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JAKARTA - Voter perceptions of the qualities of individual leaders appear to play an important part in Indonesian elections, according to the earlier mentioned survey. Megawati Soekarnoputri was the clear favorite of voters according to our data, and probably pulled the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI Perjuangan) along with her. The difference between the former Indonesian Nationalist Party's (PNI) 22 percent in 1955 and PDI Perjuangan's 34 percent in 1999 is almost certainly due in part to Megawati's appeal. Various actions of Megawati, such as her support for the reelection of Governor Sutiyoso in Jakarta, have been widely condemned. Many local observers also claim that she will be hurt by the slowness of economic recovery and by evidence that she is unwilling to fight corruption.
Few leaders of other parties, however, calculating their chances against hers, believe that she has been hurt significantly either by her actions or by her non-actions and silences on important issues (for which she is also notorious). They see her, though they did not use the term, as a "teflon president" (no accusation sticks) like Ronald Reagan in the United States. Her support is more personal than political, in the sense of not being driven by issues. Her inherited charisma is part of her appeal, but she is also learning how to charm audiences, as she apparently did on her recent trip to Algeria.
Fifth, they believe that Megawati has the TNI, the armed forces, in her pocket. During the New Order, the Indonesian Military played a critical role in assuring a large Golkar victory, election after election from 1971 to 1997, at the direction of then-President Soeharto. This was achieved in two ways: Through direct repression of opposition parties and through stiffening the spine, when necessary, of the civilian government officials who led Golkar, then the state party. In the regions, the principal instrument of this political strategy was the "territorial system," a hierarchy of military commands from the province to the village that engaged in both surveillance of and operations against the New Order's opponents.
The territorial commands still exist, but do not appear to have been much used in the 1999 election campaign, when they would have been deployed on president B.J. Habibie's and Golkar's behalf. They are not likely to be openly active in 2004 either. Too much is at stake for Megawati and PDI Perjuangan in terms of democratic legitimacy, which requires maintaining a sharp distinction between the controlled authoritarian elections of the New Order and the open democratic elections of this reform era. Nonetheless, there is now a general consensus among observers and actors that the TNI is happy with Megawati's leadership. She places the highest policy priority on national integrity, and supports the use of armed force against separatist rebels. Like TNI leaders (and her father), she is a centralizer, determined to correct what she sees as a pendulum swing too far in the direction of autonomous regional government.
With regard to the prosecution of past (and current) human rights violations by officers and soldiers, her instinct is to protect the armed forces. Moreover, she appears to have little concern with the anti-democratic implications of the territorial system or of the financial independence from the state budget of the armed forces. Therefore much TNI-connected money and other forms of behind-the-scenes support at the national and regional levels are likely to be directed Megawati's way in 2004. Little armed forces money and support are likely to go elsewhere, except perhaps to the party of Megawati's vice-presidential candidate (a consideration for party leaders too). Finally, the party leaders whom I interviewed see Megawati as accommodating and predictable. They know that no one of their parties, given the multi-partyism and constitutional structure, can totally control the government in the foreseeable future. They also want to be represented in the executive branch, not just in the legislature.
This desire, to be represented in the executive, is one of the most powerful forces at work in Indonesian politics today (and perhaps throughout the whole of the independence period). The party leaders therefore seek a president who will rule not on the basis of a narrow majority, just enough parties to form a minimum winning coalition in the legislature, but rather one who will cast a wide, inclusive net, giving them opportunities to hold cabinet positions or other important governmental posts. In July 2001 Megawati, though the leader of a party hostile to political Islam, encouraged the vice-presidential candidacy of United Development's (PPP) Hamzah Haz and appointed several Muslim leaders, modernists and traditionalists, from all of the major parties, to her cabinet. None of these ministers appears to be in danger of losing his or her job between now and 2004.
The leaders of the largest parties can thus predict with some confidence that, if elected president in 2004, Megawati will behave as she did in July 2001. A first test of this prediction will be her choice of a vice-presidential candidate prior to the 2004 election. Of course the leaders of Golkar, the National Awakening Party (PKB) and PPP respectively expect (or at least hope) that she will choose from their party. Their main concern, however, is that she demonstrate her continuing accommodative stance by selecting a running mate whose party and political base are different from hers. In particular, they expect that Islam and/or non-Java will be represented.
The party leaders' belief that Megawati is accommodating and predictable contrasts with their evaluation of the earlier presidency of Abdurrahman Wahid and also with their previous evaluation of Megawati as a potential president. Abdurrahman chose a vice-president, Megawati, whose party and political base were different from his, but then insulted and harassed her for the 20 months of their joint tenure in office. He also chose a "rainbow cabinet". Within weeks, however, he had fired one coordinating minister, from PPP, and three ministers, from PDI Perjuangan, Golkar, and Crescent Star Party (PBB), effectively obliterating the rainbow and all but dooming his presidency. Megawati famously but foolishly declared PDI Perjuangan the winner of the 1999 parliamentary election. She forgot or ignored the fact that her party had only 34 percent of votes and, crucially, an even smaller percentage of the seats in the MPR, the People's Consultative Assembly, which elected the president.
Unwilling to negotiate with other parties, in particular unwilling to accommodate the fears of pious Muslims, she lost the presidential contest to Abdurrahman. Her long months as vice-president appear to have had a beneficial learning effect, however, since as president she has not repeated her predecessor's errors. How long is Megawati likely to serve as Indonesia's president? The 1945 Constitution, as amended, specifies that a president may serve for two terms. The period 2004-2009 could be construed as either her second or her first term. Under similar constitutional conditions, Lyndon Johnson served out the term of the assassinated John F. Kennedy (1961-1965), was elected in his own right in 1964, and could have run again in 1968. Perhaps Megawati's eligibility in 2009 will be one of the first issues resolved by the new Constitutional Court.

Posted in Politics @ 17 September 2002 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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