Intriguing options for Megawati
By Kanis Dursin
JAKARTA - Indonesian Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri's talents for intrigue will be put to the supreme test in the weeks leading up to the impeachment trial of President Abdurrahman Wahid beginning on August 1.
Barring the unexpected, which in the current turmoil that is Indonesian politics cannot be ruled out, Wahid will be forced out of office by a special session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), paving the way for Megawati to step up into the top job.
But if she is going to have a free hand in assigning Cabinet ministers and formulating government policies, she will have to carefully cultivate enough support without alienating key political groupings.
The MPR, the country's highest legislative body that has the power to elect and remove presidents and vice presidents, will hear charges that Wahid has mismanaged the country during his 20-month rule. Although the 1945 Constitution is vague on the succession in cases of impeachment, most parties and political analysts believe that being the vice president, Megawati should replace Wahid if he goes.
Megawati seemingly realizes this will be her only chance to take power as there is no guarantee her party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), will be strong enough to win general elections scheduled for 2004. "With the quality of human resources we have now, we find no reason for us to be optimistic about the 2004 general elections," says a PDI-P legislator.
Despite being the biggest faction both in the MPR and the House of Representatives (DPR), internal rifts have divided Megawati's party into several factions, with rivalry likely to get out of hand. The PDI-P has 195 members in the MPR and DPR.
Further, many PDI-P members and party functionaries throughout the country are not well educated and are neophytes in politics with little organizational or negotiation skills. Come election time in 2004, these people will easily be out-maneuvered by their political rivals.
Due to repression by former authoritarian leader Suharto, the recruitment of PDI-P cadres has mostly been based on whether or not they had enough guts to "stand up" against the regime, rather than on any academic qualifications.
After winning the 1999 general elections, PDI-P legislators did practically nothing to usher Megawati into the presidential post to which she was entitled, thereby giving Muslim-based parties an easy time in blocking her and installing Wahid.
Megawati now shuns her former confidante Wahid, who is trying his best to strike a political compromise with his opponents before the MPR session. On Monday, Wahid, now almost completely isolated politically, gave his opponents until July 20 to back off their efforts to oust him, warning he would declare a state of emergency and call snap elections if they pushed ahead with the impeachment hearing. The threat came after key party leaders, including Megawati, refused to attend a meeting he called to rescue his failing presidency.
It appears now the major political parties are consulting with the PDI-P before making any moves. Sources say Megawati has ruled out any possibility of striking a compromise with Wahid, so much so that she avoids meeting him. Regular Wednesday breakfast sessions between the two have also been scrapped.
The challenge for Megawati now is how she rises to the presidency without giving the impression she is doing so at the expense of Wahid. This is complicated as Megawati is not only chairperson of the PDI-P, she is vice president, which according to the Constitution is also the president's assistant. This is a serious issue since in many places, especially in West Java, Central Java and East Java provinces, PDI-P die-hards are also members of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), a Muslim organization Wahid chaired before he was elected in 1999.
"Our difficulty is how to make Megawati president without losing the support of NU members," PDI-P legislator Paul S Baut says. The NU is the country's biggest Muslim organization with some 30 million members. Wahid, a grandson of the founder of NU, commands high respect in it.
Megawati, according to sources, has allocated some strategic ministerial posts for the National Awakening Party (PKB), which Wahid set up prior to the 1999 elections. At one point, Megawati even considered giving the vice presidential post to Wahid's younger brother Sholahuddin Wahid, but backed off after receiving strong reactions from other parties.
Despite repeated calls from the former ruling Golkar party and Muslim-based parties for her to organize a meeting of leaders, Megawati refuses to do so as "she does not want to appear that she personally leads the anti-Wahid forces". Also, "Megawati does not want to feel indebted to those parties," says a PDI-P legislator.
source: Asia Times Online, July 13, 2001