July 20, 2001
|Once the leading candidate for Indonesia's highest office, popular Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri could assume the presidency if President Abdurrahman Wahid is impeached.|
Some supporters have gone so far as to say she has a supernatural mandate from her dead father -- Indonesia's founding president Sukarno -- to take up the nation's reins. Detractors, including President Wahid, have intimated she lacks the intelligence to properly lead the country.
But should Indonesia's People's Consultative Assembly remove Wahid from office, Megawati would serve out the remainder of his term.
|An enigmatic silence|
So far, Megawati has remained silent on the troubled Wahid government, though some analysts say her public behavior suggests a growing rift with the president.
She skipped a July 10 emergency meeting of party leaders called by Wahid, but offered no specific reason why she could not attend. The move wasn't the first Wahid directive Megawati has ignored.
On May 30, the vice president refused Wahid's invitation to speak before the opening of the Group of 15 developing nations. When Wahid, at the podium giving his own address, asked Megawati to speak, she declined with a wave of her hand.
Days earlier, Megawati walked out of a cabinet meeting after Wahid offered to share some of his more minor presidential powers with her. The leader of her party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, told Reuters Megawati rejected the proposal as too vague and a breach of Indonesia's constitution.
Some say Megawati's strategy is to stay above the fray, allowing her supporters to attack Wahid for her.
"In the tradition of Javanese royalty, Megawati has remained silent during an increasingly bitter feud with Wahid," Jakarta-based Sydney Morning Herald reporter Lindsay Murdoch wrote. "When senior members of her party savagely attacked Wahid in public, she remained a master of rebuke by proxy."
But Wahid himself said Megawati is supporting him through her silence.
"The vice president is silent," Wahid told The Washington Post in May. "In your country, this is seen as a sign of weakness. In our country it is a virtue."
When asked if Megawati was on his side, Wahid responded, "Oh, yes."
|A lasting legacy|
Some familiar with Megawati say her regal air has much to do with her upbringing by the late President Sukarno, whose tarnished legacy has been rehabilitated in the past few decades.
A leader of the Indonesian independence movement since 1927, Sukarno collaborated with the Japanese during World War II to force out Holland, the colonial power in the region.
Following the Japanese defeat, he declared his country's independence, quickly penned the country's constitution and began a four-year war with the Dutch, who hoped to regain control of the country.
Sukarno's regime, which flirted with democracy, evolved into an autocratic system, troubled by political and economic instability. His rule ended in a coup in 1965 and was followed by the rise of a new dictator, Suharto. Sukarno died while under house arrest in 1970, blamed by many of Indonesia's elite for the country's rocky start.
Megawati was born in 1947, amid the chaos of her father's war for independence. She grew up in his presidential palace and studied psychology and agriculture in college, but did not earn a degree.
Megawati turned her attention to politics in 1987, winning a seat in the national parliament. In 1993, she became the head of the Indonesian Democratic Party -- a group directly opposed Suharto's rule.
Ousted from her leadership role in 1996 -- a move attributed largely to Suharto's government -- Megawati was barred from both that year's parliamentary elections and the presidential election scheduled for 1998.
Following an economic collapse that shook the nation in early 1998, Suharto ended his 32-year reign in May amidst massive street protests. Suharto selects B.J. Habibie to succeed him. Habibie delays elections until 1999.
|An unlikely defeat|
During the growing opposition to Suharto, Megawati founded a new party, the pro-democracy Democratic Party of Struggle.
In June of 1999, her party garnered 34 percent of the seats parliamentary elections, giving her the largest number of presidential electors. The Golkar party of sitting President B.J. Habibie was in second place with 22 percent and Wahid's National Awakening Party polled a distant fourth with 11 percent.
It appeared unlikely Habibie, weighed down by his connections to Suharto, Indonesia's economic slump, and the violent independence struggle in East Timor, would be able to hold off Megawati.
But when the People's Consultative Assembly -- a body made up of legislators and appointees that serve as electors during a presidential contest -- finally met Oct. 20 to choose the country's president, last minute dealmaking swept the presidency out from under her and into Wahid's hands.
Just before the vote, Habibie dropped out of the race and threw his party's support behind the popular Muslim cleric. After 14 hours of debate in the assembly, Wahid edged out Megawati 373 to 313.
Wahid's election took many by surprise. Thousands of Megawati supporters rioted following the vote, stampeding through the streets and setting fire to the Jakarta Convention Center.
Megawati, who accepted Wahid's offer to become his vice president, pleaded for a peaceful transition during a speech before the assembly.
"For the unity of the nation, I call on the people of Indonesia to accept the results of the election," Megawati said.
Then she clasped hands with Wahid in a symbol of unity -- after losing an election and an office many believed was hers.
-- By Greg Barber, The Online NewsHour