JAKARTA — Indonesia has now followed a few other Asian nations, from Pakistan to the Philippines, in having a female political martyr fighting for democracy.
She is Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of Indonesia's founding president, the late Sukarno. Spurned by a largely authoritarian government last week, she carries enough clout to rally people in pro-democracy protests.
Ms. Megawati was ousted Saturday as leader of the opposition Indonesian Democracy Party (PDI) by 16 "rebel" party executives in a still-contested power struggle. Even before the ouster, some 5,000 of her supporters battled troops in capital, Jakarta.
The ouster move apparently came with the blessing of President Suharto, his ruling party Golkar, and the influential armed forces, all of whom may fear that the well-known daughter of a once-popular leader might upset 1998 presidential elections in this highly controlled democracy. Suharto, a retired army major general, ousted Sukarno in the wake of a failed communist coup in 1965.
The attack on her leadership came at the end of a three-day congress of the Christian-nationalist PDI held behind barbed wire in Medan, a factory town in North Sumatra. The congress was attended by armed forces chief Gen. Geisal Tandjung and Home Affairs Minister Yogie S. Memed, along with hundreds of troops standing guard.
Megawati rejects the congress's "attempt" to oust her as party leader as "illegal and unconstitutional." She claims that she has the support of millions of grass-roots villagers across an archipelago of 17,000 islands that stretches from Singapore to Australia.
But she appealed for calm yesterday, and instructed her followers to return peacefully to their homes. They appeared to comply.
In the interview, Megawati said her next step would be to fight to retain the party chair in the Indonesian courts. "We don't want violence. We respect the Constitution of Indonesia," which began with her father's presidency in 1945, she said. But the courts, which generally side with the government, are not likely to be of much help.
Megawati's only weapon is the Sukarno family name, which party officials admit has made her a household word everywhere in Indonesia. That Sukarno drove inflation to 600 percent and imprisoned his political opponents seems to have been forgotten.
She claims she has the power to bring the nation to a standstill from North Sumatra to New Guinea. "If Megawati gave me an order to start a riot, I would do it," concurs Eddy Suparman, a retired businessman who voted for the party in North Sumatra.
Vast business interests are at stake in Indonesia's power struggles. Suharto's six grown children dominate every sector of industry in Indonesia in partnerships with large ethnic Chinese conglomerates and military occupations in the resource-rich provinces of Irian Jaya and East Timor.
The ruling party's fear of Megawati is such that she is assumed to have built a hidden agenda around avenging her father's ouster in 1965 and his subsequent death "of a broken heart" in an Indonesian hospital, according to a senior Golkar member.
Indeed, Western diplomats see Megawati as having the leadership potential of Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma and Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan - both daughters of slain national leaders.
On all fronts, the prevailing fear is a repeat of the wave of violence that swept the archipelago in October 1965 after Sukarno's fall, killing hundreds of thousands of suspected government opponents and ethnic Chinese. Whether Megawati bows out gracefully from the political arena or opts for a graceful defeat, her fellow party leaders doubt her supporters will heed her appeals for calm.
The test will come in the next few days, when the party "rebels" - backed by the military - attempt to install themselves in the party headquarters where Megawati's photograph has been glued to the roof.
"It will take force to remove me from this building. Why don't you see what happens in the next two or three days," she said in the interview.
Party treasurer Laksamana Sukardi leaves even less to interpretation. "To die is an option we cannot avoid - to die in indignity or in honor," he said to crowd Sunday chanting cheers for democracy."