New Generation of Women Step Up in Indonesia's Looming Poll

(Bloomberg) -- Indonesian voters have yet to directly elect a female president, but more high-profile women than ever are leading parties and running for office as the political ground shifts in the world’s third-largest democracy.

Megawati Soekarnoputri, the daughter of Indonesia’s founder, chief of the country’s largest political party and former president (she was appointed), remains the most influential politician. Her move to veto President Joko Widodo’s first choice of a running mate underscored her stature as the kingmaker. There’s also two of former dictator Suharto’s daughters and the daughter of former president Abdurrahman Wahid wielding considerable political clout in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.

New Generation of Women Step Up in Indonesia's Looming Poll

While incumbent Widodo is pitching for better representation of women in politics -- he has eight females in his cabinet holding important ministries such as a finance and foreign -- his challenger Prabowo Subianto says he believes more in output than tokenism. With women marginally outnumbering men among the country’s total 193 million voters, they have a chance to determine who gets to rule Indonesia for the next five years.

While Megawati is the only woman to have contested the Indonesian presidential polls since direct elections were introduced in 2004, there are several women who could make a future bid. Here’s a look at the most influential female politicians in Indonesia.

Megawati Soekarnoputri

At 72, Megawati, may be too old for taking another shot at the top job. She became Indonesia’s only female president after Wahid, known as Gus Dur, was impeached by the parliament for incompetence. But as the founder of ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, she decides who gets to become the party’s nominees for important posts such as governor, regents and mayors.

New Generation of Women Step Up in Indonesia's Looming Poll

She contested the elections in 2004 and 2009 and lost to Susilo Bambang Yudhyono on both the occasions. Her daughter Puan Maharani is a senior member of Jokowi cabinet. Megawati remains a champion of women’s causes and wants to see more females step up to important political jobs.

“Why don’t Indonesian women want to be like me? Not to brag about myself, but up until now, I’m the only president of Indonesia who is a female,” she said at her birthday bash in late January, Kompas news portal reported.

Siti Hediati Hariyadi

Nicknamed Titiek, Hariyadi is one of Suharto’s six children and the ex-wife of Prabowo. She quit Golkar, a party founded by her father, ahead of the presidential poll to join the Berkarya Party that was formed by her brother Hutomo Mandala Putra, known as Tommy Suharto.

The siblings’ coming together with Berkarya Party is seen by many analysts as the return of the Suharto dynasty into political arena after lying low since their father was toppled from power in 1998. Titiek, 58, is supporting Prabowo.

New Generation of Women Step Up in Indonesia's Looming Poll

Grace Natalie

Natalie, a former popular news anchor, quit her profession and founded a party for the country’s millennials. The 36-year-old s the only commoner among the grand dames of Indonesian politics and is already raising some uncomfortable questions about the nation’s political customs and practice.

Natalie, who co-founded the Indonesian Solidarity Party with four of her colleagues, offers an antithesis to conventional politics for more than 80 million millennial voters. Her party is focused on issues important to women and youth, such as education and lowering income tax for millennials, in its bid to become a national political force.

The party has turned heads with its demands for an end to polygamy and an amendment to draconian blasphemy laws. It’s also started conferring ‘lie awards’ to politicians making hollow or misguided statements as a way to ensure more accountability among politicians. Natalie’s party is backing Jokowi.

Yenny Wahid

The daughter of Gus Dur, Wahid is former director of Wahid Institute and a political force as the heir of the founding family of Nahdatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim organization. A former journalist with a masters from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, Wahid wields considerable clout among the members of Nahdatul Ulama, which also controls the National Awakening Party.

New Generation of Women Step Up in Indonesia's Looming Poll

While politicians across parties revere the Gus Dur family, Wahid threw her support behind Jokowi’s bid for a second term, saying a leader must be modest and be able to meet people’s basic needs.

Rahayu Saraswati

Saraswati is the latest entrant to the long line of political inheritors. The daughter of oil and gas tycoon Hashim Djojohadikusumo, she’s the deputy chief of Prabowo’s Gerindra party with and holds responsibility for its women’s wing. She’s Prabowo’s niece.

A Chinese-Christian, Saraswati doesn’t believe a greater number of women in top positions would guarantee gender issues will be addressed in conservative Indonesia. The effort must go beyond that. “I will instill gender perspective in as many men as possible,” the 33-year-old said in an interview.

Indrawati, Marsudi

Jokowi has women heading some of the most important ministries in his government. While they’re not politicians, they have come to symbolize the rise of women in Indonesia’s public life.

New Generation of Women Step Up in Indonesia's Looming Poll

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati is a former economist and managing director at the World Bank and is one of the most prominent faces of Jokowi’s cabinet. Retno Marsudi, the first female foreign minister, is a career diplomat and Fisheries and Maritime Minister Susi Pudjiastuti is a successful businesswoman credited with turning the fortunes of the marine industry and curbing illegal fishing.

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