Indonesian Aftermath

 The run-up to Indonesia's presidential run-off election in September may see its moderate-left president join forces with an extremist reactionary general against their pro-American rival.

 The run-up to Indonesia's presidential run-off election in September may see its moderate-left president join forces with an extremist reactionary general against their pro-American rival.

For incumbent President Megawati Sukarnoputri may play the anti-American card as her best hope of toppling her own former Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the weaker-than-expected frontrunner after the July 5 first round.

"Yudhoyono has been transformed into a rare political breed: front-running underdog. That's a highly endangered species," analyst Gary LaMoshi wrote in the Asia Times after the first returns from Monday's voting came in.

Incredibly, Megawati's long-time arch political enemy, former Defense Minister Wiranto, whom she beat into third place in Monday's first round of voting, may even join her.

Megawati and Wiranto have absolutely nothing in common, except steely political ambition and the same obstacle to their goals: Yodhoyono.

Megawati, the daughter of Indonesia's fiery radical founding father, President Sukarno, has been a decent, moderate liberal democrat much along the lines of U.S. President Bill Clinton or British Prime Minister Tony Blair's "Third Way" in her domestic politics. She has proven Indonesia's most successful leader since its chaotic transition to democracy only six years ago.

Megawati has done far better than expected in bringing the country's ruined economy back from the brink after it was devastated by the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis and three decades of corrupt, shameless greed and theft under old President Suharto.

Wiranto by contrast is the heir of all of Suharto's policies and his most merciless repression as well. Megawati remaining as president is the best hope for Indonesia's democracy to thrive and survive, but, if Wiranto finally won the power he has craved for so long, it would likely be rapidly extinguished.

However, Yudhoyono stands in the way of both of them. And ironically he has served as both their deputies.

Yudhoyono, like Wiranto, is a product of the Javanese aristocracy that has long held the real power in Indonesia by its dominance of the Army, by far the most powerful force in TNI, the Armed Forces of Indonesia. But he joined hands with Megawati to serve quite effectively as her security minister for most of her three year of presidency.

Megawati desperately needed a general she could trust - at least half the time - to prevent the other intriguing generals, most of all Wiranto, from fomenting ethnic violence and clashes with the army across Indonesia's vast archipelago: it comprises 13,000 inhabited islands stretched across an area comparable to the continental United States.

Failure to rein in the Army, especially its special forces with their strong dynastic-type loyalties to Wiranto and the Suharto family had doomed the previous, brief highly unsuccessful presidencies of B.J. Habibie and Abdurrahman Wahid.

Yudhoyono could not completely rein in or repress the military cliques, but, in general, he did a good job of holding them in check, especially compared with what went before.

He did such a good job that he became the popular focus of frustration with Megawati, especially over the nation's continued wretched poverty levels. And after he went into politics on his own account, he emerged in April 5's parliamentary elections as the new hot property expected to sweep the presidential election.

However, it is not quite working out that way. With just over two-thirds of the more than 120 million votes counted from the third largest democracy in the world - after India and the United States - Yudhoyono only leads with a far from commanding 34 percent of the vote and Megawati came in a stronger-than-expected second with 27 percent.

Wiranto has been eliminated from the two-person presidential second round run-off vote on September 20, as he is back in third place with around 22 percent and it looks impossible for him to catch up.

Ordinarily, Wiranto's voters would be likely to flock to Yudhoyono rather than Megawati. Having voted for one tough old TNI general in the first round, they are far more likely to prefer another one in the second round to the liberal-democratic Megawati with her long, flowery public speeches.

But Wiranto knows that if Yudhoyono becomes president, he can say goodbye to his dreams of leading Indonesia. However, if Yudhoyono is defeated, and Megawati wins, then Wiranto can at least dream of becoming the military-reactionary focus of opposition to her in her second term.

And there is one issue that could unite Wiranto and Megawati: it is resentment of the United States.

Wiranto still seethes that the United States under President Bill Clinton joined in pressuring Indonesia to leave East Timor in 1999-2000 after the fall of Suharto.

The Bush Administration has repeatedly made clear it is embarrassed by Wiranto, who was accused of massive human rights violations in the reign of terror by Indonesian irregular forces that preceded the East Timor pull-out.

Megawati too never had particularly close relations with the Bush team. She carried the name although not the policies of her revered and famously anti-American father for one thing. And then U.S. diplomats and security officials seemed to go out of their way in Jakarta's eyes to scapegoat her after the Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks in Bali killed around 200 Western holidaymakers last year.

By contrast, the U.S.-educated Yudhoyono is seen throughout Indonesia as the man Washington wants to win come September 20. That could prove the biggest reason he might still lose.