
The favourite to become a presidential candidate could then be either state-owned enterprise minister Dahlan Iskan or university rector Anies Baswedan.
The latter is a fresh face who is not a party member but a young alternative figure many feel can appeal to middle ground voters. But neither side is expected to make a decision till later this week.
That is when the Democratic Party's council will announce the result of its convention to select a presidential candidate, from the 11 who took part.
Convention committee member Rully Charis told The Straits Times: "By May 15, the party's high council will decide who wins the convention, before they decide on forming a coalition or not."
But Golkar deputy secretary- general Lalu Mara told The Straits Times that any decision would have to wait until Mr Bakrie speaks on the matter.
That is likely to be at the party's national leadership meeting this weekend, days before the May 20 deadline to file presidential nominations with the election commission.
If a Democrat-Golkar coalition does not pan out, observers say, the Democrats may back Mr Prabowo as the most feasible option for them.
This article was published on May 13 in The Straits Times.
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