Megawati: Indonesia’s Lady of Stamina
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Tuesday, February 07, 2023
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Megawati: Indonesia’s Lady of Stamina


By Andreas Harsono JULY, 2001 - VOLUME 9 NO.6


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Indonesians were glued to live television and radio broadcasts of the nation’s first ever impeachment process as Wahid’s supporters began arriving in front of the palace in an obvious bid to protect their leader. Otherwise, however, life in Jakarta was normal. Many shops opened, although many Jakartans preferred to skip their working day to watch the impeachment process. Monday afternoon, after learning that Wahid was not going to attend his impeachment, the assembly fired him and installed Megawati as the chief executive. "The People’s Consultative Assembly hereby dismisses Mr. Abdurrahman Wahid as the president of the Republic of Indonesia prior to the end of his term as he has been proven breaching the guidelines of the state," said Amien Rais, the speaker of the assembly. Megawati made a short speech after the swearing-in ceremony, "To start this job, I am calling on all parties to accept this decision with an open heart. It is my belief that there is no single big group that can lead the country out of the crisis. So I expect cooperation from all parties." A FEW days after her swearing-in ceremony, the victorious Megawati Sukarnoputri gave an exclusive interview to Time magazine. She stressed that her main priority was "to maintain the integrity of the country." Knowing that Aceh and Papua, in addition to religious and ethnic violence elsewhere in the country, would be among her biggest tests, she said, "Many of the problems and conflicts are violent in nature but we have learned that it will be impossible to settle them with more violence. The fact that the special session concluded without violence is a sign that our democracy is maturing." Time’s Jason Tedjasukmana pressed her on this point: "There is an impression that you will be more inclined to use the military and more repressive means to settle conflicts in restive regions such as Aceh and Irian Jaya. Is this your plan?" Megawati laughed. "The media may say this but as PDIP chairman I have had a bitter experience with violence. My whole family experienced it. We first need to follow the rules of the game. We have laws and the 1945 Constitution which makes it obligatory for me to preserve the unity of this country." Critics doubted whether Megawati could achieve this goal without resorting to repressive measures. Some also noted that the military played a key role in bringing her to power. Dita Indah Sari, a young Indonesian woman leader who was awarded the 2001 Magsaysay Award for Emerging Leadership, said Indonesia as well as other countries in Asia such as the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Burma, still have traditional leadership based on family names or traditional organizations. "Megawati is a traditional leader. She rose to power because of her father’s aura," said Dita Sari. She added, however, that in the near future, Asia would very likely have more modern and rational leadership. Author Pramoedya Ananta Toer pointed out that Megawati had served in parliament during Suharto’s regime. As a member of parliament, she received a house and salary from Suharto’s New Order government. "But did she ever say anything about the way her father was treated? Did she ever protest when her fellow countrymen were imprisoned? Never!" But Megawati is not alone. Even after Suharto resigned, no one would take him to task; no one dared to bring him to trial. Silently, through his New Order prot้g้, Suharto still holds power in Indonesia. "Megawati came to power on the crest of a wave of youth rebellion. Those kids didn’t really think about it; they didn’t have any other figurehead, so they adopted her because she was Sukarno’s daughter. That’s all she is," said Pramoedya. But never make this claim to Megawati. "Do not look at me as the daughter of Bung Karno. Let us position Bung Karno as the founder of the country," she told Time. Ironically, however, she always mentions her family blood when people ask her about her stamina. It was her father and mother, she said, who gave her the strength she spoke of during that late evening conversation in 1996. Andreas Harsono is the editor of Pantau magazine.


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