AS INDONESIA AWAITS HER RISE, MEGAWATI'S RULE IS STUDIED
by Andreas Harsono
American Reporter Correspondent
JAKARTA, May 14, 2001 -- In late 1996, Megawati Sukarnoputri was a real = loner, although perhaps not by choice. The authoritarian regime of Presiden= t Suharto organized a bogus party congress and supported her opposition ins= ide the Indonesian Democratic Party to topple her from itsleadership. Suh= arto was then a tremendous power here, controlling the military, the bureau= cracy, the media, and the business world to the extent, said an Indonesian = thinker, that "the state was personalized."
Faced with such overwhelming power, many Megawati supporters abandoned= her.
Late one evening that Spring, I got an interview with Megawati in h= er house in the Kebagusan area in southern Jakarta. It was a quiet evening = and we had a one-hour interview, after which she walked me to the front gat= e. We chatted and looked at her garden.
She suddenly murmured about tending her garden in times of difficulties.= I quickly asked her how she would survive the political pressures she woul= d face.
"I think I have the stamina," she replied quietly. "I have experienced p= olitics since I was born." She was reminding me that she was the daughter o= f Indonesia's founding president Sukarno (likemany OIndoneisans, Sukarno us= ed just one name).
I left the house feeling a little bit puzzled. Nobody then expected Suha= rto to be forced to step down in the midst of the Asian economic crisisnear= ly two years after that evening's conversation.
Her stamina proved equal or better than the pressure. Megawati immediate= ly became the silent symbol of the reform movement. Her party gained the la= rgest vote total in the 1999 election, even though she was sidelined in the= ensuing presidential election. Another opposition leader, Abdurrahman Wahi= d, won the number one seat, and Megawati became his number two.
Now, 18 months after the election, impeachment is looming for President = Wahid, and Vice President Megawati's stamina has been proven once again. Sh= e is now close to becoming the chief executive herself. Many in Jakarta's e= lite circle have begun to speculate what kind of administration Megawati wi= ll have. Who will be in her cabinet? What kind of policies will she set?
Amien Rais, the chairman of the People's Consultative Assembly, the high= est legislative institution in Indonesia, said last week that he was confid= ent Megawati would be a better president than Wahid. "Many, many people tol= d me she is a good listener," he said. "She will listen to different advice= and I believe she will pick up very soon."
Wahid will answer a parliamentary censure on May 31, during which thepar= liament is very likely to recommend his impeachment. Although nothing iscer= tain in Indonesia, it seemsincreasingly likely that Wahid will leave his of= fice no later than August.
If parliament impeaches Wahid, the constitutio= n requires power to be handed over to Vice President Megawati.
Sadly, Megawati's likely accession to office would come in the middle of= Indonesia's wrecked economy and precarious unity. The government is curren= tly facing a budget crisis. Even if she overcomes the mid-year crisis, her = honeymoon may last no longer than the end of this fiscal year.
Indonesia = faces a rising level of macro-economic instability it has never experienced= before. Economic planners will have to lower fuel subsidies andcut transfe= rs to regional governments -- both politically sensitive issuesrequiring co= nsiderable will. The number of unemployed is alarming, sinceless and less i= nvestment is being made. Much of the government's budget is used just to pa= y the salaries of civil servants and soldiers.
Her aides said Megawati will choose her economic advisors herself, letti= ng her coalition partners have other cabinet portfolios. But Megawati will = have a stronger coalition than Wahid's. Her party is not only the biggest f= action in parliament but also has the support of more than 50 percent of it= s 500 members.
But her downside, unfortunately, is politics. While Wahid hasattempted t= o accommodate separatist sentiment in Aceh and Papua -- so far with minimal= success -- Megawati is likely to take a much harder line. She opposes the = idea of Indonesia becoming a federal country with separatist regions gainin= g some autonomy.
Megawati is also closer to the military and not as liberal asWahid, whos= e views on democracy, human rights, religious tolerance and media freedom h= ave won kudos in many parts of the world.
She always believes that she should preserve the legacy of her father: n= ation building. That is not easy task here, though. Suharto left behind a l= ot of injustices, especially in places like Aceh and Papua (the former East= Timor).
Whether Megawati can navigate the difficulties ahead is still an unanswe= red question. The first indication should come with the selection of her as= sistants. If she manages to get the best of her desired line-up, especially= amongthose who showed their golden qualities during the Suharto repression= , she will have a better chance of survival.
The rest, as she told me that evening, is stamina. And she hasa whole lo= t of that.
Andreas Harsono, an AR Correspondent in indonesia since 199= 6, won a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard in 1999. He has since returned to Jak= arta to work on extended editorial projects.