Megawati urged not to run for president

Observers and PDI-P insiders believe Ms Megawati should step aside in the presidential race for a more popular figure, such as Jakarta governor Joko Widodo (above).

INDONESIA - With just two months to go before the election year starts, observers and party insiders have suggested that former president Megawati Sukarnoputri take a tip from India's Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi - do not seek the top job again, opt out instead while retaining a considerable amount of political influence.

Their concern comes as Ms Megawati, chairman of the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), continues to defer a decision on whether she will make another run for the presidency at a time when opinion polls suggest her party has a clear shot at power after 10 years on the outside.

These surveys suggest that the PDI-P, the main opposition party, is likely to do best if Jakarta governor Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, is its presidential candidate.

Analysts like Dr J. Kristiadi of Jakarta's Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) say it is time she took a position as "mother of the nation" and step aside for a more popular leader like Mr Widodo.

Veteran political observer Salim Said told The Straits Times that the PDI-P will definitely qualify to field a presidential candidate.

"But if Ms Megawati runs, its chances of winning are slim," he said. "She has lost two times, while currently her popularity is not high."

Mr Widodo has been running well ahead of Gerindra patron Prabowo Subianto, Ms Megawati and Golkar chairman Aburizal Bakrie in recent polls.

A survey by national newspaper Kompas published in late August found Mr Widodo gathering support from 33 per cent of respondents, compared to 15 per cent for Mr Prabowo. No other potential candidate got more than 9 per cent.

Mr Widodo also placed first in polls by credible organisations conducted earlier this year, including the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (Lipi) and the CSIS.

Under Indonesia's current political system, however, a candidate's popularity is not enough to win the presidency.

Election laws stipulate that an aspiring presidential candidate and his running mate for vice-president must have the backing of a party or a coalition of parties that wins 25 per cent of votes, or 20 per cent of the 560 seats in the national parliament at parliamentary elections on April 9 next year.

The presidential election will then take place in July. If no pair gets more than 50 per cent of the vote, a second round will be held in September.

Contenders only need to confirm their candidacy around one month before voting, although they can be expected to do so shortly after the April results are out, when the strengths and bargaining positions of the various parties become clearer.

Most observers expect the PDI-P and the Golkar Party of former president Suharto to emerge as the top two parties after the April polls.

Ms Megawati - the daughter of Indonesia's first president, Sukarno - was vice-president in 1999. She became president, as the constitution dictates, in July 2001 after then president Abdurrahman Wahid was impeached by Parliament on allegations of corruption and incompetence.

She ran for re-election in 2004 and 2009, but lost both elections to her former coordinating minister for political and security affairs, incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of the Democrat Party.

By law, Dr Yudhoyono cannot contest for a third term.

Even if he could, graft cases affecting members of his party have shifted popular support to the PDI-P, some of whose leaders, like Mr Widodo, have pledged to combat corruption.

Despite two failed bids, however, there are elements within the party which have been encouraging Ms Megawati to put her name in the ring again.

MP Fahri Hamzah of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) doubts Ms Megawati's circle would allow anyone outside the family of founding president Sukarno to run for president, as it would go against the wishes of many loyal PDI-P supporters.

"The PDI-P's energy is in the Sukarno family. Look at Sukarno's pictures on their emblems and posters that the grassroots wear and put up," Mr Fahri told The Straits Times. "Megawati will likely make Jokowi her chief campaign manager."

But Professor Salim argues it would be difficult for Ms Megawati to not let Mr Widodo run.

"If Mega runs and loses again, she would weaken her good reputation within PDI-P as she would be considered as sacrificing the party for the sake of personal interest," he said. "This is because she runs while the party has a more popular candidate."

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