Amien : I’ve 50% chance to be elected President

Indonesia’s People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) Speaker Dr Amien Rais said yesterday that he stood a 50-per-cent chance of becoming the country’s next leader if direct presidential elections were held in 2004.

In the first public disclosure of his presidential ambitions, he said that he saw his National Mandate Party (PAN) getting 20 per cent of the votes – more than double the figure it got last year – in a general election that would give him the “legitimacy” to make a presidential bid.

“There will be a significant increase in PAN votes just as there will be a significant decrease in PDI-P votes,” he said in an interview with The Straits Times.

He said that if he did become the next President, his ideal running mate would be incumbent Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who heads the Indonesian Democratic Party – Perjuangan (PDI-P).

He noted: “It will be a beautiful combination. If the future leadership of this country is supported by two critical pillars – the Muslims and the nationalists – then it will be a strong leadership.”

Dr Amien said that he had always wanted to partner Ms Megawati but, given the powerful showing of her party in the June election last year and PAN’s dismal performance, any alliance between the two leaders was “out of the question”.

Stressing his credentials to take office four years from now, he said that he expected broad support from the MPR factions with the exception of the Nation Awakening Party (PKB), the political vehicle of President Abdurrahman Wahid.

He said one reason why he was not gunning for the top post now was because the “current configuration in the MPR and Parliament is not in my favour”.

There was also nothing in the Constitution that would allow him to make the bid.

But he would go for the jugular when Mr Abdurrahman’s term ends.

If a direct election was held, he expected to get the bulk of his support from the political heartland of Java. “I am Javanese and I know I can win the hearts and minds of the poor people.”

Given his leadership of the 20-million-strong Muhammadiyah organisation, he said that he had over the years accumulated a wealth of administrative experience.

“I can argue that I am a better administrator than Gus Dur or Megawati,” he said. “They are charismatic leaders and not problem-solvers.”

Dr Amien believed that one factor that could damage his chances was perception in certain political and business circles of him as being xenophobic, a Muslim fundamentalist and anti-Chinese.

“I am very much a misunderstood politician,” he maintained. “It is not fair to say that I hate the Chinese because I was one of the first politicians to sympathise with their plight during the May riots. My election campaign manager was also an ethnic Chinese.”

He was also quick to point out that he did not support a confrontation with the Christians, brushing aside suggestions that he was behind the recent demonstrations for a holy war in the riot-prone Maluku Islands.

He did admit with some candour to having a few “minor defects” as a politician that could jeopardise his chances. For one, he did not like to go to wedding ceremonies which, in Indonesia, were invaluable for political networking.

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