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Jakarta Post

How history will eventually write Megawati

  • Kornelius Purba

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, August 16, 2019   /   09:16 am
How history will eventually write Megawati Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the fifth PDI-P congress in Sanur, Bali. (JP/Zul Trio Anggono)

Indonesia will celebrate its 74th anniversary of independence on Saturday. More than just observing the country’s struggle, led by Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta, to be free from the shackles of the Dutch colonial power, on Saturday the nation will also commemorate the 20th anniversary of its united commitment to democracy, making a break from its authoritarian past.

Twenty years ago, we held our first democratic legislative elections. Five years later, in 2004, Indonesians directly elected their president and vice president.

Now, however, our democracy is back in danger. Those in power, including the political elite, power brokers, big business people and the military, may undermine democracy with their deceptive excuses and narratives. In the meantime, certain Islamic groups and Muslim-oriented parties aim to build a caliphate, calling democracy a product of infidels.

We don’t need to hire well-known pollsters or famous scholars to identify the most powerful persons in Indonesia’s realpolitik nowadays. The more well-wishers visit them during Idul Fitri, the more powerful they become.

Of course, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is officially the country’s most powerful figure, but the chairwoman of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), Megawati Soekarnoputri, is the de-facto leader.

Megawati, the country’s fifth president, inspired the people to reclaim their sovereignty from Soeharto, who had ruled for about 32 years, in the reform movement in 1998. She was crowned the icon of democracy on June 7, 1999, when her PDI-P won the country’s first free and democratic election with 33.74 percent of the vote. The Soeharto-founded Golkar Party came second with 22.44 percent.

History has written Megawati as a figure who united the people in their struggle to end Soeharto’s dictatorship, but will history remember her as a person who led a movement to reinstate Soeharto’s antidemocratic practices?

There are agonizing indications that Megawati, the eldest daughter of the country’s first president, Sukarno, is playing — or being persuaded to play — a leading role in a campaign orchestrated by those who enjoyed privileges during Soeharto’s heyday to bring the nation back to those old days. Many forces stand behind her, including opposition leader Prabowo Subianto and major political parties.

Megawati’s PDI-P, with support from, among other parties, Prabowo’s Gerindra, is pushing for a constitutional amendment aimed at reviving the original version of the 1945 Constitution, which entrusted the People’s Consultative Assembly to indirectly elect the president and vice president and to draft State Policy Guidelines (GBHN). Besides, the original Constitution did not limit the presidential term.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has voiced strong opposition to the idea to drop the direct presidential election.

As a journalist, I covered Megawati’s political activities between 1986 and 1999, especially after Soeharto agreed with his wife, Tien Soeharto, who had suggested he allow Megawati to join the nationalist-oriented Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI), which later transformed into the PDI-P. Soeharto finally let Megawati enter politics through the PDI because he believed she was Sukarno’s most cooperative biological child.

I witnessed how Soeharto sought every path, to no avail, to stop Megawati from being elected the PDI chairwoman in Surabaya. After the death of Tien in April 1996, Soeharto resorted to military force to topple Megawati from the PDI’s top seat, which culminated in a bloody takeover of the party’s headquarters by a Soeharto-backed PDI splinter group on July 27, 1996.

Megawati was stubborn but calm. She adored her father but did little to restore his reputation, which Soeharto had destroyed. Despite Soeharto’s abuses, Megawati admired many of Soeharto’s ideas, such as the GBHN and the five-year development plan (Repelita) and the military’s dual function.

That Megawati is now in the frontlines of a campaign to reinstate the original version of the Constitution is unsurprising. From the very beginning, she was against the amendments to the Constitution. Megawati, however, should also remember that her naivety was often abused by her own allies and, of course, her political rivals. Her party won the 1999 election, but the People’s Consultative Assembly elected Muslim cleric Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid as the country’s fourth president, thanks in part to the Islamist politicians who declared that a female president was haram.

She had to serve as the deputy of her longtime friend Gus Dur, but when the same assembly impeached him in July 2001 and Megawati became the fifth president, she helped her leading opponent Hamzah Haz to win the vice-presidential post. Islamic parties remained hostile to her.

After 10 years outside of power, Megawati returned to the spotlight in 2014 when her protégé Jokowi won the presidential election. Jokowi’s reelection last April could not be separated from Megawati’s pivotal role.

For the sake of the nation, Megawati should resist the temptation of power. She needs to remember that Indonesia would return to dictatorship if the campaign to revive the old 1945 Constitution works. People would lose their hard-won freedom.

As the daughter of Sukarno, the interest of the nation should be above anything else. I do believe she is always willing to listen to the voices of the wong cilik (little people), who firmly refuse any kind of abusive practices they endured under Soeharto’s regime.

Merdeka Ibu Mega!