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Megawati taps top cleric as running mate JAKARTA - Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri chose on Thursday the leader of the country's largest Muslim group as the vice presidential candidate on her ticket in the July 5 presidential race. The choice of Hasyim Muzadi, chairman of the moderate, 40-million-strong Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), is seen as an effort to boost Megawati's waning popularity after her party, the secular Indonesia Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), lost significant ground in April 5 parliamentary elections.
"Hasyim Muzadi has expressed his willingness to be part of a presidential and vice presidential duet," Megawati said in a speech at a park in central Jakarta where her father and Indonesia's first president Sukarno proclaimed the country's independence in 1945. Megawati faces a tough battle in the July 5 presidential election against her former security minister and ex-general, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has been topping opinion polls and former military chief Wiranto who is the nominee of the Gokar party that did best in the parliamentary elections.
Muzadi was upbeat during his turn at the lectern. "Nahdlatul Ulama has no plan to set up a religious state but it wants to see religious values shine across this country," the cleric said, adding that Megawati first courted him six months ago. "The combination of me and Megawati will unite 'freedom' and 'God is Greatest'. The two should not be on different sides," said Muzadi, referring to the respective rallying cries of the nationalist and Islamic camps.
Before the announcement, PDI-P deputy chairman Roy Janis said the choice of Muzadi was aimed at bringing solid Muslim credentials to Megawati's re-election bid. Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country. About 148 million voters will directly choose a president in Indonesia's first direct presidential election. If no one wins a majority, the poll will go to a final round run-off in September. Founded in 1926, NU runs an extensive network of religious boarding schools and charitable institutions across the vast Indonesian archipelago.
Its strong grass-roots appeal has made it one of the country's most influential groups, but historically NU members have not voted as a block. It is a good combination for Megawati and now she can swing some votes from NU faithful to her," said Joseph Kristiadi of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Votes for Megawati?

Former President Abdurrahman Wahid, popularly known as Gus Dur and a descendant of NU's founder, also hopes to run as a presidential candidate for the Nation Awakening Party (PKB) and many NU members are expected to vote for him if he does run. Despite the joint ticket with Muzadi, many analysts say Megawati faces a tough battle for re-election.
"Some clerics in the NU see Gus Dur as above the institution. If Gus Dur doesn't give his support many members of the NU will not go to Megawati," Kristiadi said. Janis said PDI-P would still seek Wahid's endorsement. PDI-P slipped to second position in parliament with 18.5 percent of the April 5 vote, a far cry from its winning results in 1999 when the party gained 33.7 percent. Recent opinion polls show Megawati lags significantly behind her former chief security minister, Yudhoyono, who resigned last March and is the presidential candidate of the fledgling Democrat Party.



Posted in Elections @ 09 May 2004 00:01 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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