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

Video Snowstorm Sweeps Northeastern US

'This is nothing like we feared it would be,' New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says; he had warned storm could be one of worst in city history More

Millions of Displaced Nigerians Struggle With Daily Existence

Government acknowledges over a million people displaced in 2014 due to fight against Boko Haram insurgency More

Facebook: Internal Error to Blame for Outages

Temporary outage appeared to spill over and temporarily slow or block traffic to other major Internet sites More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid