Megawati Soekarnoputri (the second name is a patronymic - daughter of Soekarno) doesn’t want direct elections. That’s what she told applauding delegates at the Bali conference this month (April) of her Partai Demokrasi Indonesia – Perjuangan (PDI-P – the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle.
‘Her’ party because it’s not an organisation to develop and implement new ideas from the smart young to boost the Republic’s economy, lift millions out of poverty, repair the crumbling infrastructure and raise education levels. It’s a vehicle to keep her family in power.
Mega has no formal authority. The PDI-P has the largest number of seats in the Parliament (109 / 560) but a coalition of opposition parties holds total control. Despite this she jerks President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo’s strings, reminding all that the former furniture salesman is just a ‘party worker’ who wouldn’t have the top job had it not been for her imprimatur.
She’s right. Had she ignored the overwhelmingly negative surveys and stood herself in last July’s election as originally planned, Indonesia would now be led by President Prabowo Subianto. He’s the scion of a family with a centuries old lineage, a hard-line former general with a bad human rights record, and once son-in-law of the nation’s second president, the dictator Soeharto.
If Mega wasn’t the self-imposed head of the party she founded last century she’d now be toast. Although she was Indonesia’s fifth president between 2001 and 2004 she inherited the position when President Abdurrahman Wahid was impeached, and did little more than let the army and her mates run the show.
That was too much like the bad old days for an electorate hungry for reform; in two later presidential direct vote contests she was soundly rejected by the people.
Of course this wasn’t her fault, but the ‘treachery’ of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) who quit her Cabinet over claims of being sidelined. For a while he became a media darling and in 2004 beat his former boss to become the nation’s sixth president. She’s never forgiven him.
In the villages and crowded kampongs of Java, sun-wrinkled portraits of first president Soekarno can be found hanging in even the poorest of homes. He died 45 years ago but remains an iconic figure, symbol of the glory of Indonesia’s hard-won independence from the stubborn colonial Dutch and held in awe by the nostalgic elderly.
Mega believes that she has inherited that aura, even if betrayal, incompetence, fickle voters and age frustrate her ambitions. So she’ll nurture the flame until her children Mohammad Prananda Prabowo, Mohammad Rizki Pramata – and particularly, Puan Maharani, learn how to grasp their destiny.
(Mega has been married three times, her father nine. Her younger sister Rachmawati Soekarnoputri is a leading member in the opposition Prabowo’s party, Gerindra.)
Addressing the conference, where the 68-year old matriarch was acclaimed supreme head for a further five years, Mega denounced direct voting as a Western import.
In the present anti-foreigner climate - aggravated by Tony Abbott linking 2004 tsunami aid with mercy for drug runners on death row - that’s the sort of claim that gets delegates on their feet and stamping.
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