Megawati packs party posts with loyalists

A day after reminding President Joko Widodo that he needed to toe the party line, Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle (PDI-P) chief Megawati Sukarnoputri yesterday filled the 27 key party positions with loyalists and her two children, in a move seen as securing her position and her family's legacy in the party.

She was appointed yesterday by acclamation as chairman for the next five years.

The 68-year-old named her daughter, Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Culture Puan Maharani, as the chairman of the Committee on Politics and Security and her son Prananda Prabowo to lead the Creative Economy Committee. She also promoted loyalist Hasto Kristiyanto, who had given incriminating evidence to bring down a former anti-graft chief, to be secretary-general, the party's second- highest position.

"The clout of her father, (founding president) Sukarno, enables Mrs Megawati to hold considerable influence," said Mr Achmad Sukarsono, a political analyst at Eurasia Group.

Not only is there a lack of a strong rival to Mrs Megawati, but she has also surrounded herself with those she trusts and purged those who defied her.

The appointment of her children drew criticisms from those who say she is grooming them to succeed her as chairman, a post she has held since the party was established in 1999.

Earlier, on Thursday, she had reminded Mr Joko to be grateful for his position and to deliver the party's policies and fulfil his campaign promises.

Mr Joko, who attended the congress as an ordinary cadre and was not asked to give any speeches, gave a guarded reaction to her opening speech, saying he took it as a lesson that "the President has to serve the people". Analysts say his response could be read as a subtle defiance to Mrs Megawati, in saying his policies serve the people, not just his party.

The ruling PDI-P's congress is being watched as a measure of how the relationship between Mr Joko and his party, as well as his party chairman, will progress and how this could affect the presidency.

Mr Joko is under pressure to shake off perceptions that Mrs Megawati is the force behind some of his key decisions. Such perceptions have cast doubt over his independence as President.

At the same time, he is also facing criticisms from party cadres, some of whom have attacked him for not falling in line. His relationship with Mrs Megawati appears to have turned frosty, especially after his mishandling of the nomination of Commissioner-General Budi Gunawan, a former security aide of Mrs Megawati, as police chief.

"The tone of her speech - and her acerbic but vague remarks about "treachery" - serve to reinforce perceptions that she is at odds with the President," wrote political analyst Kevin O'Rourke in his assessment of Mrs Megawati's opening speech.

Palace watchers say Mr Joko has been relying on a few people, including Chief of Staff Luhut Panjaitan, to filter his communications with politicians who support him, angering his own party officials who say he is limiting their channel to him.

Mrs Megawati had also lashed out at "opportunists" trying to take over the presidency, with many taking this to refer to Mr Luhut, among others.

Although there have not been any overt displays of friction between Mr Joko and Mrs Megawati over the last two days, analysts say the road ahead will be bumpy for Mr Joko as he tries to balance the pressure to remain independent with party demands.

"In her speech, Mrs Megawati is trying to assert that she and her family are the dominant force in Indonesian politics" and that she was responsible for bringing PDI-P back into government, said Mr Achmad.

"She considers Jokowi as her subject. For her Jokowi was ordered (by her) to become President."

This article was first published on April 11, 2015.
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