Megawati's shadow looms over Jokowi's decisions

Megawati's shadow looms over Jokowi's decisions
Jakata gubernatorial candidate Joko Widodo (L) poses for a photograph next to former Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri (C), also chief of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) and Puan Maharani (R), head of Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) political division as they vote for governor in Jakarta.

The cover of a recent issue of Indonesia's widely read weekly current affairs magazine carried a cartoon of President Joko Widodo looking on as the shadowy figure of Mrs Megawati Sukarnoputri places a mugshot of her choice of police chief on a police statue.

The drawing spoke volumes. Mrs Megawati's name has continued to surface as the force behind President Joko Widodo's key decisions.

The latest was to name three-star general Budi Gunawan - Mrs Megawati's adjutant during her presidency from 2001 to 2004 - police chief. But Mr Joko has delayed that appointment since Mr Budi was named a graft suspect.

Political analyst Yunarto Wijaya said: "President Jokowi's decision shows that he is still hostage to political bargaining, and if he appoints Mr Budi, he will prove his critics right - that he is a puppet of Ibu Mega."

Former president Megawati is the daughter of founding president Sukarno and chairman of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party- Struggle (PDIP). While she does not hold a government post at present, she commands enough influence over loyalists and proxies to do her bidding, say analysts.

This has put Mr Joko in a tough spot. Some of his own party cadres have turned their backs on him, criticising his first 100 days' performance, threatening impeachment and attacking him for protecting aides who try to block him from toeing the party line.

The notion of Mr Joko as "puppet president" began last March when Mrs Megawati announced his candidacy with a reminder that the former mayor and governor was still the party's servant.

When asked if he was subservient to her, Mr Joko said: "Ibu Mega has much political experience. She is one of my mentors. She has a big influence in my political career."

Photos of him bowing his head to kiss her hand in a traditional gesture of respect to seniors were exploited by Mr Joko's rivals during a political campaign that persuaded nearly half of Indonesia's voters to cast their ballots for his rival Prabowo Subianto.

Yet Mr Joko selected a transition team that included people loyal to Mrs Megawati like her close aide Rini Soemarno. Before Mr Joko announced his Cabinet, he also visited the PDIP chairman for lunch at her house.

Eventually, he named four PDIP cadres to key positions, including Mrs Megawati's daughter Puan Maharani - seen as an accommodation to her mother.

On Tuesday, Mr Joko dropped in on Mrs Megawati again, as pressure mounted for him to reject Mr Budi's nomination as police chief.

"Yes, there is interplay, there is influence.... I won't lie, but the final decision rests with Pak Jokowi," PDIP politician Budiman Sudjatmiko told The Straits Times, declining to single out Mrs Megawati.

Mr Joko's opponents have slammed him. Golkar politician Tantowi Yahya told The Straits Times: "We want a real President' not a shadow President hostage to bigger political forces."

Analyst Yunarto Wijaya said: "This case is a first major test of his independence and a chance for him to show he is a President of the people, and not a political President."

But observers agree that regardless of how Mr Joko handles this crisis, how he manages Mrs Megawati and her party loyalists will present a challenge to him for some time to come.

This article was first published on February 07, 2015.
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