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Jakarta Post

For 4th time, Megawati considers her presidential luck

  • The Jakarta Post

    The Jakarta Post

  /   Wed, November 20, 2013   /  07:59 am
For 4th time, Megawati considers her presidential luck

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) has been an opposition party since 2004 following the humilating defeat of its leader Megawati Soekarnoputri by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in the country'€™s first direct presidential election. Amid the rising popularity of Jakarta Governor Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo as a potential presidential candidate, Megawati is also facing pressure from her own followers to allow Jokowi to represent PDI-P in next year'€™s presidential election. However, Megawati is still considering running again as a presidential candidate. The following report was prepared by Sita W. Dewi and Haeril Halim.

Despite his repeated denials, Jakarta Governor Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo has been widely tipped to represent the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) in next year'€™s presidential election. Many of the party'€™s elites have openly expressed their support for such a scenario, and most pollsters have indicated that Jokowi would greatly help the party to regain its position as the largest faction in the legislature and that Jokowi would win the presidential race.

The party'€™s chairwoman '€” Megawati Soekarnoputri, who has the final say on almost everything involving the party '€” has sent strong signals that she would give her blessing for Jokowi to take her place in the presidential election. Jokowi often appears in public with her, plus the former Surakarta mayor also regularly visits Megawati at her Menteng home, which is just several hundreds of meters from his official residence.

Jokowi himself has refrained from talking openly about his possible candidacy. He also insists that although he has a good relationship with Megawati, he is but one of her choices. '€œI think Ibu also mentioned other people. Just ask Ibu Mega: I still work for Jakarta,'€ Jokowi replied when asked about his intention of running for president.

Megawati has cautiously praised the governor. '€œJokowi has a Sukarno vibe. He has the capacity to maintain Sukarno'€™s legacy, but other potential young members also have a similar capacity,'€ Megawati said in September.

The party'€™s local leaders have also expressed support for Jokowi, although all of them as well as Megawati'€™s loyalists also reiterated that: '€œWe will abide by whatever decision is made by our party chairperson.'€ The PDI-P is the only political party to be united by one person and Megawati is fully entrusted to do whatever she deems right for the party.

They know very well that the fate of Jokowi is totally in the hands of their boss. They realized that Megawati still cannot accept the bitter reality that she failed in three presidential elections '€” including in two direct presidential elections '€” and still strongly believes she lost the three races because of the betrayals of two trusted friends, who stabbed her in the back by becoming her contenders. She served as the country'€™s fifth president only because she had to replace her close friend Abdurrahman '€œGus Dur'€ Wahid in 2001. She held the position until October 2004.

'€œI think she still wants to run for the president next year because she was a president only for about three years at the time. She never discusses it with me though, but I can feel it,'€ said a senior politician who has known Megawati since her childhood and still has regular private meetings with her. He requested anonymity during an interview over the weekend.

The veteran politician noted, '€œI talked to Mega last night and she said that the PDI-P would wait for the result of legislative election before announcing the party'€™s presidential candidate. People might say that is too late, but let them say what they want.'€

Megawati, the eldest daughter of the country'€™s first president, Sukarno, whose ideology strongly influences the PDI-P, was confident of winning the presidential election in 1999 because her party was the winner of Indonesia'€™s first democratically held legislative election after its independence in 1945 (some say the first free election was held in 1955). Megawati is a perfect symbol of the struggles against Soeharto'€™s iron-fisted rule. Soeharto stepped down in May 1998, and Megawati appeared as the strongest candidate to follow in her father'€™s footsteps, although she had to be patient for a while because Soeharto'€™s deputy BJ Habibie replaced Soeharto for about one year.

In October 1999, Megawati was unexpectedly defeated by her long-time friend Gus Dur and ended up serving as his vice president. Megawati became Indonesia'€™s fifth president in July 2001, because the People'€™s Consultative Assembly (MPR) removed him from his position for his erratic and confrontational approach toward the legislature.

In 2004, Indonesia held its first direct presidential election. She was optimistic that this time she would realize her dream of being a '€œtrue'€ president, although rumors widely circulated that her chief security czar Gen. (ret) Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono would also contest the election with his new Democratic Party (PD). She lost the race, and the PDI-P also garnered far fewer seats in the House of Representatives.

In 2009, Yudhoyono easily beat her in the presidential election, again. To this day, it appears that she still has not forgiven Yudhoyono for what she sees as '€œtreason'€ and wants her revenge.

'€œOld age does not mean there is no support from the people [...] Do not be mistaken, an old presidential candidate like me is also ready to fight,'€ Megawati boasted in January.

The Jakarta Post'€™s conversations with several party politicians who are very close to the former president, however, showed that their boss has not made any decision about Jokowi'€™s future, both for tactical reasons and much more fundamentally, because Megawati still has a strong ambition to try again one last time and try her luck in the presidential election. She has been humiliated in three elections, and she wants to restore her dignity.

Her close aides expressed wariness that the PDI-P would pay a very high price if their leader remained adamant about realizing her ambition, because they know very well that Megawati has a very slim chance of winning and the party could also suffer another defeat if she refused to give up.

Sabam Sirait, who persuaded Megawati to join the party in 1986 and remains one of her most trusted advisors, has denied that the party is divided over Jokowi'€™s possible candidacy.

'€œNo, that is not the case. It is probably like this: some still expect Megawati to run for the presidency, but there are also voices from Sabang to Merauke who say '€˜we want Jokowi'€™.

'€œHowever, according to the convention result, Megawati is the one who will decide who will be on the PDI-P'€™s presidential ticket. It might be her or other people,'€ Sabam added.

But none of Megawati'€™s aides are brave enough to openly voice their objection. Megawati tends to pay attention to the suggestions of senior party members who worked with her father or the founding members of the PDI-P (originally it was named PDI when established in 1973, but later was changed to PDI Perjuangan [PDI-P] in 1996 after Soeharto cracked down on the party). Senior party members are apparently trying to convince her to endorse Jokowi while continuing to help her in ensuring regeneration within the party and to reduce its dependence on Megawati.

'€œ[PDI-P/Megawati] has to be realistic in seeing the momentum. This is like when you want to sell things, you have to know what the market wants. If you sell things that the market does not like, you will lose. This is good momentum for the PDI-P because the party is doing fine and one of its cadres [Jokowi] has a good electability,'€ legislator Eva Sundari replied when asked by the Post about Megawati'€™s plan.

But she quickly added, '€œI think the party has to be smart in using good ammunition to win the battle and I am sure that Megawati will consider all aspects [before making a decision]. I am sure she will not make any decision that will damage the party.'€

Tubagus Hasanuddin, one of Megawati'€™s confidantes in the House, expressed similar views, although he avoided openly mentioning her name. In a discussion at the House on Monday, the retired major general pointed out that voters would vote for young candidates because they wanted major changes.

'€œNo matter who the senior candidates are, they will not be elected. It is just a waste of money. It is better for young figures to emerge,'€ said Hasanuddin, who served as Megawati'€™s presidential military secretary when she was the president from 2001 to 2004

For Megawati and the PDI-P, next year'€™s legislative and presidential elections are crucial. So it needs a huge amount of funds. As an opposition party since 2004, the PDI-P has very limited sources of funds, especially from government coffers.

Jokowi cannot provide the needed money. '€œI don'€™t think Jokowi can support the party financially. Of course money is important, but it is not everything,'€ said Sabam about possible funding from Jokowi.

Sidarto Danusubroto, who replaced Megawati'€™s husband Taufik Kiemas as the MPR'€™s speaker after he died earlier this year, has a different view about Megawati.

Sidarto claims that she is often unpredictable. '€œShe is a seasoned politician, but unpredictable. My appointment as the speaker of the MPR was also unpredictable,'€ said the retired police general who once served as Sukarno'€™s adjutant.

So will Megawati make a surprise decision on Jokowi?

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