Wiranto, the last military commander under President Suharto, officially announced his presidential bid on Tuesday, eliciting reactions ranging from skepticism about his chances, to optimism for the return to power of a figure of authority.
Wiranto, 66, made the announcement at the Jakarta headquarters of the party he chairs, the People’s Conscience Party (Hanura), alongside his running mate, media baron Hary Tanoesoedibjo, 47, who is also the party’s chief patron.
“I thank the almighty for the chance to meet with this young figure, Hary Tanoe, as a comrade in arms who shares the same concerns as I do about the need to bring change to the country,” Wiranto said.
He added that with the presidential election still a year away and other political parties only expected to announce their tickets after April’s legislative election, Hanura was taking a bold step forward.
“Hanura is daring to establish itself well before the legislative election. We want to give rise to a new culture where political parties take bold risks in putting their best [forward],” he said.
He said the decision to stand with Hary, one of Indonesia’s wealthiest men, was made by the party in a bid to combine the pair’s strengths.
“We complement one another. If the voters want a military-non-military combination, that’s us. If they want a junior-senior combination, that’s us too,” he said.
“We’re not fixated on the opinion polls, which all give different results. We’re more concerned with preparing for the actual 2014 election.”
Saleh Husin, the Hanura secretary at the House of Representatives, said separately the party had based its decision on the assumption it would win the third-most votes in the legislative election. Parties must win at least 25 percent of national votes or 20 percent of House seats to be eligible to nominate a presidential candidate.
Saleh defended the early announcement of Wiranto’s bid, saying he was the best choice and that Hanura “doesn’t have to look for any figures from outside the party,” in a perceived swipe at the Democratic Party, which has no clear front-runner to take over from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Observers said the assumption the party would win enough votes to nominate Wiranto was mistaken.
Boni Hargens, a political analyst at the University of Indonesia, called the proposed bid “overly ambitious.”
“Hanura itself won’t have enough [votes] to nominate anyone,” he said as quoted by Kompas.com. “The best it can hope for is to ally with a bigger party and offer up a vice presidential candidate.”
Boni said he believed the party would win no more than 4 percent in the legislative poll, adding that Hary’s media empire and funding would not help the cause.
“He’s certainly got the enthusiasm to compete as a vice presidential candidate, but the reality is that he doesn’t have the right image. H.T. is still seen by many as just another rich guy, not a leader,” Boni said.
Ari Junaedi, a political communications expert at UI, called the announcement premature. “The way I see it, the declaration by Hanura was too forced,” he said as quoted by Tribunnews.com.
“Even the three big parties that all the polls indicate will come out on top in the 2014 legislative election haven’t made any such announcement,” he added, referring to the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the Golkar Party and the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra).
Golkar has said it will nominate its chairman, Aburizal Bakrie, but has not announced a running mate, while Gerindra is widely expected to nominate its founder, Prabowo Subianto.
“I believe the announcement was the result of political horse-trading by H.T., who is a businessman at core,” Ari said.
“He wants [the vice presidency] in exchange for all the money he’s spent on Hanura. What businessman would want to take a loss?”
But Ruhut Sitompul, an outspoken Democratic Party legislator, welcomed Wiranto’s announcement as providing a chance to put a figure of authority in the presidency.
“The people still favor a military figure [for president],” he said. “I’m just talking the facts. The voters have always wanted a sense of security.”
Although Yudhoyono is also a retired army general, he earned his stars through study rather than in the field, unlike Wiranto and Prabowo, and is thus seen as lacking the aura of authority those two enjoy.
But critics say it is that image of a strongman that will hurt Wiranto the most at the polls, given his checkered record on human rights.
Wiranto served as the military commander during the heady days of 1997 and 1998 that were marred by the forced disappearances and killing of student demonstrators and democracy activists, and that culminated in the downfall of Suharto.
He has also been accused of gross human rights abuses in the orgy of violence that followed the 1999 independence referendum in East Timor, for which he was indicted and later cleared by the East Timor prosecutor general.
Hary, who has a net worth of $1.7 billion according to Globe Asia, controls MNC Group, which owns television station RCTI and newspaper Koran Sindo.