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

    Wife of IS Leader Charged in Death of US Hostage

    Suspect allegedly admitted to being responsible for American aid worker Kayla Mueller, who officials say was sexually abused and ‘owned’ by one IS member

    Year of the Monkey Could Prove Economic Balancing Act for China

    China is up against a tricky situation on the financial front, facing the need to fight capital flight while also stopping a further slide of foreign currency reserves

    Runners Attempt 26-mile South Pole Marathon in Sub-Zero Temperatures

    How alluring is running 26.2 miles at 10,000 feet when it’s minus 31 Celsius out?

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.