APSN Banner

Political adultery

South China Morning Post - June 27, 2000

Vaudine England – Her father helped found the country and remains a symbol of freedom to many. After a childhood of privilege she chose to enter politics, daring to stand up to the dictatorial whims of her father's successor.

She alone galvanised millions of her country's disadvantaged and democrats to sweep the streets in a version of people power. But now her husband is securing control of her political party, leading to charges of corruption and abuse of power, while her comrades of recent years wring their hands in distress.

The plot is not new, as any observer of Pakistan's politics can prove. But this story is set in Indonesia and the woman at the centre of the storm is not Benazir Bhutto, but Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Her Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) draws its strength from the grassroots, from the millions of Javanese, Balinese and others who suffered repression and economic injustice during the 32-year rule of former president Suharto, after he ousted her father, Sukarno, from power in 1965.

These people formed the vast swathes of red that have swept the streets of Indonesia's cities, giving Ms Megawati an iconic status as "mother of the nation" just when it needed her most. But, in recent times, she has stood accused of following in the footsteps of Pakistan's Ms Bhutto – of betraying her grassroots supporters by allowing her husband, Taufik Kiemas, effectively to take control and ruin what she built.

That even led to the formation this month of an alternative group of disaffected members of her party and others, calling itself a "moral movement" seeking to halt the party's slide towards self-destruction as members seek personal gain.

Last June's parliamentary victory dissipated as the small core of intellectuals and politicians behind the party pleaded in vain with Ms Megawati to draw up the deals to win her the presidency. When Abdurrahman Wahid was elected last October – Ms Megawati instead winning the vice-presidency as the consolation prize – there were sighs of relief that she remained near the top, hence avoiding mass riots by her supporters, and that someone so disengaged from politics had not been raised to the highest job.

But what of her party? Originally, as head of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI), Ms Megawati had fought off Suharto's efforts to depose her as party leader through a mix of poise, cultivated martyrdom and a commitment to peaceful, constitutional means of change. In 1996, after hundreds of her youthful supporters faced a military and thuggish operation to remove them from the party headquarters that Suharto sought to control, the party was wrested from her but the bulk of her members remained loyal and abstained in the 1997 elections, which returned Suharto to power.

Then, as she waited in the wilderness, a core group of brains in her party, in the form of the Research and Development Unit called Litvang, plotted her route to power. That culminated in the registration of her new party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, in February last year. Yet key members of that brains trust have now been ousted from the party's executive council and, since the party congress in Semarang in March, have been gnashing their teeth at the way the party, still chaired by "Mega" as she is known, is going.

"If she goes on like this, she will repeat the fate of Benazir Bhutto," said one former member of the party executive. The comparison crops up regularly in political circles. "The congress showed that Mega is not the old Mega – she's accommodating her husband too much. According to close friends, there has been an agreement between them, that public affairs will be Mega's domain and party affairs will be the domain of her husband. It's very dangerous. The new council – they are all Taufik's people, or Mega people who are too scared to challenge the new orthodoxy."

That new orthodoxy centres around allegations of corruption and personal power plays. Asked what skills Mr Taufik had, a PDI-P member said simply - "bribery". A government minister concurred: "His petrol stations used to be more than enough. But once you're in [the vice-president's house] you suddenly feel poor."

A member of Mr Wahid's Government said Ms Megawati was risking turning herself into a tool of her husband. "She won't defend anyone who is against her husband. It is this Javanese respect for the spouse, but it's very bad."

The recent sacking of Minister for Investment and State Enterprises, Laksamana Sukardi, followed his expulsion from the party executive. Fellow former executives say he was "tossed on the scrap heap" partly because of Ms Megawati's difficult marriage – several party insiders believe Mr Laksamana lost his job because the PDI-P, now under the sway of Mr Taufik, requested that he be got out of the way.

"It's a kind of conspiracy," said a PDI-P member. "Yes, Taufik's PDI-P asked Wahid to get rid of Laksamana and it suited Wahid's general goal to do so." A palace source said that Mr Taufik and Rozy Munir, the man who replaced Mr Laksamana, "had already reached agreement on dividing the spoils and Laksamana had refused to go along".

Added to this is the sexual innuendo alleged by Mr Taufik's camp, accusing Eros Djarot – Ms Megawati's political adviser and speech writer and a glamorous film director and artist – of being too close to her. Ms Megawati's friends say her husband has barred Eros from seeing her.

Mr Eros was a serious contender for the post of secretary-general of the party until his candidacy was marginalised, as were those of others in Ms Megawati's camp. In their place are people described by deposed executives as "Taufik's men". Mr Taufik is reported to claim that out of 153 PDI-P legislators, "one hundred are my people".

"I was responsible for playing the role of political adviser while Laksamana advised for the economic side," said Mr Eros last week. "But after [Ms Megawati] became vice-president, that became very difficult for me because of certain restrictions of the inner circle. And the commander of that circle is, of course, Taufik Kiemas."

Arbi Sanit, of the University of Indonesia, described the new line-up as based on loyalty rather than merit. "If I were a member of the party I would resign."

Mr Taufik's brother, Santayana, strongly denied the allegations of machinations by Mr Taufik's block. "Taufik is not involved in any political engineering ... I know Megawati. As party chairwoman, vice-president and stateswoman, she would never let anyone, not even Taufik, tarnish the party's image or her leadership."

He said his and Mr Taufik's membership in the party and in legislative bodies had nothing to do with Ms Megawati's position in the party, noting his father and grandfather were loyal followers of Sukarno's independence movement.

According to friends, Ms Megawati "really regrets" she has allowed the party to get away from her. "She was advised, as many feared what Taufik might do. But it was her own indecisiveness," said a PDI-P leader. Maritime Exploration Minister Sarwono Kusumaatmadja is matter of fact: "I can say that the party is experiencing an involution, it is going into itself. It served its purpose in the sense that it was a receptacle for protest groups at one time, then after that they just have to shape up. If they fail, they'll shrink."

The deposed party faithful plan to rescue the party and hope to surge to victory in the 2004 elections. "We want to work at district and sub-district level across the country in an exercise of mass consciousness raising," said one party member. "People would be educated against money politics and abuse of power."

Confusion was apparent at the party congress in March. Of 351 district branches represented, 48 sent double delegations from opposing wings of the party. Many local parliaments are in chaos through the buying and selling of candidacies, most notably in Surabaya, Medan and Jakarta.

"The problem is that at the PDI-P we have no clear ideological platform," a senior party source said. "So some of us want to create a mass moral movement, a social mass organisation, not necessarily a political party. And if by 2003, the PDI-P shows no sign of improvement, then this movement could declare itself a new party."

That sentiment led to the launch this month of a group called The Indonesian Axis, under the chairmanship of Mr Eros, and including other PDI-P notables. "We would like to have people with national interests in mind and leave their personal or political party interests behind," Mr Eros said.

Mochtar Buchori, a former member of the PDI-P executive council, agreed that the party needed modernisation and a willingness to re-examine its orientation and plans. "Otherwise it cannot prevent or stop the ruinous process that is now going on. Our emphasis is on re-capturing a feeling of pride in being Indonesian."

PDI-P's new leadership has, for now, decided to work with the Axis. Apart from sentiment, the party remained vital, said sociologist Arief Budiman of the University of Melbourne, "because in this coalition Government, [the PDI-P] represents non-Muslim and secular constituents.

"If the Government were dominated by Abdurrahman Wahid and the National Awakening Party, I am afraid there would be a sharp polarisation between Muslims and non-Muslims."

Mr Eros would also like the ideas part of politics to start making inroads through the greed and power plays. "Unfortunately, the party is still focused on romanticism and has emotional space only for its own affairs," he said. "This must end."