Golkar Throws Presidential Election Wide Open

JAKARTA ~ The presidential race was thrown wide open on Thursday when Vice President Jusuf Kalla said he was ready to walk away from a joint ticket with incumbent Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Long-running tensions between the two leaders burst into the open when Kalla told delegates at a national meeting of his Golkar party that coalition talks with Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party had stalled.

The centrist Democrats won most votes in general elections earlier this month, putting Yudhoyono in the driver’s seat in coalition talks which will decide his running mate as he seeks re-election.

Expectation was high earlier this week that Golkar, the ruling party in the Suharto regime, would accept a junior role in a Democrat-led coalition with Kalla back on Yudhoyono’s ticket for the presidential polls.

But Kalla said Golkar was in no mood to play second fiddle to the Democrats, raising the possibility of a game-changing coalition between Golkar and the party of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri.

“Golkar will form a coalition with other parties,” he said.

“Our talks (with the Democrats) have reached a dead end. We don’t want to lose our self-worth.”

Golkar officials were quoted in media reports as saying the talks collapsed after Yudhoyono asked Golkar to name two potential candidates for vice-president, a sign he wanted to end his shaky partnership with Kalla.

Other party big wigs, however, said there was still room for compromise, amid talk of a split within Golkar after it suffered a humiliating loss of seats in parliament at the April 9 election.

Former Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung, who was not at Thursday’s meeting, has the support of some party members to replace Kalla as Yudhoyono’s running mate and suggested Wednesday that talks with the Democrats were not over.

Golkar spokesman Ricky Rachmadi said all options remained open.

“The decision is still open. We haven’t made any decision yet about whether to reject the Democrats,” Rachmadi said.

Yudhoyono and Kalla won the country’s leadership by a landslide in the country’s first direct presidential election in 2004.

In the April polls the Democrats almost tripled their vote with some 20.48 percent, replacing Golkar as the biggest party in parliament, according to one unofficial count.

Golkar and Megawati’s Democratic Party of Struggle are neck-and-neck for second place with around 14 percent each. Final official results are not expected until May 9.

Megawati, the daughter of independence hero Sukarno, is seen as Yudhoyono’s biggest rival in the presidential race but lags well behind the liberal ex-general in opinion polls.

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