April 28, 2023
JAKARTA – Highly educated Indonesians and conservative Muslims have often expressed condescending views on Megawati Soekarnoputri, the chairperson of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the largest party in the ruling coalition, mostly because her statements appear to have been targeted at ordinary folk, who make up the base of her political party.
But many of Megawati’s detractors could find themselves embarrassed and forced to eat their own words if Megawati for the second time decides the country’s presidency, come February 2024.
It has been widely accepted that it was Megawati who played the most important role in catapulting then Jakarta governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, to the country’s top job back in 2014 and again in 2019.
Now it is very likely that Megawati, arguably the country’s most prominent female politician, could score a hat-trick if the candidate she endorsed for the 2024 presidential election, Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo, comes top next year.
Last week, on April 21, as the country celebrated female hero Kartini and on the eve of Idul Fitri holiday, the daughter of the first Indonesian president Sukarno for the second time made what should count as the biggest gamble in her political career, something that could help cement her statesmanship status.
Casting aside her ego, as she had wanted her daughter Puan Maharani, speaker of the House of Representatives to run herself, Megawati announced Ganjar to be her best bet to win the Feb. 14, 2024 presidential election.
Those who had grown worried that she would shut out the people’s aspirations were proven wrong.
Yet, it is also a typical move of Megawati to have finally settled on Ganjar. Megawati has been known to take her time and contemplate her choices before making strategic decisions. She has the final say on who will be the presidential candidate and nobody would dare to challenge her choice.
Settling for Ganjar should be an easy move as public opinion polls have consistently put Ganjar in the lead, unlike Puan who only scores in single digits. The PDI-P’s grassroots supporters have also demanded Megawati quickly anoint Ganjar.
But despite Ganjar’s unshakeable lead, Megawati continued to hold off the crucial decision, even after President Jokowi signaled his impatience with her procrastinating.
With Ganjar securing the PDI-P nomination, the presidential election looks set to be a three-horse race. Former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan, representing the opposition camp, has proven himself to be a serious contender, while Gerindra chairman Prabowo Subianto will likely run for the fourth time. In this scenario, Ganjar can likely pull off a win.
For the task of delivering a win for Ganjar and PDI-P, Megawati has again set aside her ego by ordering Puan to lead the party’s committee tasked to win the 2024 general elections. It is not an easy task for Puan, who has long shown her dislike of Ganjar.
Ego is a recurring theme in Megawati’s political decisions. In 2014, she decided not to run for the third time after back-to-back defeats to her former chief security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) in the 2004 and 2009 elections. She made way for Jokowi to join the race.
Her defeat to SBY left a scar and for 10 years the PDI-P opted to lead the coalition to ensure the checks and balances mechanism worked effectively. Even when many of the PDI-P elites, including her husband Taufik Kiemas, advised Megawati to mend fences and join the SBY government, she was adamant to remain in opposition.
It appears that now, after securing successive wins for the PDI-P, Megawati wants to play her statesmanship role with greater self-confidence.
Many people disagree with or even dislike Megawati’s politics, but it is difficult to discount her contribution to building democracy in the country.