Mon, Dec 20, 2004 - Page 5 News List

President's deputy elected party leader

INDONESIA President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono got a political boost as his right-hand man was elected leader of the Golkar Party -- the largest party in parliament


Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono received a boost yesterday, when his deputy won the leadership of the country's largest political party -- a victory that should give the former general crucial support in the country's hostile parliament.

Jusuf Kalla's election as the chairman of the Golkar Party means Yudhoyono will likely find it easier to push through laws to fix the problems facing the world's most populous Muslim nation, among them rampant corruption and rising militancy.

Golkar -- the former political vehicle of ex-dictator Suharto -- would almost certainly have remained in opposition if its former head, Akbar Tandjung, had won yesterday's vote.

Kalla beat Tandjung by 323 votes to 156 in an all-night voting session by party members at a hotel on the country's resort island of Bali. "Long live JK! God is Great!," Kalla's supporters shouted as the results were announced just before dawn.

Most analysts expected the race to be tight. Delegates were apparently attracted to Kalla because he offered the party a route back into government. Golkar is also known for corruption, and vote buying was rampant at the conference, media reports said.

Kalla did not officially announce that Golkar would be joining Yudhoyono's informal coalition, but told delegates after the vote that "if the government is right, then of course we will support it."

Yudhoyono took office in October after winning the country's first-ever direct presidential elections. His own Democratic Party only has 10 percent of the parliament's 550 seats, however.

Golkar has a majority in parliament. In September, the party proved it could make life difficult for the president when it took control of all parliament's commissions and threatened to summon Yudhoyono over his choice of military chief.

"In the short term this is good news for Yudhoyono because Golkar is now under Kalla's control," said political analyst Indria Samiego. "The position of chairman is very powerful and he should make things smoother with the parliament."

The victory means that Kalla, a wealthy businessman with historical links to Golkar, will be in a strong position to run for the presidency himself in 2009 as the party's candidate.

This could cause tension between the two men over time, said Samiego.

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