Megawati works backstage as Jokowi takes the spotlight

Megawati works backstage as Jokowi takes the spotlight
PDI-P chairman Megawati Sukarnoputri and her daughter, Puan Maharani, with presidential hopeful Joko Widodo in Jakarta on June 4.

Although Indonesia is in the throes of a presidential election, former president Megawati Sukarnoputri has been out of the media spotlight.

The strategy appears to be deliberate: As the chairman of candidate Joko Widodo's Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), she has been quietly helping him on the campaign trail instead.

Ms Megawati has been joining him at a handful of rallies and visiting other areas on her own to drum up support for him.

Her approach has been low key compared to the general election in April in an apparent effort to minimise attacks from Mr Joko's opponents that he is a "stooge" who will be beholden to her if elected.

But Ibu Mega, as she is known, has herself taken pains to address this point when she speaks at rallies - saying Jokowi, as he is commonly known, is no stooge.

"We are not just looking for a president, but a leader," she told a rally in Ungaran, Central Java, last Friday. "A leader has to be one with the people, know what they want."

Mr Joko has, in her estimation, come a long way from the political novice Ms Megawati was initially reluctant to field to contest the Solo mayoral election in 2005. She even asked her party leader there, Mr F.X. Rudi Hadyatmo, to find someone else.

While she hesitated, she now appears proud of Mr Joko. He highlights her party's ability to attract and field good people for leadership posts nationwide, and could well succeed her as party chief if he wins the country's presidency.

One of Ms Megawati's key messages to voters is to elect a candidate with experience in government, something Mr Joko's rival, Mr Prabowo Subianto, lacks.

"Who should we vote for? Indeed a person who has led a government," she said at a recent rally, referring to Mr Joko's stints as the mayor of Solo from 2005 to 2012 and Jakarta's governor since 2012.

PDI-P deputy secretary-general Hasto Kristiyanto tells The Sunday Times: "Ibu Mega's task is to ensure unity among party cadres and that they take part to gather support for Jokowi."

Responding to criticisms that Ms Megawati could still play a key role in Mr Joko's administration, Mr Hasto said: "Ibu Mega has given the mandate to Jokowi to step ahead and take the leader's seat."

But it is not just attacks on Mr Joko being her stooge that she has had to counter.

After key members of Mr Prabowo's campaign last week called Mr Joko's ideas and her party's ideology communist, Ms Megawati lashed out at a rally in Semarang, Central Java, last Thursday, calling the label a "brutal" move.

"How can they call me, our party communist? I have been the party chairman for years," she said. "Why did they call us communist only now, when the election is coming up?"

Ms Ezki Suyanto, a pro-democracy activist and volunteer for the Jokowi campaign, says Ms Megawati's strategy has largely been focused on her endorsement and defence of the party candidate, citing how she regularly lists his success stories in Solo and Jakarta.

But Mr Joko's campaign has also not played up his PDI-P affiliation, and he has not received overly enthusiastic support from his own party or its coalition partners, compared with the level of backing Mr Prabowo gets from the Gerindra party and its allies.

Ms Ezki, however, finds this a blessing in disguise.

"This benefits Jokowi as he is then perceived as a candidate nominated by the people, not political parties," she said. "He has been projected as a pro-people figure rather than pro-political party figure. This is a strength."

And Mr Hasto says this is part of the PDI-P's strategy, given that it won only 19 per cent of the vote in the April general election and 40 per cent of the combined votes of all coalition parties.

"We need the power of the people to win," he said.

This article was first published on July 06, 2014.
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