Indonesia’s political scene is so weird that even Canberra’s most convoluted machinations are but Playschool.
Decried by The Jakarta Post editor Meidyatama Surodiningrat for its ‘hugger-mugger nature, filled with distortions, strange associations, devious schemes and inflexible standpoints’ our northern neighbour is now performing a Greek tragedy.
The lead role stars the wilful Megawati Soekarnoputri, Indonesia’s fifth president (2001- 2004) and self-appointed head of the nation’s marginally most popular political party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, known as PDI-P.
Like an African ‘people’s democratic republic’, the title is a misnomer. Mega, 68, recently agreed to continue running the PDI-P for the next five years. She’s a lady who doesn’t tolerate opposition, so gets none.
Mega means Cloud Goddess in Javanese. The wati suffix indicates a woman. Her other name is a patronymic. She is one of first president Soekarno’s nine children from nine wives, but the one most determined to maintain dynastic politics.
Soekarno was ousted in a coup d’état 50 years ago by General Soeharto who went on to run the nation with the army’s help till 1998.
Mega started the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) but was given little breathing space by Soeharto’s authoritarian administration. In 1996 the government, fearing the Soekarno name could rally emerging opposition, tried to engineer a violent takeover of the party.
In the riot five people died. 150 were injured and 23 disappeared. Perjuangan (Struggle) was then added to the PDI’s name.
When democracy was restored to the nation in 1999 the PDI-P won most votes in the election contested by 48 parties. At that time the president was appointed by Parliament, which chose Islamic cleric Abdurrahman Wahid with Mega as his deputy.
After Wahid was impeached in 2001 she held the top job till defeated in the first direct election of 2004 by a Cabinet minister she’d sacked – former general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY).
Had she then retired gracefully to become a roving ambassador for a worthy cause, Mega might have retained respect as the first woman to lead the world’s most populous Islamic nation. But power is a narcotic, and Mega an addict.
Instead Indonesians recall an aloof policy-free president largely controlled by the military who didn’t use her power to pursue justice for her supporters who were killed in 1996.
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