To become a national heroine, Megawati must start by giving Jokowi the freedom he needs to reform the National Police and strengthen the KPK.
Through the nostalgic eyes of many Indonesians, Megawati Soekarnoputri and Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid are considered heroes for challenging Soeharto’s authoritarian regime and catalyzing political reform.
Once unified in power, the two ended their partnership in a bitter rivalry that extended into Gus Dur’s 2001 impeachment. Despite his fall from grace, Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa has stated that Gus Dur will soon be posthumously named a national hero for his contribution to Indonesian pluralism.
Does Megawati, too, deserve the title of heroine? Many would say no.
Most critics view Megawati as a hindrance to progress and a puppeteer controlling the presidential show from above.
Today, Megawati is the most powerful former Indonesian president bar none.
Beyond chairing and owning the country’s most powerful party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), Megawati is the patron to whom President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is seemingly subservient.
She once called Jokowi a mere “party officer” and commanded him to install her former adjutant Budi Gunawan, as National Police chief even after Budi was named a suspect by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).
After a dramatic saga and the criminalisation of two KPK leaders, Budi was eventually installed as deputy police chief.
One cannot help but leap to the assumption that Megawati is Jokowi’s boss.
Megawati’s abhorrent statement calling for the disbandment of the KPK has sparked yet more controversy.
With Indonesia’s international reputation for corruption and the pervasiveness of graft at the highest levels of national governance, Megawati’s statement alluding to the disbandment of the KPK is appalling and out of sync with the national agenda for change.
Whether or not Megawati’s statement was misconstrued by the media does not absolve her from the thoughtlessness, disdain and disrespect she directed toward an institution that has brought corrupt prominent officials to justice and incarceration.
Most recently, her party’s strategic alignment with five other political parties to amend KPK Law No. 20/2002 prompted public condemnation and protest.
The PDI-P could be transformed by Megawati into a party that fights against corruption.
The proposed revision includes the termination of the KPK 12 years from the date of the new law’s passage.
Succumbing to public pressure, Jokowi and the House of Representatives agreed to defer the revision until the next sitting session.
Megawati’s failure to fortify the KPK and promote the institution’s standing alongside the National Police and Attorney General’s Office is proof that her power is not marshaled toward supporting corruption eradication efforts.
As the daughter of Indonesia’s founding father, Megawati paved her own way toward success as the nation’s fifth president and she is today Indonesia’s most powerful former president.
However, there is a different role for Megawati that so many Indonesians cling onto.
We hope that Megawati will one day progress into the role of mother and guardian of the nation.
Once viewed as a disadvantage, Megawati’s gender is an asset in a male-dominated political landscape. Using data from the World Values Survey, the scholars Smawy et al. (2000) argue that women are less likely to condone corruption or become involved in bribery.
They argue that women are more likely to be involved in raising children and therefore more likely to practice honesty to teach their children the right moral values. Women also tend to feel that laws exist to protect them and are therefore more willing to follow rules.
This study is a contentious one and installing female leaders is not necessarily the “magic bullet” needed to fight corruption.
What holds true is that Megawati yields tremendous power and her influence, actions and choice of words can have a national impact.
To become a national heroine, Megawati must start by giving Jokowi the freedom he needs to reform the National Police and strengthen the KPK. She must also abdicate her personal interest in Jokowi’s wider administrative decisions.
Dubbed the most corrupt party by the KPK Watch, the PDI-P could be transformed by Megawati into a party that fights against corruption and genuinely fights for the people.
Only then can Megawati become our heroine; Indonesia’s anti-corruption heroine.
If in doubt, Megawati can reflect upon other female leaders who champion the war against corruption around the world. Africa’s first elected female head of state, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, has endangered her life in the fight against corruption since taking office in 2006.
She was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her bravery in combating corruption and violence in Liberia.
Malawi’s ousted president, Joyce Banda, fought a graft saga in which civil servants, businessmen and politicians were put on trial for stealing US$29 million (S$41 million) from the Malawi’s state budget.
She also launched an investigation against her predecessor for a corruption scandal totaling US$208 million.
Now is the time for Megawati to make history by changing the future of Indonesia. By fully committing herself toward the eradication of corruption, Megawati could finally and rightfully claim her stake as the mother, nurturer and heart of Indonesia. A true heroine.