PDI-P rift grows over candidate for president

A group supporting Jakarta governor Joko Widodo (right) wants Ms Megawati (left) to name him as the party's candidate sooner than after the April 9 general election, but there is still a chance she may throw her hat into the ring.

TENSIONS within Indonesia's largest opposition party are starting to surface in the run-up to the July presidential election.

The Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri has maintained that its candidate to lead the nation will not be announced until after parliamentary polls on April 9, but a group of party cadres is openly lobbying her to name Jakarta governor Joko Widodo as the party's candidate sooner.

The group calls itself PDI-P Pro-Jokowi (Pro-Jo), using the name by which he is popularly known.

Mr Budi Arie Setiadi, one of its founders and a senior party cadre, said the group represents the silent majority in the party that wants Mr Joko, 52, the country's most popular leader going by opinion polls, to declare his candidacy so the party can ride the momentum to a more decisive win.

If he does not, Mr Budi added, the party will lose considerable support from swing voters in April's general election.

But his group's efforts have been criticised by party leaders close to Ms Megawati, who still hope that she will throw her own hat into the ring.

The internal rift is the strongest to emerge within the party leadership in recent years. Ms Megawati traditionally exerted tight control over key decisions, and enjoyed staunch loyalty across party ranks.

Such control now appears threatened by the efforts of groups like Pro-Jo.

"Their appeal reflects aspirations of the general public as well as PDI-P cadres," political analyst Yunarto Wijaya said of Pro-Jo's efforts, citing recent surveys that show strong support for Mr Joko.

"But it is communicated in a bad way. They weaken themselves if they bring this issue to the surface."

Party members say not all who support Pro-Jo openly identify with it. But the group's efforts to go public have only seen party leaders harden their positions, according to recent interviews with senior party figures.

Mr Hasto Kristianto, one of Ms Megawati's most trusted cadres and the party deputy secretary-general, declined to comment on the calls by Pro-Jo, but said that having Mr Joko as the presidential candidate is one of the two most likely scenarios. The other outcome is a Megawati- Jokowi ticket.

"Jokowi can do the day-to-day running of the government as vice-president, while Megawati as president - with her solid political support from PDI-P grassroots - can fend off any political attack directed at Jokowi," Mr Hasto said in a recent interview.

A Mega-Jokowi ticket, he added, could see the PDI-P in charge for 15 years, with Mr Joko taking over as president in the next election in 2019 and possibly winning the maximum two terms.

Ms Megawati, 67, a daughter of founding president Sukarno, was vice-president from 1999 and took over as president in 2001 when her predecessor Gus Dur was impeached.

She contested the 2004 and 2009 presidential elections, but lost both times to current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who cannot stand again by law.

Declining support for Dr Yudhoyono's Democratic Party has also seen pollsters predicting that the PDI-P will surface with the most seats in the 560-seat Parliament at the April 9 election.

The party now has 94 seats, third behind the Democrats and Golkar.

Mr Hasto said a recent internal survey found a Mega-Jokowi combination could still get 33.4 per cent support, followed by Gerindra presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto with 19.3 per cent.

PDI-P MP Budiman Sudjatmiko said that the chances of Ms Megawati running remain strong, and will get bigger if the party gets a convincing result in the April polls.

But the pro-Jokowi faction says this scenario would not only run counter to people's wishes, but would also amount to a political disaster for the party - even though it may serve the interests of the party elite.

Mr Bachtiar Aly, a political communications analyst at the University of Indonesia, said letting Mr Joko run would mean an end to the Sukarno family being in top position in the party.

"If Jokowi runs, his running mate would have to be Megawati's daughter or son," he added. "Ms Megawati is still calculating this."

PDI-P leaders themselves say they are not sure whether Ms Megawati will run or not.

Mr Maruarar Sirait, a close aide and central board member, said in an interview with The Straits Times: "She was president, and the daughter of a president. She is fully aware it is not easy to carry out the president's tasks."

As political science professor Ikrar Nusa Bhakti noted in a recent Kompas article, Ms Megawati has, on several occasions, invited Mr Joko along to meet people across the country, not just as part of his political education, but also to assess whether he is ready to lead the nation.

Mr Yunarto is convinced that Ms Megawati will lean in favour of Mr Joko. "She wouldn't make a decision with a long-term impact on the party and nation based only on her inner circle's advice," he said.

Doing otherwise, observers added, might also see these tensions in the party get worse.

Will Megawati pick Jokowi?

NO 'MAGIC BULLET' FIGURE

"There is no one who is a magic bullet figure in PDI-P. Our strength is a collective one. The 'blusukan' style would not work if you lead a nation."

- Deputy secretary-general Hasto Kristianto. He is referring to Mr Joko's regular impromptu walkabouts to corners of Jakarta to meet residents from all walks of life.

LACKS FOREIGN POLICY EXPERIENCE

"Being president of Indonesia requires a person who is able to meet anyone from academics, entrepreneurs, activists, to world leaders, not just meeting the grassroots. Jokowi is lacking in foreign affairs and defence (experience). With Indonesia's increasingly bigger role in global diplomacy, a mastery of these two areas is a must."

- Mr Maruarar Sirait, a party central board member and also chairman of PDI-P youth wing Banteng Muda Indonesia

CHANCES HINGE ON PARLIAMENTARY POLLS

"Jokowi's chances of running for president are less than 50 per cent if PDI-P fares well in the April legislative election.

His chances are higher than 50 per cent if otherwise happens."

- Mr Budiman Sudjatmiko, who is a prominent

PDI-P MP POPULAR WITH THE PEOPLE

"Judging from the level of popularity that Jokowi has, there is no reason to not field Jokowi as PDI-P presidential candidate."

- Mr Wisnu Sakti Buana, head of PDI-P's Surabaya, East Java chapter

'WISE DECISION'

"I'm sure Megawati will make a wise and correct decision. PDI-P will field Jokowi as its presidential candidate."

- Political analyst Boni Hargens

wahyudis@sph.com.sg


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