Megawati Sukarnoputri, Indonesia's stealth politician, broke her post-election silence today, saying that last month's national ballot gave her "the mandate" to lead the country and declaring she expects the country's powerful military to follow "the people's leaning" and back her bid for the presidency.
"The people have given me the mandate to fulfill their wish for me to lead the country toward a new Indonesia with a new spirit, mentality and views," Megawati said in a lengthy interview published in the biweekly Indonesian magazine Tajuk.
Asked about the notion of some Islamic clerics here that a woman should not lead the world's most populous Muslim nation, Megawati replied: "If the people have ever had any doubts, then the truth is out now with the election result."
Megawati, whose party won the June 7 parliamentary elections, has been publicly silent up to now, even as her political enemies have been devising new plans each day to block her path to the presidency.
Indonesians voted for 462 members of parliament, part of a 700-member electoral college that will choose the next president later this year. Although Megawati's party won at least 35 percent of the popular vote, she is still short of a majority. The current ruling party, Golkar, unaccustomed to losing and unwilling to admit defeat, has been trying to cobble together a coalition with smaller Islamic parties and appointed members of the electoral body, hoping to keep its unpopular president, B.J. Habibie, in power.
According to the as yet incomplete vote count, Golkar is running a distant second, with just over 20 percent of the tally. Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P, is winning nearly twice as many votes as Golkar. With about 60 percent of the votes counted from around the Indonesian archipelago, Megawati's party has 23.68 million, compared to 12.67 million for Golkar.
A Western diplomat here said today that while it is mathematically possible to block Megawati's presidential bid, he believes it unlikely. "I find it difficult to believe she can be denied power," he said. "And I find it difficult to see anything arising that can exclude her from power." There had been speculation that Megawati might be persuaded to accept a lesser job, such as that of vice president or speaker of parliament. But the diplomat said that in conversations with Megawati she expressed interest only in the presidency. "The people have spoken," he quoted her as saying.
Until now, Megawati--the daughter of Sukarno, the founder of the modern Indonesian state--had kept a regal silence, part of her strategy, aides and observers say, to stay above the political fray. So her comments today carry added weight and were sure to be closely scrutinized.
In the interview, she rejected the idea of leading a multiparty coalition government, saying such an arrangement would only work in a system of parliamentary rule--and would lead to a government collapse if one party in the coalition withdrew its support. Under Indonesia's strong presidential system, she said, she intends to seek support from all political parties that are "pro-reform, pro-democracy and anti-status quo." The term status quo here usually refers to Golkar and the holdovers from the ousted regime of former president Suharto.
Instead of a classic coalition, Megawati said she wants to see "agreements between parties to take up mutual responsibilities in running the government."
Megawati invoked "the people" again in saying she expects the country's powerful military, which has at least 38 appointed members in parliament, to back her presidential bid. "I'm still convinced that [the military] belongs to the people and will forever side with them," she said. "I'm also sure, from the election result, the head of the military could see clearly the direction of the people's leaning."
The military commander, Gen. Wiranto, has not indicated any preference for a president. Golkar has tried to woo Wiranto by naming him as one of several potential candidates for vice president.
Megawati also dismissed suggestions that her supporters might riot if she is denied the presidency. "Don't worry," she said. "As a mother, I know my children. Believe me, they will obey my leadership. Don't you know me? I'm against violence."