Jokowi’s Mega Problem
Indonesia’s political scene is so weird that even Canberra’s most convoluted machinations are but Playschool.
Decried by The Jakarta Post editor Meidyatama Surodiningrat for its ‘hugger-mugger nature, filled with distortions, strange associations, devious schemes and inflexible standpoints’ our northern neighbour is now performing a Greek tragedy.
The lead role stars the wilful Megawati Soekarnoputri, Indonesia’s fifth president (2001- 2004) and self-appointed head of the nation’s marginally most popular political party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, known as PDI-P.
Like an African ‘people’s democratic republic’, the title is a misnomer. Mega, 68, recently agreed to continue running the PDI-P for the next five years. She’s a lady who doesn’t tolerate opposition, so gets none.
Mega means Cloud Goddess in Javanese. The wati suffix indicates a woman. Her other name is a patronymic. She is one of first president Soekarno’s nine children from nine wives, but the one most determined to maintain dynastic politics.
Soekarno was ousted in a coup d’état 50 years ago by General Soeharto who went on to run the nation with the army’s help till 1998.
Mega started the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) but was given little breathing space by Soeharto’s authoritarian administration. In 1996 the government, fearing the Soekarno name could rally emerging opposition, tried to engineer a violent takeover of the party.
In the riot five people died. 150 were injured and 23 disappeared. Perjuangan (Struggle) was then added to the PDI’s name.
When democracy was restored to the nation in 1999 the PDI-P won most votes in the election contested by 48 parties. At that time the president was appointed by Parliament, which chose Islamic cleric Abdurrahman Wahid with Mega as his deputy.
After Wahid was impeached in 2001 she held the top job till defeated in the first direct election of 2004 by a Cabinet minister she’d sacked – former general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY).
Had she then retired gracefully to become a roving ambassador for a worthy cause, Mega might have retained respect as the first woman to lead the world’s most populous Islamic nation. But power is a narcotic, and Mega an addict.
Instead Indonesians recall an aloof policy-free president largely controlled by the military who didn’t use her power to pursue justice for her supporters who were killed in 1996.
Five years later she stood for the presidency but was again defeated by SBY. She wanted a third crack at last year’s election but was dissuaded by advisers who read the runes and knew the Soekarno brand had passed its use-by date. More than 40 per cent of the population is under 24 so lacks the personal knowledge of the first two presidents’ eras that drives the decisions of older folks.
Last year Mega belatedly endorsed Jakarta Governor Joko (Jokowi) Widodo ahead of her millionaire daughter Puan Maharani, now Mum’s pick as Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Cultural Affairs.
Jokowi, who won with a margin of eight million votes, was supposed to be the bright new hope, a former furniture trader and can-do small town mayor with the common touch. He had no connections with the Jakarta oligarchs convinced they own the Republic and the right to run it as a regal trust dispensing grace and favour.
Mega certainly thinks she controls Jokowi and can dictate who sits in his Cabinet. (See OLO 29 October 2014) - but also decide who runs the notoriously graft-ridden police.
Her selection was three-star general Budi Gunawan an old friend from her presidential days. The problem is that Gunawan, who is either a biz-whiz or a crooked cop, earns under $AUD 2,000 a month yet has properties, goods and cash worth $AUD 2.3 million.
Unsurprisingly the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), nicknamed the gecko, thought these figures a tad odd and started investigating. The police, known as the crocodile, retaliated by arresting senior KPK figures on allegations of perjury from their pre-KPK time as lawyers.
Here was the chance for Jokowi to assert his authority and back the popular KPK that’s already put many high-level crims in clink. Instead he flip-flopped, then postponed a decision, pleasing no-one.
While observers assumed the new president’s enemy would be his defeated rival, former Soeharto son-in-law Prabowo Subianto, most attacks so far have been green-on-blue.
Jokowi is the engineer of his own problems, letting the reservoir of electoral support run to waste. On the shelves of Gramedia, the nation’s foremost publisher and bookseller, are at least 20 titles featuring the new president.
Many are cut-and-paste exercises in hagiography. Some are comics. All are gushingly optimistic, reflecting the 2014 ‘It’s time’ mood. There’s also a feature film. The Second Coming would be hard pushed to eclipse the joyous hope of yesteryear.
Like the leader of his great southern neighbour, Jokowi soon shattered promises. Most notable was his pledge to install only the most competent selfless visionaries in Cabinet – not Mega’s selfish old mates seeking rewards for questionable past services.
Had he been a brilliant orator like his matron’s Dad, the President might just have been able to keep the ranks in step.
Sadly he’s an appallingly bad public speaker, hesitant, repetitive and uncomfortable with crowds. Watching him perform on TV encourages toilet trips. Only in one-on-one chats with soft journos does he come across as affable, though not charismatic.
Apart from his determination to make the Republic a maritime power, Jokowi’s foreign policy is indifference, unnecessarily creating international ill-will through his obsession for putting traffickers before firing squads, simplistically arguing this will solve the drug problem.
The President’s best hope is to cut ties with Mega while he still has some credit in the bank of public goodwill. Unseating her would be impossible – there’ll be no spill motion from the ranks.
A smart politician would offer Mega a splendid title and a sinecure in New York or Paris, some city with elite shops and far away, but Jokowi isn’t that clever.
The only chance is to follow his predecessor’s example; SBY created the Democratic Party (himself as chair, wife Ani as vice-chair and son Edhie as secretary general) to get the presidency.
Maybe Jokowi has left it too late. Supporters might fill the streets, but he won’t get airborne without the financial thrust of several media millionaires.
The biographies will eventually be remaindered – then pulped. That could be the fate of their subject unless he rapidly learns how to seize the moment, disarm the disrupters and lead the world’s third largest democracy into a future of fairness it so badly needs.
(First published in On Line Opinion, 9 February 2014. For comments see: http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=17074