Megawati Sukarnoputri Bio
Megawati Sukarnoputri (1947- ), president of Indonesia (2001- ) and leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), who as vice president (1999-2001) replaced deposed president Abdurrahman Wahid.
Born in Yogyakarta, Megawati is the second child and eldest daughter of Indonesia’s founding president, Sukarno. He led Indonesia’s independence from Dutch colonial rule after World War II (1939-1945) and served as the country’s first president for two decades. Her full given name is Dyah Permata Megawati Setiawati Sukarnoputri, but she commonly uses only one name, Megawati, following Indonesian custom. The name Megawati roughly translates as “woman of the clouds,” and Sukarnoputri means “daughter of Sukarno.”
Megawati and her three younger siblings grew up in the presidential palace in the care of their father; their mother, Fatmawati, separated from Sukarno in 1954. After graduating high school Megawati began her university studies at the Bandung Institute of Technology. Before earning a degree, however, Megawati discontinued her studies during the political upheaval that resulted in her father’s replacement by General Suharto in 1968. Megawati then married Surindro Supjarso, an air force lieutenant, and went to live with him in Madiun. Sukarno died in June 1970. Then in January 1971 Surindro died in a plane crash.
Although the Suharto regime stifled political dissent, it permitted two opposition parties to operate on a limited basis in addition to the government party, Golkar. One of these, the Democratic Party of Indonesia (PDI), was the result of a government-forced merger of the pro-Sukarno Indonesian National Party (PNI) and several other parties in 1973. (That year, Megawati married Taufiq Kiemas, who had been an activist in the PNI’s university student front.) For the 1987 elections the PDI sought the participation of the Sukarno family in the hope of gaining more popular support, as many Indonesians, disaffected by the Suharto regime, revered Sukarno as the country’s founder. Megawati agreed to join the party, which increased its share of the national vote in both the 1987 and 1992 elections.
These electoral gains posed a potential threat to the Suharto regime, which then attempted to install a government-preferred candidate as PDI leader. However, some party members persuaded Megawati to make a leadership bid, in the hope that her popular support would help overcome these attempts to control the party. In December 1993 Megawati was elected chairperson of the PDI.
In June 1996 a government-orchestrated coup within the PDI resulted in a faction of the party voting to remove Megawati as party leader. By then Megawati had become a potential rival to Suharto, who wanted to secure his reelection in the 1998 elections. Megawati refused to step down, and many of her supporters held street protests in Jakarta. In July 1996 five PDI members loyal to Megawati were killed when police attacked the party headquarters, leading to more demonstrations in support of Megawati. These protests marked the beginning of a pro-democracy movement that led to Suharto’s resignation in May 1998. Although Megawati did not take an active role in the movement, she was a symbol of popular resistance to the Suharto regime.
In the June 1999 parliamentary elections—the country’s first free elections—Megawati’s new party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), won the largest share of the vote. However, Megawati did not garner enough support within the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), Indonesia’s supreme legislative body, to secure the presidency. The MPR instead chose Muslim cleric Abdurrahman Wahid and then appeased Megawati’s supporters by making her vice president.
A political crisis fueled by Wahid’s uncompromising style and increasingly erratic behavior resulted in his removal from office by the MPR in July 2001. Megawati was chosen to replace him and serve the remainder of his five-year term. As president Megawati faced many challenges, notably separatist movements in the provinces of Aceh and Papua (formerly Irian Jaya); a battered economy with huge government debt; and an incomplete transition to democracy after decades of authoritarian rule. Megawati’s administration immediately secured the resumption of International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans, which had been suspended under Wahid.