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.
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

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs