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Megawati's silence on Indonesia's next president

Megawati's silence on Indonesia's next president
Published 10 Mar 2014 

The polls have been clear since last year: if the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) nominates Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo (pictured; left) as its presidential candidate, it will almost certainly win the election this July. So why hasn't party chairwoman Megawati Sukarnoputri (pictured; centre) made the move to support him yet?

With few clear words from Megawati herself on the subject, political analysts in Indonesia have been left to extrapolate meaning from her enigmatic gestures as if reading signs from the heavens.

A common conclusion is that Megawati still wants to run for president herself. She had a taste of the top job between 2001-2004 but was never popularly elected, having been installed by legislators after President Abdurrahman Wahid was dismissed. She failed to retain the presidency in 2004 and lost again in 2009, both times to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. At 67 years of age, this may be her last chance to run for president in Indonesia's five-year election cycle. [fold]

Then there is the matter of family background. The daughter of Indonesia's first president, Sukarno, Megawati is said to view the presidency as her birthright. Even if she doesn't see it that way, plenty of Sukarno loyalists do. Ties to the nation's founding father constitute a strong pulling point for Megawati's party. The 'Struggle' in the party name is in reference to Sukarno's role in the fight for Indonesian independence.

In what could be one of her strongest endorsements for Jokowi as a candidate, she told the press last year that he has a 'Sukarno vibe', a compliment she immediately downplayed by adding that 'other potential young members also have a similar capacity' to continue her father's legacy.

As the 9 April legislative elections approach, Megawati's evasion of the Jokowi question is beginning to rile PDI-P members who want to tie their legislative tickets to the Jakarta governor's soaring popularity. But Megawati has continued to keep her cards close to her chest, hinting that the announcement will be made soon after the April elections.

It's possible that Megawati, who is simultaneously an establishment figure and a symbol of the reform era, simply cannot comprehend the Jokowi phenomenon. On a recent trip to Surabaya to smooth out a party dispute involving city mayor Tri 'Risma' Rismaharini, Megawati defended the controversial installment of deputy mayor Wisnu Sakti Buana by saying, 'I regard Wisnu as my own son because I've known him since he was a child'.

An answer like this will do little to settle the minds of supporters of new-school leaders like Jokowi and Risma, who place competence and clean governance above family ties in politics. The two young leaders sat quietly as Megawati faced the press in Surabaya, who it turns out were there to see the country's rumoured future leader.

'I come here with Pak Jokowi and people make such a fuss. What is it with Pak Jokowi?' she said.

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