I won’t be Indonesia’s next president: Jusuf Kalla

INDONESIA’S Vice-President Jusuf Kalla says he will not be the country’s next president, citing his ethnic background as the main hurdle.

He told The Straits Times in an exclusive interview yesterday: “It took the United States 200 years to accept an Irish Catholic like John F. Kennedy to become president.

“How can someone like me from outside Java be president? I have to be realistic that it will not be easy for me to win in a direct presidential election.”

Mr Jusuf, who is here on a six-day working visit, is from South Sulawesi.

In the 2004 election campaign, this made him attractive to Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s camp, which saw his Bugis lineage as the “perfect complement” to the retired general’s Javanese background.

Mr Jusuf said that similar calculations would figure when Indonesians go the polls again in 2009.

“We will need this combination between someone from Java and someone outside,” he said. “If need be, I will partner SBY again.”

Mr Jusuf’s comments put paid to speculation about his political ambitions. The Merdeka palace inner circle reportedly thinks that the 64-year-old business tycoon, who was one of Dr Yudhoyono’s main financial backers in 2004, is quietly building a power base to challenge the incumbent in the next poll.

His leadership of Golkar, the country’s largest political party, gives him a parliamentary advantage which the current president, whose Democratic Party garnered less than 10 per cent of the votes in the general election, cannot match.

More than any other party, Golkar’s reach extends all across the sprawling archipelago and it is now flush with funds.

“Golkar will win convincingly in the 2009 general election,” Mr Jusuf declared during the hour-long interview. “We are the only party that is united in Indonesia today. We expect to get at least 30 per cent of the votes.”

Will such an electoral victory prod him into making a bid for the top job?

Mr Jusuf explained that the results of the last presidential poll showed that voting cut across party lines and ideological divides.

“In an election where people vote directly for the president, being the chairman of the biggest party is no guarantee that you will win,” he said. However, political observers here and in Jakarta see Mr Jusuf playing a critical role in 2009, most likely as kingmaker.

In 2004, the agreement was that Dr Yudhoyono would handle broad political and national security issues while his deputy would manage the economy.

This has given Mr Jusuf the chance to stamp his authority on major decisions. Beyond that, he has had a high-profile role as peacemaker between Christians and Muslims in Sulawesi, and also mediated the historic peace deal in Aceh.

Asked what he considered to be his most significant accomplishment, Mr Jusuf was quick to point to Aceh.

“I got the rebels and government to sit down and negotiate a deal,” he said.

“I worked very hard on that deal for months. It is a something that I can be very proud of.”

A truce between Jakarta and the separatist Free Aceh Movement has been in place since August last year after nearly three decades of fighting.

Mr Jusuf’s visit to Washington is aimed at improving Indonesia’s economic ties with the US and to attract foreign investments.

“It took the United States 200 years to accept an Irish Catholic like John F. Kennedy to become president. How can someone like me from outside Java be president?”

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