JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network): The nearly absolute control Megawati Soekarnoputri wields over the country’s largest political party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), and that it is the only party eligible to nominate its own candidates in the 2024 presidential election, are perhaps among the reasons why fake news about her health attracted nationwide attention last week.
It was saddening to see, however, that some people responded with “jubilation” to the fake news, when it was already hard to believe that a hoax of this type had been spread here.
Those behind the fake news should look for more civilised ways to attain their political aspirations or earn money.
Megawati’s close relationship with President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, and the President giving her strategic appointments at the Agency for Pancasila Ideology Education (BPIP) and the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN), have apparently contributed to growing animosity among her haters, which then translated into rumoirs of illness.
Just recently, Megawati tearfully defended the President as having fallen victim to insults from some government critics. This probably also fuelled resentment among those who oppose Jokowi.
Few appear to have related the warmer ties between the two with the possibility that Megawati is preparing Jokowi for a future political position, including the PDI-P’s chief post.
Megawati has yet to drop any hints about her preferred successor as the party’s boss. As I wrote in this newspaper in May, Megawati will need to choose between her son Prananda Prabowo and daughter Puan Maharani as her successor.
Puan, however, seems more eager to become either the nation’s president or vice president rather than work with her half-brother Prananda in consolidating the party.
Some have speculated that the PDI-P is on the brink of an internal conflict resulting from succession uncertainty.
I guess Megawati has already decided on a successor, and not necessarily from among her children or the offspring of Indonesia’s founding president Sukarno, like her.
At least two items of fake news circulated widely last week on the critical health, if not the death, of the country’s fifth president. Sadly, the content’s tone reflected hatred, rather than empathy, of their creator.
You can easily sense this on following the gossip about Megawati’s purported critical condition on social media.
A journalist even insisted that the information was 1,000 per cent accurate, claiming he had obtained it from a doctor at a South Jakarta hospital via WhatsApp, while another user said the news was classified as A1 (definitely accurate).
Neither demonstrated any shame or regret for sharing these lies with the public, after Megawati appeared in a livestream of a PDI-P event.
The journalist, Harsubeno Arief, said later in his attempt at clarification that he had tried all available means to verify the report.
I just feel sorry for the doctor who was Harsubeno’s source, because the police can easily trace the WhatsApp chat and charge him with spreading a hoax, which is punishable by up to six years in prison.
The phrase “Life and death is in God’s hands” is quite popular among Indonesians, and I used it to reply to friends or neighbours who asked me about the accuracy of the information.
In the end, Megawati made a public appearance that killed the wild rumours.
Megawati is one of the country’s most powerful politicians, if not the most powerful.
Until Covid-19 hit the country last year, one of the easiest ways to measure Megawati’s political clout was the open house she used to host for Idul Fitri.
It was not only PDI-P politicians who turned up to wish her well at the post-Ramadan feast, but also current and former state officials, diplomats and businesspeople. Megawati’s house on Jl. Teuku Umar in Central Jakarta was one of the most visited places
She was also the kingmaker who helped Jokowi win back-to-back presidential elections, and she stands the chance of filling the same crucial role in the 2024 elections.
But as long as she fails to shed light on or at least hint at who’s next in line, she will be vulnerable to hoaxes that could be worse than last week’s fake news. That she is now 74 makes her more susceptible to rumours.
Perhaps Megawati should learn from her political foe and former minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), who defeated her twice in the 2004 and 2009 presidential elections. Former army general SBY has handed over the Democratic Party’s baton, at least formally, to his eldest son and former army major Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono.
The PDI-P is too dependent on Megawati. It does not mean the party will immediately collapse without her, because Sukarno’s teachings are deeply rooted in the minds of PDI-P supporters and will remain a powerful unifying factor for the party.
There is hardly a chance, at least so far, that her daughter, son or another of Sukarno’s grandchildren will ever rival her charisma and influence.
It seems, at least to me, that Megawati is seriously considering Jokowi as the future leader of her party. She only needs to make her preference for Jokowi clear to the public. Her refusal to gradually loosen her grip on the PDI-P will only be damaging to both the party and national politics.
Megawati was an icon of democracy when she fought the Soeharto dictatorship. She then succeeded in leading the PDI-P to its current standing in the nation’s political landscape. Now is the right time for her to step back gradually and make up her mind about her heir apparent.
As long as uncertainty shrouds the party’s future, rumours and hoaxes will continue to target it and inflict damage.
*** The writer is a senior editor of The Jakarta Post.