Asia-Pacific

Like Father, Like Daughter

Megawati Rises to the Challenge

Like Father, Like Daughter: Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri inspects a royal guard-of-honor during an official visit to Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, Aug. 27, 2001 (Photo: AFP).

Megawati Sukarnoputri grew up in the State Palace. From the time of her birth, she witnessed the daily life of a president—her own father, Bung [meaning Brother] Karno [as Sukarno was popularly known]. Sukarno was appointed [Indonesia’s first] head of state two years before Mega was born and was ousted just after her 20th birthday. Because of that experience, watching intrigues at the center of power was one of her activities as a teen-ager. After [her father’s ouster], Mega and other members of Bung Karno’s family lived through difficult times as a result of their closeness to a figure viewed by the new regime as being responsible for the decline of the Republic of Indonesia.

Just take a close look at the way Suharto’s government justified the removal of Sukarno and his legitimacy as head of state. The New Order, according to its founders, was set up to carry out a complete correction of the last years of the Sukarno government. The authoritarian [Sukarno] regime was blamed for having brought the nation to the edge of an abyss, making Indonesia a source of instability in Southeast Asia and bankrupting the national economy with inflation of 600 percent and unpaid foreign debts. Meanwhile, corrupt officials lived in luxury and safety. It was clearly a political order that had to be totally destroyed.

That’s why the New Order was officially ordained as the antithesis of Bung Karno’s government, which was—scornfully—named the Old Order. Indonesia then became the main supporter of ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations], seen as the cornerstone of Southeast Asian stability. Economic development became the top priority, so much so that it trumped political freedom. Sukarno had put politics in charge, but Suharto turned this theory on its head and replaced politics with economics.

But as it turned out, this antithesis succeeded for only three decades. Now it’s as if history is repeating itself. The New Order, which idolized economic development and which became more authoritarian as it continued, fell victim to the worst economic crisis in the nation’s history. Government debt suddenly mushroomed to the size of the country’s gross domestic product.

The stability that was a source of pride for three decades turned out to be pure illusion. Oppressive acts by the military in the name of “unity and integrity” only resulted in strengthened separatist movements in several regions rich in natural resources.

Into a situation such as this, the government of Megawati Sukarnoputri came into being. She had of course already served two years’ apprenticeship as number two to Abdurrahman Wahid—a president with hardly any management skills, although he initially attracted widespread support. Megawati also witnessed the transitional government of [former President B.J.] Habibie—a government strong on management but weak on legitimacy. Megawati and her advisers would do well to study the assortment of leaders Indonesia has had, each with good and bad points.

There are certain thinkers who see Indonesia’s progress as a nation as an interesting experiment, especially in the context of the new theory that says there are three main pillars of a state: the government, the market, and its people. Those engrossed by the idea that the government is the main pillar of society tend to be socialists. Those who believe in the power of the market choose the capitalist road. Now these two schools of thought—each aware of its own flaws—have gravitated toward the center, equidistant from both extremes, and given rise to the movement for a civil society.

Bung Karno was a leader who concentrated only on the power of government and the support of the people. He can be said to have ignored the market, and that was what led to his downfall. Suharto, meanwhile, gave the market and government a lot of thought, but ignored the people. As a result, the collusion of bureaucrats and tycoons became epidemic and led to high economic costs and a hugely unfair distribution of wealth. The reform movement, with its agenda to wipe out corruption, collusion, and nepotism, is a result of this ignoring of the people.

Learning from her predecessors, Megawati must build the three pillars if she wants her presidency to succeed. She especially cannot ignore these pillars when she forms her cabinet. From the political aspect, it would certainly be no mistake to share seats in proportion to each party’s share of the vote in the election. The economic team especially must be made up of people trusted by the markets. If just one of the three pillars is ignored, Megawati’s government will not last long. [Megawati’s cabinet choices, announced on Aug. 10, were praised for being well-balanced and professional. Dorodjatun Kuntoro-Jakti, an economist who has been U.S. ambassador, was named as the overall economic coordinator; Boediono, the former chief of national economic planning, the new finance minister; Hassan Wirayudha, a senior career diplomat, the new foreign minister; and Bambang Susilo Yudhoyono, a former general who held the same post under Wahid until he was fired, was named as chief political and security minister.—WPR]

This system of determining cabinet seats must be followed, especially for those posts related to upholding the law. No matter how skilled the economic team, they will be unable to function unless backed up by a team that upholds the law. Finding a figure like [Baharuddin] Lopa will not be easy, but is not impossible. [Wahid’s justice minister and then-attorney general was well-known for his uncompromising and honest manner of upholding the law. He died of a heart attack just a few weeks before Wahid’s impeachment.—WPR]

So Megawati has a lot of homework to do. It is certainly not easy, but her presidency should be seen as a golden opportunity that should not be thrown away. Her father put into practice a thesis of leadership that freed the nation from colonialism and formed a republic, but failed on the economic front. Suharto gave his antithesis that managed to build an economy-based nation, but it failed to take off. Now Megawati has a chance to make a synthesis that is exactly right and that can bring the nation out of crisis.

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