Of Indonesia’s three biggest political parties, the Golkar Party has already named its presidential candidate for next year’s election, while the Democratic Party is set to hold a convention next month to vet possible contenders.
Smaller players are also busy touting their own candidates’ prospects, as is the case with the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) and the People’s Conscience Party (Hanura), or casting about in a crowded field of hopefuls, like the National Awakening Party (PKB).
But conspicuously absent from all the bustle leading up to the 2014 presidential poll is the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), which rounds out the Big Three and is the party that polls indicate will gain the most from the declining popularity of the Democrats amid a slew of corruption scandals.
That, says Puan Maharani, the party’s head of political affairs, is because the decision of who will run on the PDI-P ticket belongs solely in the hands of the party chairwoman, Megawati Sukarnoputri.
Megawati has herself once served as president, though she was never elected to office — she was the deputy to Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid when he was impeached in 2001, and took the nation’s top office by default.
Since then, Megawati has stood twice as the PDI-P’s presidential candidate, in 2004 and again in 2009, but lost both times to the current head of state, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
With the party now facing mounting calls from outside, and more subtle hints from inside, to nominate a younger, fresher candidate for 2014, the spotlight has turned to Puan, who is also Megawati’s daughter.
Analysts say the succession appears obvious. Megawati’s father, Sukarno, was Indonesia’s first president, and the top posts at the PDI-P — one of several iterations of Sukarno’s now-defunct Indonesian National Party (PNI) — have always gone to members of the immediate family.
But beyond her family heritage, Puan has also distinguished herself on her own merits, observers point out.
“As a young female politician, she’s known to have integrity and to have a clear and consistent ideology,” Arbi Sanit, a political analyst at the University of Indonesia, tells the Jakarta Globe.
“She’s seen as an honest politician so far, and there have been no scandals linked to her during her time serving at the House of Representatives.”
But Ronald Rofiandri, the advocacy director at the Center for the Study of Law and Policies of Indonesia (PSHK), argues that as a politician, Puan is an unproven quantity and has shown little desire to emerge from her mother’s shadow.
“She has not shown the kind of substantial determination that House members have to have. Legislators need to be prominent and active in pushing for legislation, and she hasn’t shown this kind of determination so far,” he says.
“She’s known for taking a stand on certain issues, but only when pushed to do so, and most of the time she defers her stance to Megawati.
“In situations where a quick decision is needed, this kind of communication is inefficient. As a House member, she should be more independent in her views.”
Arbi agrees that Puan “continues to copy Megawati,” including by taking an often far too composed attitude to issues that warrant a more urgent response, reflecting what critics say is a sense of entitlement engendered by being a member of Indonesia’s most famous family.
Clinging to Sukarno
While agreeing that a presidential bid by Puan would give a much-needed jolt to the aging political field, the analysts say it’s not a realistic scenario.
“Her competence and integrity needs to be assessed further,” Ronald says.
“Judging by how she’s made decisions, I would say that her track record doesn’t look too good.”
“It’s too big a step for her,” Arbi says.
“She needs to take gradual steps. She needs more experience. To a certain extent, she can be seen as having attained a national leadership role. But she still needs to show more initiative, more significant actions. Her leadership capabilities aren’t apparent at this stage.”
There is also the overbearing presence of her mother, and fears that if she were nominated, it would simply be because she was a progeny of Megawati and Sukarno.
“The PDI-P continues to cling to the Sukarno legend,” Ronald says.
“This overreliance on certain individuals needs to end if we’re to have a sustainable, healthy political process. The PDI-P needs to be more democratic. Its political ideology must be continuously tested by internal and external dynamics.”
Arbi is just as wary about political dynasty-building, warning that gaining power simply through heritage “is neither elegant nor competitive.”
“Puan should use her family background as a starting point and take steps and initiatives of her own, as well as be more responsible,” he says.
Under Megawati’s influence
Even if Puan doesn’t run in 2014, there are indications that Megawati might stand aside in favor of another candidate.
A national party caucus in 2011 that left the decision of the party’s presidential candidate up to Megawati appeared on the surface to have given the chairwoman tacit approval to run, but a closer reading suggests otherwise.
At a similar caucus in 2008, a year before the 2009 election, the party agreed unanimously to nominate Megawati. The fact that it didn’t do the same in 2011 and instead left the decision up in the air has been seized on by observers as a sign that not everyone in the party wants to see Megawati stand for a third straight time.
Megawati’s husband, Taufik Kiemas, has publicly hinted that she should not run in 2014, citing her age, and called for a younger candidate to be allowed to stand — but stopped short of backing Puan.
“For Taufik, all that matters is that Megawati shouldn’t run for president. It doesn’t matter to him who the candidate is, as long as it’s not her,” says a source inside the party.
So does that rare glimpse of discontent within the PDI-P suggest that Puan has a chance after all, even if only as a running mate to a stronger candidate from outside the party?
Some analysts have mooted the possibility of the party backing Prabowo Subianto, the Gerindra founder and the leading candidate identified in most polls, with Puan in the vice presidential post. Prabowo previously ran as Megawati’s deputy in the 2009 poll.
But with her mother still a dominant figure in national politics, even that would be too big a task for the relatively inexperienced Puan to take on, Ronald says.
“She might be a solid candidate at one point, but not for the coming election. She needs time. Megawati’s political influence is still too strong,” he says.