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Monday, 21 May, 2001, 09:37 GMT 10:37 UK
Profile: Megawati Sukarnoputri
Megawati Sukarnoputri and President Wahid
Megawati: President Wahid's most serious challenge
By Richard Galpin in Jakarta

Rallies of Megawati Sukarnoputri's supporters tend to resemble pop concerts. To her millions of followers across the country she is an idol, a leader whom they all but worship.

Her Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDIP, won by far the largest number of votes in the last election two years ago - and yet she did not become president.

Her party did not have an outright majority and she failed to broker any deals with the other political parties in the National Assembly, the body which selects the new president.

But now it seems her time may have come.

Wahid undermined

As the country lurches from crisis to crisis, President Wahid's position has been eroded.

Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri
Megawati is following in her father's footsteps
Senior officials from Megawati's party such as Heri Achmadi believe her maternal, if not to say feudal approach to politics is exactly what Indonesia needs right now.

"First of all, she is a politician", he says. "But she is also a mother with her attention on her followers, on the people and the people who work with her."

He says that is what the country needs at a time when the majority of Indonesians feel abandoned by the government.

Family business

Megawati was born into the nation's political elite.

Her father, Sukarno, led the country to independence from Dutch colonial rule after World War II and became its first president.

He is still revered as a charismatic national hero and that status has been automatically transferred to Megawati.


She has a vision. It's a simple vision - it's almost a Ronald Reagan-like vision - of a strong, united democratic Indonesia and it about stops there. But maybe that's enough

Doug Ramage, the Asia Foundation

She clearly idolises him. "He is very handsome", she laughs. She says, giggling, that sometimes she thinks she is not his daughter as she keeps falling in love with him.

Analysts such as Doug Ramage of the Asia Foundation in Jakarta believe she has taken her father completely as her role-model.

"Megawati's vision of Indonesia is not appreciably different from her father's", he says.

"This is Indonesia as a unified nation state, where, if anything, decentralisation is slowed down and very few concessions if any are given to separatists in Irian Jaya or in Aceh - which could be a problem for her".

But, he says, she is known for her integrity, for making a deal and sticking with it.

Late arrival

Despite being a member of such a famous political family, Megawati was propelled into the limelight by default.

Only at the age of 40 did she reluctantly join the opposition to former President Suharto's authoritarian government.

Jakarta protest
There have been regular protests in Jakarta

But her family name soon ensured she became a symbol of popular resistance - so much so that in 1996 Suharto tried to remove her as leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party, provoking demonstrations in the capital.

His supporters attacked the party headquarters, leaving at least five dead and many others injured.

Megawati was transformed into a national hero. But since the downfall of President Suharto in 1998 she has shown little initiative.

Up to the job?

She remains one of the country's most popular politicians, but even as vice-president she has remained largely silent and aloof - the quintessential Javanese Princess.

Her critics say she is more interested in shopping and driving her favourite Volkswagen Beetle than the affairs of state.


She doesn't seem to be on top of major economic issues, even political issues

Harold Crouch, International Crisis Group

Harold Crouch of the International Crisis Group in Jakarta believes she is very limited intellectually: "The other day she was giving a speech in which she was criticising the autonomy laws and she didn't seem to be able to comprehend the idea that you can have state governments within a unitary state", he says.

"The concept of federalism is not a difficult concept to grasp, but she doesn't seem to have a grasp of it."

Even some members of her own party, such as Jacob Tobing, give less than convincing answers about why she should now become president.

"For one thing, she is there - we do not have an alternative", he says.

"But she is better than the others, she's a good listener, a team player, and she can do things through other people's effort."

If she does take power later this year, it will be critical she appoints a strong team around her.

Otherwise the political stability the country so urgently needs will not be achieved.

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See also:

21 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Megawati puts pressure on Wahid
18 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Wahid warns parliament he will fight
17 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Wahid: Gauging the public mood
15 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Defiant Wahid 'will run again'
31 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Wahid claims support of deputy
01 May 01 | Business
Indonesia economic crisis point
02 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Wahid ignores parliament censure
08 Dec 00 | Business
Indonesia bank chief in forgery row
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