Behind the delay in Megawati's choice

Behind the delay in Megawati's choice
Questions hang over what role PDI-P leader Megawati Sukarnoputri (above), who has named Mr Joko Widodo as the party's presidential candidate, will want to play behind the scenes.

INDONESIAN Democratic Party - Struggle (PDI-P) leader Megawati Sukarnoputri is now earning praise for making the decision to nominate wildly popular Jakarta governor Joko Widodo as the party's presidential candidate.

But why did it take her so long? As far back as March last year, 51-year-old Mr Widodo had emerged as the proverbial white knight, riding out of virtually nowhere to answer the prayers of many Indonesians for someone to make a clean break from the past.

He was and is a political phenomenon, blazing a trail for those who have dreamed of a clean, well-performing regional leader bypassing the whole system and rising to the country's highest post. Even 16 years into the democratic era, it seemed impossible.

Yet, Ms Megawati dithered, which may account for a dip in Mr Widodo's popularity in the Indonesia Political Indicator's February survey.

Some said it was because she wanted to take the heat off him. Others thought the daughter of founding president Sukarno was merely relishing her role as the party's undisputed leader.

But all along she kept saying that she would not decide on a candidate until after the April 9 legislative elections, apparently hoping for some sort of miracle to change her lowly single-digit showing in the polls and give her a reason to run again.

While Sukarnoist ideologues and old guard politicians around Ms Megawati stubbornly stood their ground, the PDI-P's legislative candidates were on tenterhooks, many realising that Mr Widodo's candidacy would boost their chances of election.

Up to now, the PDI-P has hovered around 21 per cent to 23 per cent in the polls, only two or three percentage points ahead of its major rival, Golkar. Mr Widodo's nomination could elevate the party over the 35 per cent mark, more than it got amid the reformasi euphoria of 1999.

As early as last November and certainly by late December, reality was staring Ms Megawati in the face. A so-called Team of Eleven she had formed to advise her on the issue came back with the almost overwhelming recommendation that Mr Widodo was the obvious choice.

Key among her advisers were Ms Rini Soewandi, 55, the trade minister in Ms Megawati's 2001-2004 government, and academic Andi Widjajanto, 42, son of the late general and PDI-P loyalist Theo Syafei, who stood by Ms Megawati during the Suharto years.

Mr Widjajanto, an articulate graduate of Washington's prestigious National Defence University, will in fact serve as the liaison between Ms Megawati and Mr Widodo in the period leading up to the July 9 presidential election.

Although the March 15 announcement of Mr Widodo's candidacy was made by her daughter Puan Maharani, the clearest signal of all came the day before when Ms Megawati invited him to her father's grave in the East Java town of Blitar.

Insiders say Ms Megawati's daughter, the PDI-P's parliamentary leader and election campaign manager, was not informed beforehand that Mr Widodo would be joining them and, in a nod at least to Ms Megawati's pragmatism, she is not being considered for vice-president.

Whoever Mr Widodo and his motherly patron do choose as his running mate will not be known until after the parliamentary elections next month - and then it probably will not matter to the bulk of the electorate until the new administration gets down to the business of governing.

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