Wednesday, January 14, 1998

Sukarno’s daughter grasps the challenge

Andreas Harsono
The West Australian, January 14 1998

President Suharto could find his predecessor’s legacy come back to haunt him.

THE green and serene Kebagusan area again exploded with noise on Saturday when more than 4000 supporters of Indonesian opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri descended on her villa shortly before sunset.

While technicians tested the blaring sound system, they catted in Ms Megawati’s spacious garden. Street vendors opened their stands as people needed food to break their daytime fast imposed during the Muslim festival of Ramadan.

Minutes later in a fiery speech in front of the carnival-like gathering, Ms Megawati, wearing a flowing, white silk outfit, said she was determined to become the next president of Indonesia.

“With an honest and willing hearth, I take his opportunity to declare my determination to become the leader of our nation and people,” she said.

People roared. Ms Megawati gave an usually direct on hour speech in which she condemned President Suharto’s regime for what she said was “unbridled greed.”

“We should allow the man to rest and live again as an ordinary citizen,” she said, politely asking Ms Megawati’s father, after what has been called a “creeping coup d’état”.

Now, his eldest daughter urged Indonesians to demand that Mr. Suharto shun nomination for a seventh presidential term in March.

“It is unwise and starkly speculative and totally irresponsible if certain parties further their interest in re-electing Suharto to another five year now that he is not in good health,” she said.

Her supporters answered with loud applause and cries of, “Long live Mega, Long live Mega.” 

Some old one’s shed tears and cried, “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar (God is Great).”

Others shouted the old revolutionary salute “Merdeka!” A young worker showed a banner; “Megawati: President 1998-2003.”

Her lieutenants, like noted economist Kwik Kian Gie, banker Laksamana Sukardi, veteran politicians Sutardjo Surjogurinto, Abdul Madjid, Alex Litaay, Mangara Siahaan, as well as other dissidents like former Jakarta governor Ali Sadikin and human rights campaigner Bambang Widjojanto, who lined behind her, immediately shook her hand.  

United States diplomat Edmund McWilliams shook her hand and said, “It’s been long expected.” She smiled and said “Merdeka” which literally means freedom. 

Ms Megawati could not have timed her challenge better. 

Last week the rupiah plunged Indonesia’s $60.20 billion international bailout was threatened by Mr. Suharto’s apparent unwillingness to adhere to the terms of the rescue package.

But is it technically possible for Ms Megawati transform her pledge into real politics? Is it possible for Ms Megawati tame the powerful military?’

Indonesia’s 1000-strong People’s Consultative Assembly (MRP), which has the rights to elect the president and vice-president in March, is 57,5 per cent composed of “people representative” who are directly appointed by Mr. Suharto. 

It has five factions including Mr. Suharto’s ruling party Golkar; the tightly-controlled Muslim-based United Development Party --the government-backed rival to Ms Megawati’s Indonesian Democratic Party; the armed forces; and the provincial representatives.

Nomination of the president legally could only be made by one of the factions which had never nominated anyone but Mr. Suharto since the former general held his first election in 1971.

“We know that it is technically very difficult. Why did the government oust Megawati? Because she is a major concern to her removal in 1996, which triggered some of the worst rioting in Jakarta in two decades," said Kwik Kian Gie.

The general understanding is that Mr. Suharto ordered Ms. Megawati’s removal, fearing as party chief she might nominate herself.

“Ms Megawati has only a slight change as she fights for the presidency from outside the system,” said Muslim leader Amien Rais, who heads the Muhammadiyah organisation and who was recently named a presidential candidate by a faction within the United Development Party.

“The system of national succession is uncertain. We do not know political system must be fixed first,” said Abdurrahman Wahid of the 30 million-strong Nahdlatul Ulama organisation.

Ms. Megawati herself also implicitly admitted such a situation, saying that Indonesia had no peaceful and democratic mechanism on transition of power. “We should not repeat the same mistake twice,” Ms Megawati said, referring to the bloody Sukarno-to-Suharto transition in which at least 500.000 people were killed.

But she also reminded the people that the blood shed took place since people did not believe that anyone could replace the charismatic President Sukarno.

Indeed, pressure is growing from various corners, including retired generals, student’s nationalist politicians and Muslim organisations, to push Suharto off the stage.

Some army officers have already hinted that they would like to support Ms. Megawati.

“Our army is split between the Suharto loyalists and the nationalist,” Alex Litaay said.

Ending her speech, as if sending the message to Mr. Suharto, Ms Megawati asked her supporters to learn about what Mr. Sukarno told her from his deathbed.

“My child, keep all these things in your heart,” he said.

“Don’t speak about my suffering and illness to the people. Let me be sacrificed, if unity in Indonesia is achieved. Let my life inspire unity, harmony, oneness and the noble spirit of our people. Let my suffering became a witness that even the power of the president has its limits. Lasting power must be held by the people and only God is omnipotent.”

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