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President's daughter in bid to woo Muslim vote

South China Morning Post - April 1, 1997

Jenny Grant, Jakarta – The appearance of President Suharto's daughter, Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, with Indonesia's most influential Muslim leader, Abdurrahman Wahid, at a weekend rally signifies the beginnings of a powerful alliance.

Ms Rukmana, the deputy chairman of the ruling Golkar party, appeared at the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) meeting in Semarang, central Java, along with her military ally, army chief General Hartono. The 30-million strong NU is Indonesia's largest Islamic organisation.

The President's daughter shied away from wearing the usual Golkar party yellow, donning a white-lace Islamic head dress for her 15-minute speech.

Experts see Ms Rukmana's appearance as the start of an alliance between NU, Golkar and a pro-Suharto faction of the military before the May 29 election.

Pro-government analyst Amir Santoso said: "There is an effort from both sides to get close to each other for the election."

Mr Wahid, also known as Gus Dur, said the event was mutually beneficial to Golkar and NU. "It's not taking sides in the elections. It is reciprocal. We introduce her to the crowd and she uses the opportunity to pull the crowd to Golkar."

Mr Wahid said NU members could vote for whatever party they wanted at the polls in which 120 million Indonesians are expected to cast ballots for one of the three official parties - Golkar, the Muslim-oriented United Development Party and the Indonesian Democratic Party.

Mr Wahid said he wanted to give Ms Rukmana the chance to enhance her image among NU members.

"She is a rising star and we think she will go far," he said.

"We have done this for other well-known people and maybe we will do it for her brother, Bambang, too."

Bambang Trihatmodjo, Mr Suharto's second eldest son, is a successful businessman with interests in broadcasting, construction and telecommunications. He is also the treasurer of Golkar.

Mr Wahid has been an outspoken supporter of democracy in Indonesia. His Democracy Forum group campaigns on human rights issues and he wields great political clout.

About 90 per cent of Indonesia's 200 million people follow Islam.

Mr Santoso said: "For a long time, Gus Dur has been a government opponent. Now he wants to move closer to the Government, both for his personal ambition and because of pressure from inside NU."