Yerica Lai, Jakarta – Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) chair Megawati Soekarnoputri sought to reassert her authority at the party's 50th anniversary gathering on Tuesday, resisting pressure to announce the PDI-P's nominee for the 2024 presidential election and telling President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to focus on his presidential duties.
Jokowi, Vice President Ma'ruf Amin and a slew of Cabinet ministers attended the party's golden jubilee in Jakarta, which brought together thousands of cadres from throughout the nation. Unlike previous occasions, however, Megawati did not invite the leaders of other political parties, making the event a strictly "familial" affair.
Throughout her two-and-a-half-hour speech, the former president took light jabs at the incumbent, whom she endorsed for the presidency in March 2014.
"Let me apologize in advance, but who knew Pak Jokowi back then? When people started asking who I would nominate, [I told them to] wait. That is why it wasn't announced at a celebration like this," she said, smiling.
Megawati described the years leading up to the 2024 general election as an "anomaly" as she stressed her opposition to proposals to delay the polls and extend the presidential term.
"If [someone is] elected twice – sorry then, twice it is," Megawati said. "It isn't because Jokowi is not smart enough."
The party chairwoman went on to recount the time her father, the nation's founding father Sukarno, was appointed president for life. She said that decision led the country into a period of political turmoil.
"When Bung Karno was made president for life, then all of a sudden it was as if a mistake was being made and he was deposed. Do we really want the same thing over and over?" Megawati asked.
She then expressed her wish for consistency and continuity, calling for the upcoming election to be held according to schedule and for the constitutional limit of two terms for presidents to be upheld.
"As the 2024 general election draws near, we should be holding it the right way. Hold it in a way that keeps the republic intact," Megawati said. "The things that we have decided together, we will do."
Calls to delay the election and to extend Jokowi's term beyond 2024 have intensified since last year, after some members of the ruling coalition and Jokowi's own die-hard supporters floated the idea.
Party executives have suggested that Megawati has decided on the party's presidential nominee for 2024.
However, Megawati chose to keep her cards close to her chest on Tuesday, while insisting that only political parties – and not politicians' support groups – could nominate candidates. Some of Jokowi's volunteer groups have vocally advocated for the extension of his term in office, while public opinion polling shows major gaps in electability between aspiring candidates from the PDI-P.
"What's clear is that presidential candidates are to be nominated by [parties], not by supporters. The two are different," Megawati said. "Sorry, but that's the rule."
She also insisted that she wouldn't be swayed by calls for a nomination announcement, saying it was "my business" when to declare the PDI-P's candidate.
President Jokowi, who was quiet and attentive during the speech, took the podium after Megawati to say that he was pleased the ruling party would be nominating its own cadre, dismissing speculation that the PDI-P would settle for nominating a vice presidential candidate to run alongside a coalition partner's nominee.
"Ibu Megawati is very careful in making up her mind, really calm and never in a rush, unlike others," he said.
Yunarto Wijaya, executive director of Charta Politika, told The Jakarta Post that Megawati's remarks were intended to demonstrate her position as the party's central figure amid perceived internal power struggles.
"If the party's presidential nominee were announced today, there would have been two figures in the spotlight: Megawati and the nominee. [...] To underline her message of being in command, she will separate the moment of the party's internal consolidation, which puts her in the center of the spotlight, from the presidential candidate announcement," the analyst said.
Philips J. Vermonte, a senior fellow at the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), pointed out that Megawati had called for party members not to be shortsighted and stressed that there was more to this statement than choosing candidates.
"Presidents can change, but political parties, as a political unit, must remain relevant," Philip said on Tuesday. "Her speech appears to convey the facts in a way that suggests the age of the presidency is shorter than the age of the party, that political parties are the backbone of democracy and are what breathes life into the country's legislative system," he said.