What if Megawati wins …

There will be few changes, but Akbar will play a much bigger role

Expect more continuity rather than change if President Megawati Sukarnoputri returns to power today.

Her style of leadership and the personalities in government will carry over from her present administration, although there could be some minor changes made to satisfy Indonesian voters.

But there may be one wild card in the pack: Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung.

If she wins the election, she will have him to thank for helping return her to power.

Mr Akbar, as head of a newly established presidential advisory body who has some 10 party members in Cabinet, will have a major say in policymaking.

In parliament, he will also exert as big an influence in his role as leader of Indonesia’s largest party.

The savvy 59-year-old politician will use these positions to exercise leverage on the palace and build his support base and war chest for the 2009 presidential poll.

Ms Megawati will have in parliament a national coalition that includes Golkar, her Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P), the Muslim-based United Development Party and the small Peace and Prosperous Party.

Together, they hold 307 seats in the legislature, or more than 50 per cent of the total number of seats.

While the President may come under occasional attack from legislators on certain issues, the grand alliance is likely to hold her aloft for another five years.

Political observer Arbi Sanit of the University of Indonesia noted: ‘It is very much like the status quo. There will be, from time to time, criticism of policies.

‘But generally, there will be support for her administration. It is realpolitik.’

There is a vested interest in backing her because each member of the national coalition is represented in government. Why slap the hand that is feeding it?

Indeed, like the current government, the new administration will also be a rainbow alliance.

Golkar is likely to get the largest share of seats in the Cabinet. It has been promised 10 portfolios, including trade, industry, transport and foreign affairs. Several members of Ms Megawati’s inner circle will also be rewarded with appointments.

Mr Laksamana Sukardi and Ms Rini Soewandi will both be in government despite initial opposition from rivals.

The President, like rival Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is also turning to professionals to bolster the credibility of her administration, especially its economics team.

She has approached the same candidates as Mr Bambang: Dr Sri Mulyani from the University of Indonesia and economist Mari Pangestu.

Together with her old-time economic advisers such as Mr Frans Seda and Professor Mohd Sadli, analysts believe the economic orthodoxy and macroeconomic stability will prevail.

They also believe that no matter who wins, the economy will gather momentum after today’s election as investments are expected to pick up following an end to political uncertainties.

With one more term in office, Ms Megawati wants to leave behind a sound economy as her legacy for Indonesia, according to her advisers.

The aim, as before, will be to draw in investments. There is also talk of initiatives to develop small- and medium-sized enterprises.

But the broad focus will be on implementing policies in line with the International Monetary Fund’s advice. This may entail cutting fuel subsidies and other benefits, a move that is likely to generate political resentment.

But as a senior PDI-P cadre explained: ‘She did a good job these past three years rebuilding the economy, but more work needs to be done.

‘Some of the policies implemented will be painful for the people. The challenge for us is to make sure the people understand it is being done to help them.’

Ms Megawati has faced criticism for being aloof and elusive. But in recent months, in the run-up to the election, she has shown a different side to her personality.

She is an adept grassroots politician. But there is every possibility that she may retreat to her palace cocoon if she wins the election.

Dr Amir Santoso of the University of Indonesia explained: ‘She learnt some lobbying and communication skills during the campaign.

‘But once in power again, she may well go back to her normal self to enjoy the comfortable life she is used to. A leopard never changes its spots.’

Besides restoring economic stability in Indonesia, her presidency will be tested by two other key issues: fighting corruption and terrorism.

Graft permeates all aspects of life in Indonesia, from the self-appointed parking attendant who demands 10 cents for his unneeded service up to multi-million dollar scams at state-owned firms.

Ms Megawati’s track record on fighting corruption has been poor so far.

A close PDI-P aide conceded: ‘There have been a few sacrificial lambs so far, but the big fishes are still out there.

‘It is difficult to do anything against the black conglomerates because they have made inroads into the bureaucracy, and that will protect them from any investigation.’

Ms Megawati appears to have made a strong statement by picking respected police general I Made Mangku Pastika as one of her candidates for attorney-general. The other is law professor Achmad Ali.

But observers argued that corruption has become so ingrained during her rule that whoever she appoints will face an uphill battle fighting the system.

The fight against terrorism faces similar difficulties. With three major attacks under her watch over the past two years, she will want to pour more resources into fighting extremism in Indonesia.

Under her orders, an anti-terror task force comprising the state intelligence agency, the military and the police has already been set up.

But similar coordinating bodies have been set up before – only to be thwarted by intense rivalry among the respective agencies.

Some things, it seems, are unlikely to change.

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