Finally, Megawati’s Silence Truly is Golden

Editorial / Opinion Piece / Blog Post

September 11, 2013

Finally, Megawati’s Silence Truly is Golden

It is still fresh in our memory how dreadfully the media treated Megawati after she took leadership of the PDI-P in 1993. The mockery mounted during her tenure as vice president from 1999 to 2001 and as president from 2001 to 2004.  Those were ambiguous days for the image of female politicians. Megawati proved that a woman could be the head of state.  But, as she tended to avoid consultation with the public, she often drew derogatory lines from the media, who labeled her ‘Ms. Silence is Golden.’  Her political decisions were often interpreted as evidence of subordination to her husband, Taufik Kiemas, who had significant control over the party.

Megawati’s leadership style was made to fit a long list of stereotypes for female politicians – emotional, unreasonable, timid, ambivalent, hesitant, and subservient to a husband’s or a father’s political ambition.  These stereotypes often used to prevent women from entering the political arena.

Today, the media seems to have forgotten those days.  Since Megawati decided to approve Jokowi to run for DKI Governor, the media seemingly even forgot that Megawati is a female politician.  There is almost not a line of newsprint suggesting that her silence over Jokowi’s potential presidential candidacy for 2014 is a typical show of weakness of her leadership.  With mounting media pressure on Jokowi’s candidacy for 2014, Jokowi has shown complete political obedience to the leader of his party.  He has replied consistently to questions about his intentions with, “As it’s up to the Madam Chair, you should ask her.”

Aside from the work of the KPK, whether Jokowi will run or not in 2014 is the most anticipated news item.  Remarkably, the media has overlooked the fact that a man is waiting for a woman to decide whether he will run for president or not.  No discussion about this gendered dimension of politics has yet appeared.  Yet Megawati’s decision could be one of the most politically momentous in the country since 1998.

For her approval of Jokowi’ candidacy as Governor of DKI and her silence over Jokowi’s presidential candidacy, Megawati should garner praise and high respect for her leadership. This is the moment that the media, and the public, should admit that Megawati’s silence is truly golden.  She kept on supporting Jokowi, even after the mainstream polls, such as Indo Barometer, LSI, and Puskaptis, indicated that Jokowi had no chance to be elected as the Governor of DKI.  There were very few polls, such as LP3ES, that predicted that Jokowi would meet in a run-off against Fauzi Bowo. Jokowi turned out to be the dream leader, whom many think will re-establish respect for the country.

Since the reform era, affirmative action for women in politics has been pushed forward politically and has been incorporated into the Election Law in 2004, which provided a quota for women of one third of elected seats.  However, the challenge to women’s political representation is stubborn.  In 2008, the Constitutional Court revoked the law.  After this setback, the promotion of women in politics was restarted, in 2012, with the electoral regulation requiring at least every third nominee to be a woman. The fluctuation of laws to promote women’s inclusion in politics is evidence of the patriarchal mindset of politicians who want to sabotage or subordinate women.  In many cases, instead of empowering women in politics, regulations are used to equip male politicians to enhance their political capital.

Recently, a self-made former governor candidate, Khofifah Indar Parawansa, faced excessively harsh political maneuvers that seemingly came from the election apparatus.  She was voted out by three of five members of the Elections Committee (KPU) on the basis of inadequate administrative procedures. Regulation again falls short of affirming women’s place in politics.  Khofifah was the only female candidate of the four candidates for governor, but she was denied the opportunity to even contest the election.

This incident matters. Let us look at the previous governor’s race in 2008. Soekarwo, the incumbent, and Khofifah were in a neck-to-neck race. Khofifah received 49.8% of the total vote and Soekarwo received 50.2% when they met in a run-off, in which most quick counts predicted that Khofifah was leading by more than 1%. The incumbent won only after a ‘disputed result’ was brought to the Constitutional Court, which ruled in favor of a repeat election in Madura, the stronghold area of Khofifah. Although not proven, allegations of vote buying and voter registration fraud were pandemic. Similarly, in 1998, Megawati also won the largest percentage of votes and thus most deserved to be made president. But the Poros Tengah (Center Alliance) used gender paranoia to sabotage her presidential candidacy and relegated her to the position of VP.

Today, throughout Indonesia, there are 17 female kepala daerah, one governor, two mayors, and 14 bupati.  But more than half of them are wives or daughters of former two terms kepala daerah, who are by law prohibited from running again.  Look at the case of the Bupati of Indramayu, Anna Sophanah.  She ran for bupati to replace her two-term husband, Irianto MS Syafiuddin, whom by law could not run again.  She has repeatedly expressed her desire to resign.

Many women are not similarly situated economically with their male competitors.  They are not able to woo voters with money and are doubly disadvantaged at party primaries given the money politics that characterize our politics.  Among other challenges to female politicians are the lack of resources, political will, internal democracy, and the prevalence of patriarchy, corruption, stereotyping, and vote buying.

Affirmative action laws are not a free ticket to enter politics. A female politician must work and prove her ability in a harsh political environment. At best, affirmative action can only create an opportunity for women.  It does not create a welcoming political environment or reduce the challenges that women face.  Women who wish to run for political office need to be aware of the requirements before they decide to run.  They need to be directors of their campaigns, not merely trainees.  They need to actively educate themselves and form broad alliances, including with the media.  To continue the legal and political enforcement of affirmative action and to engage in true, not merely symbolic, inclusion would allow talented women to gain an opportunity to join the contest to improve the country. 

*The writer is executive director of the Women and Youth Development Institute of Indonesia (WYDII).

Siti Nurjanah
Women and Youth Development Institute of Indonesia (WYDII)
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