Susan Sim, Jakarta – Indonesia's favourite guessing game – who will be the next Vice-President – has been moved up a notch this past week with calls to political parties to name their candidates before the parliamentary election in May.
The calls have been backed by at least two of the likely contenders for the post, which is due to be elected, usually by acclamation, by the People's Consultative Assembly next March.
There is no doubt in most minds, however, that the 1,000-member Assembly will elect President Suharto for a sixth consecutive term, and that the Vice-President will be of his choice. The rather unprecedented suggestion to the three officially recognised political parties to "take a brave step" and announce their preferred candidates for the presidency and vice-presidency during campaign hustings starting next month was made last weekend by a former Golkar MP, Mr Marzuki Darusman. "The move will earn the parties the people's attention and affinity," he was quoted as saying by local newspapers.
The lawyer and deputy chief of the National Human Rights Commission added: "People should be free to make their own choices and give suggestions to the People's Consultative Assembly. Naming candidates shouldn't be the monopoly of legislative members." Over the week, the call for open nominations for the vice-presidency gained momentum as several politicians, Cabinet ministers and political observers threw their weight behind it, and the Jakarta chapters of one opposition party even named its chairman for the post.
Amid criticism that his nomination had not been endorsed by the party's central board, United Development Party (PPP) chief Ismail Hasan Metareum said he was ready to run for the vice-presidency. Meanwhile, two ministers seen as potential Golkar candidates for the post voiced their support for the open discussions.
Minister for National Development Planning Ginandjar Kartasasmita told reporters: "It's very important that the public are allowed to talk about it openly, although it sometimes causes the candidates to feel awkward."
But he dismissed speculation that he was a potential candidate along with incumbent Vice-President Try Sutrisno, Golkar Chairman Harmoko, State Research and Technology Minister B. J. Habibie and army Chief of Staff Hartono.
Dr Habibie, a favourite candidate because of his close ties to the President, last week also endorsed the active participation of the people in the nomination process as a positive sign of growing political awareness.
Rather surprisingly, he then told reporters he would "think about it" if he was nominated by the People's Assembly, adding that he was not the only person considered suitable for the No. 2 post.
In the past, he had refused to be drawn on the question other than to call for more executive powers for the Vice-President. A scenario making the rounds currently is that Mr Suharto will accept election to a sixth term next March and then relinquish some of his powers mid-term.
The question of who will become the next vice-president is thus of crucial urgency as he will have to lead Indonesia through a political transition, and into the 21st century.