Megawati Sukarnoputri

From New World Encyclopedia

Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Diah Permata Megawati Setiawati Soekarnoputri (January 23, 1947 - ), was President of Indonesia from July 2001 to October 20, 2004. She was the country's first female President, the first Muslim female head of a modern national state and the first Indonesian leader born after independence. On September 20, she lost her campaign for re-election in the 2004 Indonesian presidential election. She is the daughter of Indonesia's first president, Sukarno. With Pakistan's woman Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, of Turkey's woman PM, Tansu Çiller and Bangladesh's two women PMs Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina she has distinguished herself as a Muslim woman who achieved high political office.[1]

Sukarnoputri means "daughter of Sukarno" (Sanskrit) and it is not the family name: Javanese do not have family names. She is simply referred to as 'Megawati' (or 'Mega') which is derived from Sanskrit meghavatī, meaning "she who has a cloud," such as a raincloud, as it was raining when she was born. Biju Patnaik, an eminent Indian leader named her on the request of Sukarno.[2] In 2004, she was ranked number 8 on Forbes Magazine's list of the World's 100 Most Powerful Women. In office as President, she continued the democratization process after years of totalitarian rule under Suharto but has been criticized for being too passive, preferring to see herself as personifying national unity. The constitution was changed to allow for direct election of the President. Her term in office saw no scandals or accusations of mis-governance, showing that a Muslim woman could serve as head of a Muslim state and perform adequately in this post, from which the previous, male incumbent had been dismissed (rightly or wrongly) for incompetency. While her family heritage played a significant role in her political career, her skill, ability, and willingness to help to change the political climate from one that tolerates personal power towards one in which constitutional rule can flourish, single her out as more than merely heir to her father's legacy.

Early life

Sukarno, Megawati's father, the first President of Indonesia. He helped the country win its independence from the Netherlands

Megawati was born in Yogyakarta on January 23, 1947, to President Sukarno, who had declared Indonesia's independence from the Netherlands, in 1945, and Fatmawati, one of Sukarno's nine wives. Megawati was Sukarno's second child and first daughter. As a child, Megawati grew up in luxury in her father's Merdeka Palace. She would dance in front of her father's guests and developed a hobby for gardening.

Megawati went to Padjadjaran University in Bandung to study agriculture, but dropped out in 1967, to be with her father following his fall from power. Megawati was 19 when her father was overthrown and succeeded by a military government led by Suharto. Sukarno's family was ignored by the new government provided they stayed out of politics.

In 1970, the year her father died, Megawati went to the University of Indonesia to study psychology, but dropped out due to Suharto regime intervention after two years. Even her warmest admirers would not claim that Megawati was an intellectual, and she had little knowledge of the world outside Indonesia. She was a pious Muslim but also follows traditional Javanese beliefs and had great faith in astrology.

Megawati's first husband, First Lieutenant Surindo Supjarso, was killed in a plane crash in Irian Jaya in 1970. In 1972, she married Hassan Gamal Ahmad Hasan, an Egyptian diplomat. The marriage was annulled shortly after. She married Taufiq Kiemas, her present husband, in 1973. They had three children, M. Rizki Pramata, M. Pranada Prabowo, and Puan Maharani, now in their 30s.

Political career

Member of the Legislative Branch

In 1986, Suharto gave the status of Proclamation Hero to Sukarno in a ceremony attended by Megawati herself. Suharto's acknowledgment of Sukarno would fuel the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI), a government-sanctioned party, to run a campaign centered on Sukarno nostalgia in the lead up to the 1987 Legislative Elections. Up to that time, Megawati had seen herself as a housewife, but in 1987, she would join PDI and run for a People's Representative Council (DPR) membership. PDI was only too keen to accept Megawati and boost their own image. Megawati quickly became popular, her status as Sukarno's daughter overruling her obvious lack of oratory skills. Although PDI would come last in the 1987 Legislative Elections, Megawati would still be elected to the DPR. In addition, she also became a member of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR).

Chairperson of PDI

Megawati was not reelected to the DPR or the MPR, but would continue as a PDI member. In December 1993, PDI held a National Congress and as was always the case when New Order opposition parties hold their congresses, the Government would actively interfere in the Congress to ensure that the opposition parties would be tame towards them. As the Congress approached, three contenders for the Chairpersonship of PDI became evident. The first candidate was incumbent Suryadi, who had started to become overly critical of the Government, the second candidate was Budi Harjono a Government-friendly figure who the Government want to win the Chairpersonship, and finally, there was Megawati. Megawati's candidacy received such an overwhelming support that her victory at the Congress would only be a formality.

Sensing this, the Government began to maneuver to ensure that Megawati was not elected. When the Congress assembled, the Government began to stall and all attempts to hold the Chairperson election was delayed. A situation then developed whereby if PDI did not elect a Chairperson by the end of the Congress, the Congress would not be allowed to continue because their permit to assemble would run out. As the hours ticked down to the end of the Congress, troops began gathering at the site of the Congress. Finally with two hours before the permit to assemble ran out, Megawati called a press conference. Megawati stated at the press conference, that because she enjoyed the support of a majority of PDI members, she was now the de facto Chairperson of PDI. Despite her relative lack of political experience, she was popular in part for her status as the daughter of Sukarno, but also because she was seen as free of corruption and having admirable personal qualities. Under her leadership, PDI gained a large following among the urban poor and both urban and rural middle classes.

On the other hand the Government was outraged that they failed in their attempt to prevent Megawati from winning the Chairpersonship of PDI. They never acknowledged Megawati, although Megawati's self-appointment to the Chairpersonship had been ratified in 1994, by PDI. Finally in 1996, the Government managed to convene a Special National Congress in Medan. This Congress, attended by anti-Megawati figures re-elected Suryadi to the Chairpersonship of PDI. Megawati and her camp refused to acknowledge the results of the Government-backed congress and a situation of dualism developed whereby PDI was divided into a pro-Megawati and anti-Megawati camp.

Suryadi began threatening to take back PDI's Headquarters in Jakarta. This threat came true during the morning of July 27, 1996. That morning, Suryadi's supporters (reportedly with the Government's backing) attacked the PDI Headquarters and faced resistance from Megawati supporters who had been stationed there ever since the National Congress in Medan. In the ensuing fight, Megawati's supporters managed to hold on to the headquarters. A riot then ensued, followed by a crackdown by the government. The government would later blame the riots on the People's Democracy Party (PRD), they would recognize Suryadi's PDI as the official PDI and would also ban Megawati from competing in the 1997 Legislative Election.

Despite what seemed to be a political defeat, Megawati scored a moral victory and her popularity grew. When the time came for the 1997 Legislative Elections, Megawati and her supporters threw their support behind the United Development Party (PPP), the other political party that the government had allowed to exist.


In 1997, Indonesia faced the Asian Financial Crisis and suffered an economic crisis. This combined with increasing public anger at pervasive corruption, culminated in May 1998 with Suharto's resignation from the Presidency and the assumption of that office by BJ Habibie. With disappearance of the restrictions that had been placed on her, Megawati began to consolidate her political position. In October 1998, her supporters held a National Congress whereby Megawati's PDI would now be known as the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) to differentiate itself from PDI. Megawati was elected as Chairperson and was nominated to be the Party's Presidential candidate.

Megawati's PDI-P, together with Abdurrahman Wahid's National Awakening Party (PKB) and Amien Rais' National Mandate Party (PAN), became the leading forces of the Reform movement. Despite their popularity, Megawati, Wahid, and Rais adopted a moderate stance; preferring to wait until the 1999 Legislative Elections to begin taking power.[3] In November 1998, Megawati, together with Wahid, Rais, and Hamengkubuwono X reiterated their commitment to reform through the Ciganjur Statement.

As the 1999 Legislative Elections approached, there was hope that Megawati, Wahid, and Amien would form a political coalition against President Habibie and Golkar. In May 1999, this hope came close to being a reality when Alwi Shihab held a press conference at his house during which Megawati, Wahid, and Amien would announce that they would work together. At the last minute, Megawati chose not to attend because she decided that she could not trust Amien.[4] In June 1999, the 1999 Legislative Elections were held. PDI-P was undoubtedly the most popular political party and it came first with 33 percent of the votes.

With PDI-P's Legislative Election victory, the prospects of Megawati becoming President became more real. This prospect was detested by the United Development Party (PPP) who did not want Indonesia to have a female President. PPP Slogans such as "A Woman President? No Way" appeared and Quran verses allegedly "proclaiming men's domination over women" were cited.[5] In preparation for the 1999 MPR General Session, PDI-P developed a loose coalition with PKB. As the MPR General Session approached, it seemed as if the Presidential Election was going to be contested by Megawati and Habibie but by late June, Amien had managed to draw the Islamic Parties together in a coalition called the Central Axis.[6] The Presidential Election also became a three way race when Amien began throwing the idea of nominating Wahid for President; but Wahid did not provide a clear response to this.

1999 MPR General Session

Megawati's PDI-P and PKB coalition faced its first test when the MPR assembled to choose its Chairman. Megawati threw her support behind Matori Abdul Djalil, the Chairman of PKB. Matori was overwhelmingly defeated by Amien, who in addition to enjoying Central Axis' support was also backed by Golkar in his candidacy for the MPR Chairmanship.[7] The Golkar and Central Axis coalition then struck again when they secured Akbr Tanjung's election as Head of DPR. At this stage, people became wary that Megawati, who best represented Reform was going to be obstructed by the political process and that the status quo was going to be preserved. PDI-P supporters began to gather in Jakarta.

With the rejection of Habibie's accountability speech and Habibie's withdrawal from the Presidential race, the Presidential Election to be held on October 20, 1999, came down to Megawati and Wahid. Megawati took an early lead, but was overtaken and lost with 313 votes compared to Wahid's 373. Megawati's lost fueled her supporters to begin rioting. Riots raged in Java and Bali. In the City of Solo, PDI-P masses managed to attack Amien's house.

The next day, the MPR assembled to elect the Vice President. PDI-P had considered to nominate Megawati as Vice President, but was concerned that the Central Axis and Golkar coalition would once again thwart her in that political venture. Finally, PKB took the initiative and nominated Megawati as a Vice Presidential candidate. She faced stiff competition in the form of Hamzah Haz, Akbar Tanjung, and General Wiranto participating in the race as well. Aware of the riots that had happened after Megawati's Presidential Election defeat, Akbar and Wiranto withdrew from the Vice Presidential race. Hamzah on the other hand insisted to compete against Megawati.[8] Finally, Megawati defeated Hamzah with 396 votes to 284 to become Vice President. In her inauguration speech, she called for her supporters to calm down.

Vice Presidency

Work as Vice President

As Vice President, Megawati had considerable authority by virtue of her commanding a lot of the seats in the DPR. Wahid delegated to her the tasking of solving the problems in Ambon, although she was not successful.[9] By the time the MPR Annual Session assembled in August 2000, many considered Wahid to be ineffective as President or at the very least as an administrator. Wahid responded to this by issuing a Presidential Decree, giving Megawati day-to-day control of running the Government.[10]

2000 PDI-P National Congress

The First PDI-P Congress was held in Semarang, Central Java in April 2000, during which Megawati was re-elected as the Chairperson of PDI-P for a 2nd term.

The Congress was noted as one where Megawati consolidated her position within PDI-P by taking harsh measures to remove potential rivals. During the election for the Chairperson, two other candidates emerged in the form of Eros Djarot and Dimyati Hartono. Both Eros and Dimyati ran for the Chairpersonship because they did not want Megawati to hold the PDI-P Chairpersonship while concurrently being Vice President. For Eros, when he finally received his nomination from the South Jakarta branch, membership problems arose and made his nomination void. Eros was then not allowed to go and participate in the congress. Disillusioned with what he perceived to be a cult of personality developing around Megawati, Eros left PDI-P. In July 2002, he would form the Freedom Bull National Party. For Dimyati, although his candidacy was not opposed as harshly as Eros' had been, he was removed from his position as Head of PDI-P's Central Branch. He kept his position as a People's Representative Council (DPR) member but retired in February 2002. In April 2002, Dimyati formed the Our Homeland of Indonesia Party (PITA).

Relationship with Wahid and Rise to the Presidency

Megawati had an ambivalent relationship with Wahid. During the Cabinet reshuffle of August 2000 for example, Megawati was not present for the announcement of the new Cabinet line-up.[11] At another occasion, when the political tide began to rise up against Wahid, Megawati defended her President and lashed out against critics of the Government.[12] In 2001, however, Megawati began to distance herself from Wahid as a Special Session of the MPR approached and the prospects of her becoming President began to get better. Although she refused to make any specific comments, she showed the signs of preparing herself to be President such as holding a meeting with party leaders a day before the Special Session was due to start.[13]

On July 23, 2001, the MPR assembled. They unanimously removed Wahid from office before appointing Megawati President.


Under Megawati, the process of democratic reform begun under Habibie and Wahid continued, albeit slowly and erratically. Megawati appeared to see her role mainly as a symbol of national unity, and she rarely actively intervened in government business. Under her tenure, the Kabinet Gotong Royong Mutual Assistance Cabinet helped govern the country. It included Megawati's successor, the retired General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The military, disgraced at the time of Suharto's fall, regained much of its influence. Corruption continued to be pervasive, though Megawati herself was seldom blamed for this.

Some Indonesian scholars explained Megawati's apparent passivity in office by reference to Javanese mythology. Megawati, they said, saw her father, Sukarno, as a "Good King" of Javanese legend. Suharto was the "Bad Prince" who had usurped the Good King's throne. Megawati was the Avenging Daughter who overthrew the Bad Prince and regained the Good King's throne. Once this had been achieved, they said, Megawati was content to reign as the Good Queen and leave the business of government to others. Some prominent Anglophone critics such as Benedict Anderson jokingly referred to the president as "Miniwati."[14]

She attracted criticism for being "largely silent on her efforts to combat terrorism and regional militancy, a stance she was criticized for in the aftermath of the Bali bomb attacks in 2002."[15]

Although by 2004 Indonesia's economy had stabilized and partly recovered from the 1997 crisis, unemployment and poverty remained high, and there was considerable disappointment at Megawati's presidency. The Indonesian Constitution was amended to provide for the direct election of the President, and Megawati stood for a second term. She consistently trailed in the opinion polls, due in part to the preference for male candidates among Muslim voters, and in part due to what was widely seen as a mediocre performance in office. Despite a somewhat better than expected performance in the first round of the elections, in the second round she was defeated by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Megawati neither conceded defeat, nor congratulated her successor, nor attended his inauguration. She simply vacated the Presidential Palace and returned to private life without making any statement.

On September 11, 2007, Megawati Sukarnoputri, 60, announced her 2009 reelection bid (before all PDI-P (Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle) cadres. Soetardjo Soerjoguritno confirmed her willingness to be nominated as her party's presidential candidate.[16]


Sukarnoputri continued the democratization process, especially the transition from governance based on personal power to constitutional rule. Her tendency to leave the business of government to others has been criticized as passive. On the other hand, it fits well with the change in the ethos of government from one dominated by the power of the President to a more participatory, shared system style. The very fact that a Muslim rule served as head of state of the world's largest Muslim country is an achievement that earns her place in history. Although corruption still tarnished government in Indonesia under her leadership, to her credit no charges have been made against her. According to the BBC, while she was unable to make any "lasting progress in the fight against corruption" she did achieve "some successes—notably in improving political stability."

Preceded by:
Abdurrahman Wahid
President of Indonesia
Succeeded by:
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
Preceded by:
Jusuf Habibie
Vice President of Indonesia
Succeeded by:
Hamzah Haz


  1. Fatima Mernissi and Mary Jo Lakeland, The Forgotten Queens of Islam (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993, ISBN 9780816624386).
  2. Shri K.R. Narayananm, Speech by the President of India Shri K. R. Narayanan at the banquet in honor of the President of the Republic of Indonesia, Her Excellency Mrs. Megawati Soekarnoputri and Mr. Taufiq Kiemas, New Delhi, Ministry of External Affairs. Retrieved June 17, 2008.
  3. Barton, p. 255.
  4. Barton, p. 270.
  5. Eric C. Thompson, Indonesia in Transition: The 1999 Presidential Elections, NBR Briefing Policy Report No 9. Retrieved June 17, 2008.
  6. Barton, p. 270.
  7. Thompson, pg. 7.
  8. Thompson, pg. 11.
  9. Peter Symonds, Fighting in the Malukus heightens tensions across Indonesia and within the Wahid cabinet. World Socialist Website. Retrieved June 17, 2008.
  10. Symonds, 2000.
  11. Barton, pg. 327.
  12. Barton, pg. 342.
  13. Hamline University, JKTP—Megawati to Host Meeting with Part Leaders, Indonesia News. Retrieved June 17, 2008.
  14. Seth Mydan, Woman in the News; A Daughter of Destiny; Megawati Sukarnoputri, The New York Times. Retrieved June 17, 2008.
  15. BBC, Profile: Megawati Sukarnoputri. Retrieved June 17, 2008.
  16. Forbes Magazine, Indonesia's Megawati in presidential comeback bid.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Barton, Greg. 2002. Abdurrahman Wahid: Muslim Democrat, Indonesian President: A View from the Inside. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 9780824826215.
  • Fic, Victor M. 2003. From Majapahit and Sukuh to Megawati Sukarnoputri: Continuity and Change in Pluralism of Religion, Culture and Politics of Indonesia from the XV to the XXI Century. New Delhi, IN: Abhinav Publications. ISBN 9788170174042.
  • McIntyre, Angus. 1997. In Search of Megawati Sukarnoputri. Clayton, AU: Centre of Southeast Asian Studies, Monash University. ISBN 9780732611576.
  • McIntyre, Angus. 2005. The Indonesian Presidency: The Shift from Personal Toward Constitutional Rule Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. ISBN 9780742538269.
  • Torregrosa, Luisita Lopez. 1998. "Lives—Megawati Sukarnoputri is a born leader. But does she have the power—or the political savvy—to transform Indonesia?" Vogue. 246.


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