Yudhoyono staying 'neutral' in race

The red-white-and-blue logo of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democratic Party made a surprise appearance on stage with presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto at a rally in Medan.

Some people in the crowd also waved Democrat flags and cheered as Mr Prabowo, the patron of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), thanked friends from the Democrats for backing him at the rally on Wednesday.

As the month-long presidential campaign enters its second week, Democrat leaders from across the country are signalling their support for Mr Prabowo and his running mate Mr Hatta Rajasa, although the party has not formally endorsed the pair and questions remain over whether it will do so.

While the Democrats came in fourth position with 10 per cent of the vote at the April general election, the party's endorsement of a ticket could prove critical to undecided voters, especially as the Prabowo-Hatta ticket is closing the gap with front runner Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, of the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), and his running mate Jusuf Kalla.

"All Democrat cadres have been instructed to explain to supporters that the programmes of a Prabowo-Hatta administration are in line with those of the Democratic Party," Democratic Party deputy secretary-general Ramadhan Pohan told The Straits Times.

"We want a president who is independent, has authority and who can represent Indonesia well at home and on the international stage," he added.

Dr Yudhoyono, who is chairman of the Democratic Party and Mr Prabowo's senior at the military academy, has said he will remain neutral and not back either of the two tickets in the July 9 election.

But executive chairman Syarief Hasan said being neutral does not mean abstaining from voting, and party leaders will study the platforms of both sides and are free to back either side.

As a result, many have openly declared their support for the Prabowo-Hatta ticket, including Dr Yudhoyono's brother-in-law, former army chief Pramono Edhie Wibowo.

Dr Yudhoyono's son and party secretary-general Edhie Baskoro is also married to Mr Hatta's daughter.

But senior Democrats like former general Suaidi Marasabessy and Democrat convention winner Dahlan Iskan have declared their backing for Mr Joko and Mr Kalla. Mr Suaidi said he had greater confidence in the competency, capacity and integrity of Mr Joko to lead the country.

However, bad blood between PDI-P chairman Megawati Sukarnoputri and Dr Yudhoyono - Ms Megawati has reportedly not forgiven him for challenging her for the presidency in 2004 - has made it awkward for the President and his party to reach out to Mr Joko.

By contrast, Mr Prabowo's team has been more aggressive in courting the Democrats, and openly expressing admiration for the achievements of the Yudhoyono administration.

Earlier this month, Mr Prabowo and Mr Hatta both presented their manifesto and plans for the country at a gathering of Democrat leaders nationwide.

"A Prabowo-Hatta administration will continue the work of the SBY administration," Mr Prabowo said.

On the other hand, the Jokowi-Kalla ticket has been more critical of the outgoing government.

Dr Dimas Oky Nugroho, executive director of Akar Rumput Strategic Consulting, told The Straits Times he believes the President will remain neutral throughout because while Dr Yudhoyono has greater "political comfort" with the Prabowo-Hatta ticket, he is also concerned about his legacy.

Mr Prabowo was discharged from service in 1998 for insubordination and abducting activists, and a military document leaked this week outlined his violations. It was signed by a panel of seven senior officers, including Dr Yudhoyono.

Dr Dimas said: "Given questions over Mr Prabowo's human rights record, backing him now could be problematic for SBY's image as a reformist."

This article was first published on June 13, 2014.
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