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May 2004 Special Issue

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Amien-Siswono: Uphill struggle

A. Junaidi, Jakarta

Presidential and vice presidential candidates Amien Rais and Siswono Yudohusodo, who were nominated by the National Mandate Party (PAN) to contest the coming presidential election, are considered an underdog pairing.

This assessment perhaps conforms with the results of the April 5 legislative election, in which PAN secured seven million votes and ended in sixth position of the 24 election contestants.

On Friday, six minor political parties -- the Marhaenisme Indonesian National Party (PNI Marhaenisme), Social Democratic Labor Party (PBSD), Freedom Bull National Party (PNBK), Indonesian Democratic Vanguard Party (PPDI), Indonesian Unity Party (PSI) and the Reform Star Party (PBR) -- announced their support for the Amien-Siswono pairing.

The six parties gained a combined total of only 6.8 million votes in the legislative election.

These rather bleak statistics defy the pair's strengths in politics, business and bureaucracy.

Born on Apr. 26, 1944, in the Central Java town, Surakarta, Amien was known as a strong critic of former president Soeharto. Days before Soeharto's forced resignation in May 1998, Amien, along with student demonstrators, demanded, in the building that houses the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), that president Soeharto step down.

Since then, Amien, who got his PhD in political science from Chicago University, was often referred to as the "locomotive of the reform era".

After the 1999 general election, Amien, who was a professor in international relations at Yogyakarta-based Gadjah Mada University, set up the "Central Axis", a loose group of Islamic politicians, which managed to install Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid as president through unusual political maneuvers. Gus Dur defeated Megawati Soekarnoputri, the leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), which had garnered the largest number of votes in the general election.

Two years later, Amien, who was former chairman of the country's second-largest Muslim organization, Muhammadiyah, was instrumental in the "impeachment" of Gus Dur.

Leaders of Muhammadiyah, which claims to have 30 million members, said earlier they would support Amien, but many doubt that the organization's followers will follow suit.

Amien's running mate, Siswono, was known as a noted property businessman before he was appointed minister of public housing by president Soeharto in 1988 and transmigration minister in 1993.

The graduate of the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) is considered by many observers and friends as a clean businessman and politician.

Siswono, born on July 4, 1943, in Long Iram, East Kalimantan, is chairman of the Indonesian Farmers and Fishermens Association (HKTI).

Many place their hopes in Amien's vision of reform and Siswono's nationalist view and experience in business and bureaucracy, despite their small political machine.

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