If the mud doesn’t stick, Bakrie may be Indonesia’s next leader

If the mud doesn’t stick, Bakrie may be Indonesia’s next leader

One is a billionaire whose gains appear ill-gotten, another is a grandmotherly retread who hates change, and the other two are former military generals with Gest-apo-like reputations.

They may seem like a quartet from hell, but they’re likely to be the chief contenders for the leadership of the region’s largest nation.

Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, known to everyone as SBY, is midway through his second five-year term and is barred by law from running again.

So, although the next elect-ion isn’t until 2014, scuttlebutt in Jakarta already revolves around the unsavoury prospect of a field dominated by this fearsome foursome.

The retread lady is Megawati Sukarnoputri, 64, who was named vice-president in 1999 largely because she is the daughter of the nation’s founding father, Sukarno.

She was gifted the top job when her predecessor, Abdurrahman Wahid, was impeached in 2001, but her three years in office were marked by rampant corruption, soaring unemployment and rising Islamic militancy.

SBY mercifully crushed her in the next two elections, but she now appears ready to embrace defeat for a third time.

Her two likely military rivals are retired generals Prabowo Subianto, 60, and Wiranto, 64, who, in Javanese style, uses only one name.

Both have been accused of awful human-rights atrocities during the Suharto regime and in pre-independence East Timor.

Wiranto can probably be written off, but Prabowo, a son-in-law of Suharto and now a successful businessman, may spring a surprise.

After a failed presidential bid in 2009, Prabowo is now running strongly and surveys indicate that he could emerge victorious in a three- or four-horse race.

That’s not a pleasant prospect, but nor is the candidacy of Aburizal Bakrie, the man mostly likely to beat him.

Bakrie, 65 this month, is the chairman of Golkar, former dictator Suharto’s party, which is now a partner in the coalition government led by SBY’s Democratic Party.

In September, Golkar’s leaders anointed Bakrie as their presidential candidate, despite the fact that he has little popular appeal and is viewed as corrupt, conniving and anti-reformist.

Indeed, a cover of the nat-ion’s flagship news magazine, Tempo, once showed Bakrie with the devil’s number, 666, etched on his forehead.

Well, he may be devilish, but he has oodles of money.

The Bakrie family, which owns big mining, telecoms, property and media interests, is worth about $9 billion and is among Indonesia’s richest.

Unfortunately, one of its subsidiaries, PT Lapindo Brantas, was drilling for pet-roleum in eastern Java in 2006 when its well “blew” and caused the eruption of the world’s biggest mud volcano.

Spewing a veritable tsunami of toxic sludge, it forced 40,000 people to flee, destroyed 12 villages, as well as infrastructure and crops, and polluted rivers.

Five years later, the mud is still surging out, and is forecast to keep doing so for another 25 years or more.

Lapindo claims the disaster was caused by an earthquake near Yogjakarta, 250 kilomet-res away, but most people believe Bakrie’s company is to blame.

That view was reinforced by the way the Bakrie Group refused to pay full compensat-ion to the victims.

Instead, it became focused on vainly trying to offload its image-destroying subsidiary.

Bakrie also faces allegations of corruption and links to a so-called tax mafia that spec-ialises in bribing officials so that companies can avoid paying tax.

Indeed, he sounds like a walking disaster area, but some say he’s just the kind of tough, take-no-prisoners vis-ionary who will galvanise the region’s sleeping giant.

Not only will he stand up to the Islamists and the Papuan separatists, they claim, but he will run Indonesia forcefully and efficiently, in the style of Thailand’s Thaksin Shinawatra and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi.

It may not be ideal, but it may work. And if it comes down to a race between him and Prabowo, most Indones-ians will be wise to hold their noses and pick Bakrie.

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