Double trouble for Mega

Indonesian President grapples with a powerful Parliament and disgruntled party members in run-up to the elections.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri is fighting a battle on two fronts as elections loom.

One is with an all-powerful Parliament that was nothing but a rubber-stamp body during the New Order regime – and the other, ironically, is with members of her own Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P).

At the heart of her battle with feisty legislators in the House of Representatives (DPR) is power. Ms Megawati believes that as the Indonesian leader, she is entitled to call the shots in the country.

With Mr Suharto’s fall in May 1998, the institution of the presidency has been anything but a portrait of authority with the creeping encroachment of, and periodic battles with, the DPR.

The 57-year-old leader made this clear last week when she highlighted concerns over the increasing power of the legislative body, warning that the country’s political system was changing from a presidential to a parliamentary one.

‘Cutting down the President’s authority to produce legislation … is an understandable thing,’ she said in a speech.

‘However, behind all those steps, all of a sudden, we feel how everything has become blurred.’

Ms Megawati’s emotional response to the DPR’s growing powers is underscored by several factors.

At the ideological level, her orientation to the Sukarno legacy makes it almost anathema to veer away from the cardinal rules set out in the 1945 Constitution created by her father, the country’s first president.

The Pancasila state doctrine, a unitary state and a presidential system are an integral part of Ms Megawati’s world view, even if she is prepared to be flexible on other elements in the Indonesian Constitution.

Secondly, the concern stems from how little influence the President has over a parliamentary Bill.

Take, for example, the one on broadcasting. It became law in just 30 days after it was endorsed by the DPR, despite the fact that it was not even signed by Ms Megawati.

Coupled with that is the attempt by Parliament to use its powers purely to serve narrow political interests.

The threat by legislators to get the national police to summon Trade and Industry Minister Rini Soewandi, a palace loyalist, if she did not turn up for a commission hearing on the Sukhoigate scandal next week, is instructive of such concerns.

Underlying all this is crude power politics by factions in Parliament such as Golkar and the Islamic parties to undermine the incumbent ahead of the all-important presidential election next year.

Interestingly, some of the most stinging criticism is emanating from within the PDI-P itself – at the central board level and outside.

Party executives are miffed that Ms Megawati is drawing closer to a coterie of palace loyalists like Ms Rini and others like Mr Theo Syafei rather than backing their decisions.

At the lower level of the party, it has led to public outbursts, especially over issues like the appointment of provincial governors.

This has forced the President to wield the axe on PDI-P dissenters.

Last week, 20 of them were sacked from the party, much to the chagrin of her critics who argued that such draconian measures were all too common during Mr Suharto’s reign.

Ms Megawati might consider them to be irritants, but she needs to watch her step. She is making more enemies these days.

The DPR – and within it, the likes of opposition party leaders with presidential aspirations – is one of them.

Just as the presidential system is blurring under the weight of parliamentary pressures, she must also be careful not to blur the lines between her political enemies and friends within the ruling party.

By sanctioning an increasing number of them, she risks having more people aligned against her at a time when she needs to cultivate the ground for support.


Executives of Ms Megawati’s Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle are miffed that she is drawing closer to a coterie of palace loyalists and not backing their decisions.


Underlying many legislators’ combative stance towards the President is crude power politics as factions seek to undermine the incumbent ahead of the presidential election next year.

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