News / Asia

Three Times a Loser, Indonesia's Megawati Pivotal in Elections

FILE - Michelle Obama (l) toasts former Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, during a state dinner at the Istana Negara in Jakarta, Nov. 9, 2010.
FILE - Michelle Obama (l) toasts former Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, during a state dinner at the Istana Negara in Jakarta, Nov. 9, 2010.
Reuters
As Indonesia gears up for twin elections this year, the pivotal figure is a woman in her late sixties who has been trounced all three times that she has contested for president.
 
Megawati Sukarnoputri dominates the opposition party that opinion polls show is likely to top the April 9 parliamentary election. She also has, if she chooses, the candidate whom polls show would sweep aside all other contenders in the presidential election three months later.
 
But the 67-year-old daughter of the country's founding president is said to want the top job herself, although the chances of her winning it are slim.
 
It's a dilemma that has brought uncertainty over who will lead Southeast Asia's largest economy and the nation with the world's biggest Muslim population when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono retires in October.
 
Senior officials in Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) insisted they did not know what her final decision would be.
 
“It ultimately comes down to her, no matter what anybody feels within the party,” said one insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
 
“Whatever Ibu Mega decides, so goes the party,” the source said, using her popular name.
 
Megawati is famously enigmatic. When she filled in as the country's first woman president from 2001-2004, her term was criticized for indecisiveness.
 
A decision on the PDI-P's presidential candidate is likely to be only after April's legislative election and could be taken as late as mid-May.
 
Indonesia follows a presidential form of government, although power is shared with parliament. Only parties which win 25 percent of the vote or 20 percent of the 560 seats in the parliamentary poll will be permitted to name candidates for the July presidential election. PDI-P and perhaps just one or two other parties are likely to qualify.
 
If the public had a say in the nomination, it would be for Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, a member of PDI-P who is currently the popular governor of the capital Jakarta.
 
The frontrunner in opinion polls by a wide margin, he is widely seen as representing change in the world's third-largest democracy: a young, clean and competent operator in a system dominated by an aging, often corrupt elite.
 
But first, he will have to win the endorsement of his party chief.
 
Loyal base
 
As the scion of Indonesia's charismatic founding father Sukarno, Megawati has headed a loyal and growing base of supporters through a decade in opposition.
 
She has never actually won a presidential election. But she was vice president in 2001 when parliament ousted Abdurrahman Wahid, the man elected president by the legislature in 1999, and installed her in his place. She remained in office for three years.
 
She then lost Indonesia's first direct presidential election to Yudhoyono in 2004, and again to him in 2009.
 
Megawati grew up in the Istana Merdeka presidential palace in Jakarta during her father's long rule and dropped out of university to be with him after his fall from grace in 1965.
 
As strongman Suharto took power, the Sukarno family was pushed to the margins of political and social life. Sukarno died in 1970.
 
Megawati became a symbol of opposition in the over three decades Suharto was in power and went on to win a following in Indonesia's political turbulence of the late 1990s. She formed the current PDI-P soon after Suharto was forced to step down in 1998.
 
But she was never able to reproduce her father's popularity, and analysts say that if she does still dream of winning the presidency and creating an enduring Sukarno family legacy, this will be her last chance.
 
“She has a legacy to live up to and there's a part of her that thinks she belongs back in that presidential palace,” said Douglas Ramage, political analyst at Bower Group Asia consultancy.
 
However, opinion polls suggest she would struggle to beat off likely challengers from other parties: tycoon Aburizal Bakrie and Prabowo Subianto, an ex-general with a dark human rights record.
 
A legacy
 
At the rank and file level of the party, however, Megawati enjoys the support of thousands of self-proclaimed loyalists who believe that the ability to lead the country runs in her blood.
 
“As a Javanese I believe in natural and mystical forces and so I believe the spirit of Bung Karno still protects our nation,” said 40-year-old Dewi Kriswindari, using Sukarno's nickname amidst a murmur of prayer by his grave in Blitar in East Java province, one of the party's traditional strongholds.
 
“I'm not very political, but Megawati is his daughter and I believe she can guide Indonesia as a leader.”
 
Party insiders say Megawati and the party's aging senior leadership take this legacy very seriously - not least because they could lose influence if she goes.
 
The death last year of Megawati's husband Taufik Kiemas, whom she recently called her “sparring partner”, meant perhaps the only other prominent and counterbalancing voice in the party is gone, giving her supporters ample room to urge Megawati to run for president again.
 
Nevertheless, a growing chorus of voices within the party has called on her to instead take on the role of 'Mother of the Nation' to echo her father's legacy and, considering her consistently low popularity ratings, let Jokowi run for the presidency.
 
“The people want a new figure, and that's Jokowi,” said Ali Husein, a PDI-P legislative candidate from Bangka Belitung province who co-chairs a group promoting the Jakarta governor's candidacy.
 
“I don't think the PDI-P would be stupid enough for Mega to be the candidate.”
 
In a recent live television interview, she walked out on stage to Frank Sinatra's “My Way” and sat silently or gave typically vague answers as Jokowi watched from the audience.
 
When asked the inevitable question about the candidacy, Megawati's answer was ambivalent.
 
“Leaders of the party don't have to be directly related to Sukarno,” she said, “But I tell them to remember that there are still many loyal followers of Bung Karno.”

You May Like

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid