The Asian Voice

Indonesia's democracy challenged if Megawati revives original Constitution: Jakarta Post columnist

Those in power, including the political elite, power brokers, big business people and the military, may undermine democracy with their deceptive excuses and narratives.
Those in power, including the political elite, power brokers, big business people and the military, may undermine democracy with their deceptive excuses and narratives.PHOTO: THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

The writer warns that Ms Megawati Soekarnoputri's campaign to revive the original Constitution - which grants the People's Consultative Assembly power to elect the next president - may return Indonesia to a dictatorship.

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Indonesia will celebrate its 74th anniversary of independence on Saturday.

More than just observing the country's struggle, led by Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta, to be free from the shackles of the Dutch colonial power, on Saturday the nation will also commemorate the 20th anniversary of its united commitment to democracy, making a break from its authoritarian past.

Twenty years ago, we held our first democratic legislative elections. Five years later, in 2004, Indonesians directly elected their president and vice president.

Now, however, our democracy is back in danger. Those in power, including the political elite, power brokers, big business people and the military, may undermine democracy with their deceptive excuses and narratives.

In the meantime, certain Islamic groups and Muslim-oriented parties aim to build a caliphate, calling democracy a product of infidels.

We don't need to hire well-known pollsters or famous scholars to identify the most powerful persons in Indonesia's realpolitik nowadays. The more well-wishers visit them during Idul Fitri, the more powerful they become.

Of course, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo is officially the country's most powerful figure, but the chairwoman of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), Megawati Soekarnoputri, is the de-facto leader.

Megawati, the country's fifth president, inspired the people to reclaim their sovereignty from Suharto, who had ruled for about 32 years, in the reform movement in 1998.

She was crowned the icon of democracy on June 7, 1999, when her PDI-P won the country's first free and democratic election with 33.74 per cent of the vote. The Suharto-founded Golkar Party came second with 22.44 per cent.

History has written Megawati as a figure who united the people in their struggle to end Suharto's dictatorship, but will history remember her as a person who led a movement to reinstate Suharto's antidemocratic practices?

There are agonising indications that Megawati, the eldest daughter of the country's first president, Sukarno, is playing - or being persuaded to play - a leading role in a campaign orchestrated by those who enjoyed privileges during Suharto's heyday to bring the nation back to those old days.

Many forces stand behind her, including opposition leader Prabowo Subianto and major political parties.

Megawati's PDI-P, with support from, among other parties, Prabowo's Gerindra, is pushing for a constitutional amendment aimed at reviving the original version of the 1945 Constitution, which entrusted the People's Consultative Assembly to indirectly elect the president and vice president and to draft State Policy Guidelines (GBHN).

Besides, the original Constitution did not limit the presidential term.

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has voiced strong opposition to the idea to drop the direct presidential election.

As a journalist, I covered Megawati's political activities between 1986 and 1999, especially after Suharto agreed with his wife, Tien Suharto, who had suggested he allow Megawati to join the nationalist-oriented Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI), which later transformed into the PDI-P.


Suharto finally let Megawati enter politics through the PDI because he believed she was Sukarno's most cooperative biological child.

I witnessed how Suharto sought every path, to no avail, to stop Megawati from being elected the PDI chairwoman in Surabaya.

After the death of Tien in April 1996, Suharto resorted to military force to topple Megawati from the PDI's top seat, which culminated in a bloody takeover of the party's headquarters by a Suharto-backed PDI splinter group on July 27, 1996.

Megawati was stubborn but calm. She adored her father but did little to restore his reputation, which Suharto had destroyed.

Despite Suharto's abuses, Megawati admired many of Suharto's ideas, such as the GBHN and the five-year development plan (Repelita) and the military's dual function.

That Megawati is now in the front lines of a campaign to reinstate the original version of the Constitution is unsurprising.

From the very beginning, she was against the amendments to the Constitution. Megawati, however, should also remember that her naivety was often abused by her own allies and, of course, her political rivals.

Her party won the 1999 election, but the People's Consultative Assembly elected Muslim cleric Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid as the country's fourth president, thanks in part to the Islamist politicians who declared that a female president was haram.

She had to serve as the deputy of her longtime friend Gus Dur, but when the same assembly impeached him in July 2001 and Megawati became the fifth president, she helped her leading opponent Hamzah Haz to win the vice-presidential post. Islamic parties remained hostile to her.

After 10 years outside of power, Megawati returned to the spotlight in 2014 when her protégé Jokowi won the presidential election. Jokowi's reelection last April could not be separated from Megawati's pivotal role.

For the sake of the nation, Megawati should resist the temptation of power. She needs to remember that Indonesia would return to dictatorship if the campaign to revive the old 1945 Constitution works. People would lose their hard-won freedom.

As the daughter of Sukarno, the interest of the nation should be above anything else. I do believe she is always willing to listen to the voices of the wong cilik (little people), who firmly refuse any kind of abusive practices they endured under Soeharto's regime.

Merdeka Ibu Mega!

The writer comments on Indonesian and regional affairs. The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media entities.