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The long road to the presidency | Asia Pacific

The long road to the presidency

The long road to the presidency

Updated 20 March 2012, 8:41 AEDT

It may be two years away, but Indonesia's unofficial presidential election campaign is well underway.

Former president Megawati Sukarnoputri wraps up a five day tour of the poorer districts of Central Java on Friday. She denies she's already begun campaigning for the presidency. But with alliances still to be forged, 2009 is not so far off for Indonesia's presidential hopefuls.

MCCARTHY: If a week is a long time in politics, two years must be an eternity. But not it seems if you're running for Indonesian president. Barely two months after she accepted her party nomination for the 2009 polls, Megawati Sukarnoputri is out on the hustings. And she's making her pitch to voters, says Jakarta Post National Editor Immanuddin Razak.

RAZAK: She's trying to influence as a woman especially, because she describes women as the ones who know very well family affairs. So she describes Indonesia as a big family, so as a female candidate then she said the people can rely on her.

MCCARTHY: So does that make a mockery of her claim that she hasn't begun the unofficial election campaign?

RAZAK: Yes she tried as much as she can to dismiss the allegation that she started a preliminary campaign, she denied it.

MCCARTHY: And at the same time she's saying vote for me?

RAZAK: Yes at the same time, Indonesians always do thing like that.

MCCARTHY: It is quite a while, just under two years until the presidential election will take place. Why are candidates already out campaigning so far ahead?

RAZAK: To me it's part of seeking coalitions, because we have a number of political parties to contest the 2009 election, so I believe it is part of attempt to garner support from other parties.

MCCARTHY: And Megawati is not alone. Several Indonesian leaders are already jockeying for influence among their cross-party colleagues as they try to get the numbers for a bid. Those rumoured to be running in 2009 include former Jakarta governor Sutiyoso, retired General Wiranto and the National Mandate Party's Amien Rais. Anies Baswedan from polling group the Indonesian Survey Institute, says it's anyone's game at this stage.

BASWEDAN: We had a survey and we asked those questions who would you vote for if the elections were held today, and the number one is undecided, it's about a third of the respondants are undecided. But when people were given choices of names then SBY, the President wins always. Now the top four is SBY, Megawati, Wiranto and Amien Rais, those are the top four. But I should mention Megawati and SBY, the difference is about three to five per cent. But when it comes to Wiranto and Amien they were in the realms of five, six per cent. So the difference is very significant. So what we are seeing is we have not seen an alternative candidate, and the public seems to be hoping for that, as so many are undecided, quite a large proportion is undecided. But we do not see new faces coming out.

MCCARTHY: Then there's Yusuf Kalla; vice president, fierce SBY rival and widely perceived as strong and desisive where Yudhoyono is seen as weak and hesitant. But hailing as he does from South Sulawesi rather than Java, many observers believe Yusuf Kalla wouldn't stand a chance.

BASWEDAN: I think it's more on political communications. Political leaders who are not from Java but are able to communicate the way regular Indonesians are communicating, then it would be acceptable. So an ability to connect to Javanese voters is important; that is not myth, that is a fact. But ethnicity I think is a second issue.

MCCARTHY: Would you say that Yusuf Kalla's style of political communication is not able to communicate to the Javanese voter as effectively?

BASWEDAN: Yes, there is a very strong flavour there whenever he speaks; Javanese often immediately feel that he's not one of us.

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