SUHARTO PARTY IN COMEBACK MODE AS ELECTIONS NEAR
ny Andreas Harsono
American Reporter Correspondent
JAKARTA -- Recent opinion polls showed that President Megawati Sukarnoputri's party, currently the largest in the Indonesia parliament, may lose some support in the general election next April. But as daughter of the country's founding president, she is still seen as the favorite in the presidential race three months later.
The Jakarta office of the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) revealed recently that the Golkar Party, a political machine created by the authoritarian president Suharto back in the 1970s, would get 9.6 percent of the vote, while Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle (PDIP) would come in second with 8.7 percent.
The national survey was based on interviews conducted face-to-face from June 1 to July 5, with 3,000 Indonesians, reflecting Indonesia's demographic composition. It also reflected the public's concerns over economic and security conditions, as well as a growing dissatisfaction with most national-level institutions and leaders.
President Megawati's approval rating also dropped by 42 basis points over the last two years. But she still topped the presidential seat with 13.7 percent. Her closest competitor is Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, currently her closest political advisor, who belongs to a small political party and got 11.2 percent.
Golkar has had a serious image problem since the fall of Suharto in May 1998. But it benefited from PDIP's poor governing performance under Megawati. Golkar also has its own problem; its chairman, Akbar Tandjung, was found guilty last year in a corruption case. Tandjung is still free pending his appeal and remains speaker of the Indonesian parliament.
The other three big parties, respectively the United Development Party (PPP), the Nation Awakening Party (PKB), and the National Mandate Party (PAN), are each predicted to secure the third, forth, and fifth position with 2.8 percent, 1.8 percent, and 1.1 percent.
The survey is a preliminary one; most voters still have not made their political decisions. But the 2003 survey will provide a baseline for tracking polls that IFES and other groups will conduct over the next year to gauge voter information needs and opinions with regard to the 2004 general and presidential elections.
IFES accurately predicted the results of the 1999 election, concluding then that PDIP would win the first position with 29 percent. PDIP got an even greater portion of the vote: 33 percent. IFES also accurately predicted that Golkar would win 23 percent, and in 1999 it did. IFES also correctly forecast the five leading parties in the 1999 election: PDIP, Golkar, PKB, PPP, and PAN.
Other surveys also revealed a weakened PDIP and stronger Golkar. But Megawati is still the most popular presidential candidate.
Amien Rais, the chairman of PAN and the speaker of the national assembly, explained in November why he believes that President Megawati should go. "If we want to see change in this country we have to change the present leadership into a better one, meaning more productive, more visionary, less corrupt or not corrupt at all," said Amien, who isd also a presidential hopeful.
Rais said he believed that next year's direct presidential elections, the first ever conducted in Indonesian history, would be a catalyst for change.
As speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly, which previously elected this country's presidents, Amien was instrumental in ousting Abdurrahman Wahid, a blind but beloved Muslim cleric, in July 2001. As Wahid's deputy and earlier presidential rival, Megawati took over the top job.
Her other potential challengers include Vice President Hamzah Haz of PPP and parliament speaker Tandjung. Hamzah is known for always playing the Islamic card, and lost popularity last year when he insisted that there were no terrorists in Indonesia and made public his acquaintance with radical Muslim prechers including Abu Bakar Baasyir, who was later found guilty in the deadly Oct. 12. 2002 Bali bombing, which devastated the nation's tourist industry and left 202 Australians, Americans and Indonesians dead.