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Indonesia's presidential front-runner battles the puppet image

Reuters | Sunday, Jun 29, 2014

Aburizal Bakrie of the Golkar party.

JAKARTA- When one of Indonesia's most powerful politicians wanted to be part of a new government, he did not approach Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, the front-runner in next week's presidential election.

Instead, sources say, he went to the home of Jokowi's political patron, a former president who did not impress in her short tenure and who many fear will be the power behind the throne if the favourite wins the July 9 election.

The politician, Aburizal Bakrie of the Golkar party, was rebuffed by ex-President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

But the fact Bakrie went to Megawati, not Jokowi, to seek an alliance underlines the biggest worry about the front-runner - he may become president but will not be in charge. Critics say he will defer to Megawati and she will call the shots in the new government in Southeast Asia's biggest economy.

It is an image Jokowi does little to dispel with his public displays of deference to Megawati. Interviews with senior members of his camp suggest frustration with his modest mien, but they were adamant he will not be anyone's stooge.

"One thing I can assure you, you cannot dictate to Jokowi, he has his own mind," said Luhut Panjaitan, a former trade minister who quit Bakrie's Golkar party to help run the Jokowi campaign.

"People say he's a puppet of Megawati, but I promise you, no. He's very polite and very humble but that doesn't mean that he'll say yes to everything you say," Jokowi has a filmstar following in Indonesia.

Born in poverty, he has stormed his way to the top rungs of leadership with a clean image and a reputation for competence in local government, a reversal of the autocracy, corruption and power politics that have weighed down the country for decades.

He became mayor of his hometown Solo in 2005 and governor of Jakarta in 2012 after his populist approach and willingness to stand up to powerful regional officials won national attention. The only real worry about him, analysts say, is his relationship with Megawati and how it may affect state policy if he wins.

Panjaitan, who was present at the meeting between Bakrie and Megawati, said after the rebuff, the Golkar party chief went over to the rival camp of the other presidential candidate, former general Prabowo Subianto. "I said to Bakrie...Why do we always have to make transactions like this? It doesn't set a good example for the public, to the young generation," Panjaitan said.

Bakrie has not commented on the allegation. He and his office did not respond to calls from Reuters for this story.

But a senior politician in his Golkar party, Fahmi Idris, said Prabowo has promised about seven seats in the cabinet in exchange for support. "Yes, Bakrie was upset (by Megawati's rebuff)," Idris said.

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