Muslim body to back Suharto’s daughter for V-P next year

THE leader of Indonesia’s largest Muslim body said his 34 million-strong Nadhlatul Ulama (NU) would back President Suharto’s eldest daughter to be Vice-President next year.

NU chairman Abdurrahman Wahid said Mrs Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, popularly known as Mbak Tutut, “was on par or better than other vice-presidential candidates” and had a “50-50 chance” of making it to the No. 2 post next year.

“Her political credentials and stature have risen during this election campaign. She is fast becoming the country’s rising star,” he told The Straits Times in an interview yesterday.

He said the Golkar deputy chairman had impressed many Indonesians with her “charm, budding charisma and ability to reach out to the masses on issues that mattered most to them”.

“The power to communicate is critical in politics. The President’s daughter ranks very high on this score,” he said. “People don’t see her the way they did before. She has gained a certain degree of acceptance from the masses.”

He noted that more importantly, perhaps, was the backing she got from many ulamas or Islamic scholars. She had worked very hard to build up a strong rapport with them, she added.

Mr Wahid said the NU would back her against other contenders such as Research and Technology Minister B. J. Habibie, Information Minister Harmoko and the incumbent Tri Sutrisno.

His observations came after she emerged as a potential Golkar nominee for the No. 2 post last month as speculation built up on the line-up for the presidential election next March.

He noted that her appointment to the post would win points for Indonesia in the long-run as the broader message of civilian leadership and gender equality in Indonesia would diffuse criticism from human-rights circles.

Mr Wahid, who made joint public appearances with Mrs Rukmana in Central and East Java recently, said NU was forging an alliance with her for its own “survival” but denied it was helping her to campaign for Golkar.

His critics said he had brought NU, which does not take sides with any political party, on to the political stage. NU members had also stayed away from the gatherings, which they said were “full of political overtones” in favour of Golkar.

Mr Wahid acknowledged that some NU youths resisted the idea initially but had now come to see his links with Mrs Rukmana as a “tactical alliance of benefit to both sides”.

“For us, it is really a question of survival. Aligning with her gives us a shield against our enemies.”

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