People want to see their leaders set examples and not indulge in so called 'vices' like an ordinary person. They do not relish a situation when leaders or their dear or near ones make fortunes while people continue to remain mired in many problems. Both Estrada and Wahid paid price mainly on these counts paving the way for Arroyo and Megawati to the helm.
Megawati Sukarnoputri's accession to presidency of Indonesia from number two position marks the end of a tumultuous chapter of Abdurrahman Wahid who was the first democratically elected president of the south-east Asian nation but had to bow out of office at the 20th month while his tenure was due till 2004.This also signals the rise of another woman politician to the top in Asia and of course first time in the largest Muslim country of the world. Indeed, the development is remarkable, more so because it has come through a constitutional and democratic manner. One may shed few drops of tears for 60-year-old scholarly but physically handicapped Wahid as he felt he was ousted by the upper house of parliament in an "unjust" way but fact remains that Wahid has himself to blame for the fate. For, he failed to live up to the expectations as his rule was seen largely as "inept" and he also invited unwarranted controversy of corruption which, however, could not be proved. The departure of Wahid was anticipated and Magawati adorning the highest position was also in line. Megawati demonstrated maturity by accepting the vice presidency when Wahid became president despite the fact that her party had won more seats than any other political organisation in the elections. But when Wahid won the presidency as a dark horse in the midst of polarisation of political forces, she did not hesitate to take up the second position considering national interests. Because Indonesia needed stability at that time after elections ending a long undemocratic era. Now that Megawati has finally become president ending another phase of political uncertainty surrounding Wahid's defiance to remain in power come what may, her leadership will be truly tested.
This development in Indonesia follows Gloria Arroyo being catapulted to presidency from vice-presidency in another south East Asian country the Philippines. There too it was in the midst of a political turmoil that she took over the presidency following the removal of Joseph Estrada. It is possible to draw a parallel between the developments of two countries. Like Wahid, Estrada too was a democratically elected popular leader but had to quit as a logical corollary to the political unrest that had gripped the country surrounding allegations of corruption against the president. However, the change in Indonesia has been more orderly. The army and the powerful police in both the countries played an important role in the changing scenario providing guarantee for adherence to constitutional provisions.
Megawati and Arroyo join the list of several other Asian woman leaders who not only rose to the zenith of their political career by becoming heads of government but some of them successfully remained in power for pretty long time. Some refused to be written off after losing power and bounced back playing difficult role in the opposition. Fortunately, all these happened in democratic process. However, all the women leaders who attracted attention over the last few decades in Asia came from a background enriched by popular father or husband who ruled their respective countries with considerable degree of adroit and aplomb. Riding the crest of their 'built-in' image, the ladies descended on the political scene and at times shore up popularity by dint of their own carishma as well. Both Megawati and Arroyo fall in this category. Their fathers were former presidents in their respective countries, Megawati's father was also the hero of Indonesian independence. For Philippines, Corazan Acquino was the first woman to become president. Her slain husband was a popular politician. Notably, these lady politicians appeared on the scene when their distinguished father or husband died some even tragically and brutally killed.
World's largest democracy India saw the woman prime minister in Indira Gandhi, who ruled in two spells and was assassinated while in charge of the nation. Her long tenure is seen as a phase of efficient leadership albeit a dark chapter in the form of the state of emergency when democratic values were trampled. Her daughter-in-law Sonia Ganhi is now the main opposition leader in the country with an eye to the echelon of power. It is still little early to say whether she has made any hopeful mark in politics.
In Pakistan Benazir Bhutto was in power twice but on both occasions her tenure was abruptly cut short. But she has refused to disappear from the scene as her struggle for democracy continues from exile abroad. The military government has threatened that she would be arrested should she chooses to return home but Benazir keeps the pot boiling from London. In Sri Lanka, president Chandrika Kumaratunga remains firm in the saddle facing twin problems of her alliance losing majority in parliament and the long-running civil war with the Tamil militants. Chandrika certainly draws sustenance from her parents both of whom were heads of government. Her husband was also a popular politician. Here is a woman whose father, mother and husband - all were associated with politics. She is in trouble in the second term in the office but remains in control of affairs. Chandrika appears strong despite signs of slowly losing popularity and lack of full ability to control political situation.
In Bangladesh, two top politicians are women. Both of them swapped their positions as head of government and main opposition leader before and now both are seeking to secure another term through the coming national elections. On this count, Bangladesh is unique since going by the current scenario, either Sheikh Hasina or Khaleda Zia is set to emerge as prime minister or opposition leader again. However, most people are keeping their fingers crossed as to who will occupy which position. But what has not escaped national and international attention is their acrimony and apathy towards each other. After a long gap, they were present at a dinner hosted by chief adviser of the caretaker government Justice Latifur Rahman in honour of former American president Jimmy Carter. Two lady politicians did not talk to each other.
Both South East Asia and South Asia have glorious record of producing women leaders at the top level which certainly no other region in the world can boast of for the simple reason that one woman British prime minister, South American president or Turkish premier is nothing compared to what has been witnessed in Asia in terms of women leadership. There is no denying that all woman leaders in Asia have relied heavily on the inheritance which helped them appear in the political scene as a force to reckon with. But in course of time they also developed their own qualities which found flourishment in varying degrees.
Megawati is the latest name in the list of Asian woman politicians who made it to the top. Like others, her rise has not been a bed of roses although she relied largely on the image of her father late president Ahmed Sukarno. So far, she was not tested much since president Wahid addressed the main problems both at home and abroad. Asian people are suspicious of their leaders on certain things corruption and nepotism being the most important. Many of the Asian leaders have been accused on these two counts and woman leaders were not excluded when they remained in power. Some paid heavy price as well. The new Indonesian lady president needs to be extra ordinarily careful about allegations in these two areas. Definitely, good governance is the main task awaiting for her to prove her ascendancy worthy but remaining aloof from corruption and nepotism can help in a big way even if a head of government is not up to the mark otherwise.
Many able leaders fell wayside when people lost confidence in their honesty and integrity. People want to see their leaders set examples and not indulge in so called 'vices' like an ordinary person. They do not relish a situation when leaders or their dear or near ones make fortunes while people continue to remain mired in many problems. Both Estrada and Wahid paid price mainly on these counts paving the way for Arroyo and Megawati to the helm. They ought to remain alert about susceptibilities of the people should they want to make their leadership impression strong and viable.
This article was published in DailyStar of Bangladesh. Author Jaglul Ahmed Chowdhury is Senior Special Correspondent of BSS