07 September 2008

Megawati -- The Cult of Personality

The heading to this post is probably a bit of a misnomer as Megawati lacks the charisma and personality of her illustrious father and the first president of Indonesia, Soekarno. The fact that this former president who failed in her first crack at the top job is still being seriously considered for another go on the merry-go-round says something about the state of Indonesian politics. That something is sad. The fact that this series is dealing with old political names is indicative of the lack of a platform that up-and-coming politicians have been able to carve out for themselves.

Back to Megawati. Megawati's base is the Democratic Party of Indonesia for Struggle or the PDI-P. The PDI-P symbol is a bull with a white nose and the colour of the party is blood red. The bull with the white nose, I am guessing, is supposed to symbolize strength and purity. For others though it is probably not a bull at all but rather a cow with a powdered nose after regular trips to the salon. Then again it might indeed be a bull and is supposed to indicate that the party is devoid of a coherent policy platform and in is in other words full of crap, bull crap!

My friend the treespotter ranks the symbol on its cool factor. This might be my next post after this presidential series, ranking all the party symbols based on their cool factor. Besides, we should not under-estimate the cool factor because the Indonesian way of voting is to take a nail and stab it through the face of the candidate or their party symbol. So, perhaps the more cool the better the chance of getting stabbed in the face.

The PDI-P formed as a spin-off from the old PDI and eclipsed its predecessor immediately for appeal to the masses. The spin-off occurred when Soeharto in his infinite wisdom through the deployment of his cronies and other sycophant brown-nosers decided to teach little old Mega a lesson in knowing your place in the political spectrum. Some of these brown-nosers include a recently retired Governor with a vision of higher political office.

Unfortunately, the blood-letting that ensued and the disappearances of young activists at the hands of the authorities only served to make Mega and her band of followers look like martyrs in the defense of the little people. One day even dictators will learn that they need to employ good public relations people to spin their stupidity when that inevitable time comes.

Megawati has taken the 27 July attack and used it to her advantage to get a crack at the presidency of Indonesia as its fourth president. Using the attack to her political advantage was a wise move and it was an important part of a series of events that would ultimately lead to the downfall of an entrenched dictator.

However, much of what was gained in these tumultuous events was squandered by Megawati and her party to the detriment of any legacy she might have been able to create.
The PDI-P is a party of the little people or the wong cilik. It is also the party in many ways of the marhaen. The marhaen movement is one that brings in the rural vote, those farmers (many share-croppers) doing it tough in the regions and looking for a political party that would support their struggle. This party has always been the party that has carried on the Soekarno legacy. Who better than the daughter, Megawati, and her party the PDI-P?

The PDI-P is dominated as much by Soekarno as it is by his daughter. A brief trip around Jakarta, or throughout the archipelago for that matter, will open your eyes to the method that the PDI-P employs to capitalize on the first president of Indonesia. Just about all advertising for the party includes Soekarno's mugshot. Sometimes even more prominently than that of the current party chairwoman.

The PDI-P is a party that relies on the cult of personality to remain relevant. The biggest asset they seem to have is that Megawati is the daughter of Soekarno and therefore a vote for the daughter is a vote for the father. It is just to bad that the old fella has been dead for so long.

What is truly amazing is that the PDI-P can continue to pull this off.

Megawati believes that the presidency is her birthright and as such this is probably more the motivation for continuing to toss her hat in the electoral ring than the desire to truly help the little people. The party platform is a nationalist one with underpinnings of Soekarno style Marxism (more socialist than anything else and not all that sinister). Unfortunately, Mega just does not have the oratory skills of her father or the charisma to truly pull off a good inspiring speech. It does not help that to all intents and purposes Megawati never has really been part of the wong cilik nor has she been a marhaen. Simply road trips to the slums of Jakarta and the share croppers elsewhere does not provide the insights she needs to make an impassioned plea, the plea necessary to rally the masses to her cause.

The PDI-P could be a party of much more. However, it really does need to regenerate in terms of getting more young people involved and getting them into positions of authority. It is time Megawati took a back seat role along with some of her trusted lieutenants in order that the new generation can take on a greater role and drive real change and reform. My guess is that if this does not happen soon then many of the major parties, and not just the PDI-P, will see their primary vote erode and be dispersed among the myriad of minor parties contesting the 2009 elections.

The PDI-P and Megawti will have had five years in the period to 2009 where they could have carved out a niche for themselves. However, this has not been done, in essence it is an opportunity lost in terms of redefining the party. Megawati and her lieutenants like to claim they have been effective in opposition. Unfortunately, the Indonesian government does not lend itself to the Westminster system of government where there is a clearly defined opposition.

The PDI-P if they have been opp anything have been opportunistic in not missing an opportunity to snipe at the current government. But is must be noted that sniping at the government without offering concrete alternative policy is hardly being an alternative government in opposition.

The reasons not to vote for Megawati far outweigh the reasons to vote for Megawati. Her first jaunt in the big chair was a failure. There has been nothing in the five years interim to this that would even remotely suggest a second time round in the big chair would turn out any differently to the first.

I bet there are plenty of Indonesians that are glad I am not one of them and get a vote in this coming election.


pjbali said...

Well if they are going to resurrect Ibu Mega I can't hardly wait for the "Ingat! Coblos moncong putih!" ads delivered in braying monotone which are sure to be coming out soon.

Rob Baiton said...


It has been a while since your last comment! Busy, busy, busy...

I do not think it is a question of "if" the PDI-P are going to give Megawati another shot at the presidency. I think this question is already settled.

Maybe if it is about doing everything that you can for your party then perhaps the add should be of Megawati, "Ingat! Coblos moncong putih!" and then Megawati going "moo".

Just a thought

tere616 said...

I read somewhere in Kompas daily about this issue, about how the party relies on the cult of leader personality.

But compare to other party, have to admit that PDI-P used this as their basis to gain voter, which is irrelevance with the latest situation.

The younger voter only heard about Soekarno and they don't have the experience like the older.

So, let's see, am too skeptic with all the theme of every party. For me every parties are the same.

Especially with the issue of corruption, no one from all that party shown that they were clean from the corruption.

Rob Baiton said...

I guess if you are voting on clean, then some parties are cleaner than others where corruption is concerned. It is unlikely that you will find a party that is 100% clean.

I suppose we will, see that is!

tere616 said...

wow, you and your belief :-)

Rob Baiton said...


People have to believe in something because if they don't believe in anything what is the point of living?

Kind of like hope in that sense.

Just a thought!

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