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2 May 2009

Indonesia Politics: New coalition to take on leading party

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Indonesia's Golkar party switched sides Friday to form a broad coalition with opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri in a bid to oust the sitting president in July polls, reported AFP.

Former military chief Wiranto and former special forces commander Prabowo Subianto also announced their participation in the new grouping after a meeting of party heads in central Jakarta.

The parties fared poorly in general elections last month and are hoping that by joining forces, even in an unlikely alliance of erstwhile foes and tainted generals, they will be able to unseat Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and seize power for themselves.

But even as they shook hands and smiled for the cameras the party chiefs were unable to describe a single joint policy and appeared no closer to agreeing on the all-important issue of who they back for president.

"We'll announce when the time comes about a joint agreement for the presidential polls, presidential candidate and vice presidential candidate," said ex-president Megawati of the Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP).

Megawati is seen as the strongest rival to liberal ex-general and Democratic Party chief Yudhoyono, who is seeking a second term in the world's third largest democracy.

But her party won only around 14 percent of the vote in the April 9 general elections, compared with more than 20 percent for the Democrats, and she is well behind Yudhoyono as preferred president in the opinion polls.

Golkar, the ruling party under the Suharto leadership, was the main party in Yudhoyono's outgoing coalition but has split over whether to remain with the popular incumbent or try to seek the presidency for itself.

Golkar chairman Yusuf Kalla was Yudhoyono's vice presidential running mate in the 2004 elections, when they easily defeated Megawati on a platform of economic growth and clean government.

But the pair had an uneasy relationship and Yudhoyono was believed to be manoeuvring to have Kalla replaced with another Golkar leader on his election ticket for 2009.

Kalla also dodged the question of who the new coalition would put forward to challenge Yudhoyono in the presidential elections.

"There are two steps in a coalition. The first is to unite on basic policies, then there is the discussion about president and vice president," he said.

Prabowo, a notorious former special forces commander who also covets the presidency, read the coalition's joint statement to the media.

It contained no policy ideas, only a commitment to "keep and maintain Indonesia's unity" and "build a strong and democratic government."



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