A former president’s daughter has been named the new Speaker of Indonesia’s parliament, in the most recent example of a trend towards dynastic politics. Puan Maharani, the daughter of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri and granddaughter of founding president Sukarno, took on the third most powerful job in Indonesian politics on Tuesday.
She is the first woman to be Speaker of the parliament and her rise follows five years in President Joko Widodo’s cabinet as co-ordinating minister for human development and cultural affairs. She had also served a previous stint in the parliament and and worked for a period as an operative in the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the political party of the current president, which her mother still controls with an iron grip.
Puan’s elevation comes just weeks after Joko’s eldest son, 31-year-old restauranteur Gibran Rakabuming, and his son-in-law, 28-year-old property developer Bobby Nasution, indicated their interest in running for the job of mayor in the cities of Solo and Medan respectively in 2020. Neither man has previous political experience and Gibran has previously indicated he was not interested in entering politics.
In 2017, former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono – who still chairs the Democratic Party he founded – put forward his son, Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, as candidate for governor of Jakarta. The now-41-year-old former soldier came a distant third in that election, but following Joko’s election victory, Agus’ name has been floated as a future cabinet minister.
These children of current and former presidents seeking to rise to high office are just some of the recent examples of the increasingly dynastic nature of Indonesian politics. Australian National University’s Indonesian politics expert Marcus Mietzner said that “politicians in Indonesia are going down the dynastic route”.
“It’s an increasingly worrying phenomenon in Indonesia, but it’s not at the level of the Philippines yet,” he said.
The trend of politicians seeking to establish dynasties extended “all the way down to the local level, where a lot of bupatis [mayors] are succeeded by their wives or sons”.
Mietzner drew a distinction between the nepotism and corruption of the Suharto era, when the former dictator liberally handed out hundreds of millions of dollars of financial benefits and opportunities to his immediate family, and the growing dynastic trend. In Puan’s time as minister, Mietzner said, “there weren’t any great policy initiatives her name was attached to. That’s clear.”
As Speaker, Puan will play a key role in negotiating the parliament’s legislative agenda with the President and with other political parties, as there are nine parties in the parliament and five in the governing coalition.
Aaron Connelly, of Singapore’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Puan was “not known for her diligence” while a minister.
“It’s [the speakership] generally considered the number three position in the Republic. It’s seen as a promotion for Puan. There are only two places she could go from here, the presidency or vice-presidency.”
Former Jakarta Post chief editor Endy Bayuni, a veteran observer of Indonesian politics, said Puan had risen through the ranks of the PDI-P and served her political apprenticeship.
Endy compared Puan to her father, Taufiq Kiemas, a high-profile politician who died in 2013, and a “political operator”, rather than to her mother Megawati.
“In Indonesia, dynasties are a fact of life and people accept it. In Asian politics, dynasties are part of it – look at Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Malaysia, even Singapore,” he said. “As a minister there were no highlights but it wasn’t a position that would give her a major profile. If she has the ambition to run for office in 2024, it’s a natural progression to be Speaker.”
Puan said on Tuesday that her appointment was another reminder that women in Indonesia could aspire to high political office and promised to work towards “synergy” between the parliament and the government. And what about a run for the presidency in 2024? “I haven’t even thought about it.”