Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle's Lunar New Year celebration paid tribute to Megawati

PDI-P, the political party in Indonesia with the most Chinese parliamentarians and heads of local government held a virtual Lunar New Year party to usher in the Year of the Ox. Party members paid tribute to Ibu Megawati Sukarnoputri, general chairperson of the party and former Indonesian president. How did this party put itself forward as the strongest guardian of Chinese interests in Indonesia? Leo Suryadinata listens in.
A man wearing a protective mask shops for decorations at a shopping mall ahead of the Lunar New Year, in Jakarta, Indonesia, 11 February 2021. (Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana/Reuters)
A man wearing a protective mask shops for decorations at a shopping mall ahead of the Lunar New Year, in Jakarta, Indonesia, 11 February 2021. (Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana/Reuters)

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan, PDI-P) is Indonesia’s biggest political party with the most number of Chinese members of parliament and heads of local government. As Indonesia has yet to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, the PDI-P organised a unique virtual Lunar New Year celebration this year. 

Called “Imlek Bareng Banteng” in Indonesian, meaning “Celebrating Lunar New Year with the Wild Ox”, the online Lunar New Year celebrations lasted over two hours. Key members of the PDI-P and prominent Chinese party members gave speeches and interviews, garnering some publicity for the political party.   

As the event was mainly organised to celebrate Lunar New Year, festive songs such as Happy New Year (《新年好》) and Here Comes the God of Wealth (《财神到》), as well as pop songs such as The Moon Represents My Heart (《月亮代表我的心》), were sung throughout the programme. The song Bengawan Solo was also sung in both Mandarin and Indonesian.

People wearing protective masks shop for decorations at a shopping mall ahead of the Lunar New Year, in Jakarta, Indonesia, 11 February 2021. (Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana/Reuters)
People wearing protective masks shop for decorations at a shopping mall ahead of the Lunar New Year, in Jakarta, Indonesia, 11 February 2021. (Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana/Reuters)

The host emphasised that Solo is the hometown of Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and that Jokowi was also Solo’s mayor before he became president. Thus, there was a profound meaning behind their decision to sing Bengawan Solo in both Mandarin and Indonesian.    

Megawati Sukarnoputri is the founder and general chairperson of the PDI-P. She is also the eldest daughter of Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president. Her impressive background won her the support of many Indonesians, especially the Javanese people, and helped her achieve outstanding results in the general election (she was president of Indonesia from 2001 to 2004).   

Megawati restored the status of the Chinese 

The theme of the event revolved around the relationship between Sukarno, Megawati, Indonesians, and the ethnic Chinese. There were three segments in the programme that discussed the relationship between Indonesia and the Chinese people. When the country was newly founded, Sukarno emphasised that the independent country of Indonesia was not established for a certain group of people but for all Indonesians. He stressed that Indonesia was a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country, and that the Chinese were very much a part of this republic.   

However, during former Indonesian President Suharto’s 32 years in office, the Chinese community was excluded from the notion of the “Indonesian nation”. This was not only unfair to the Indonesian Chinese, but a clear deviation from Indonesian history. Back then, the Chinese were banned from celebrating traditional Chinese festivals. After former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid took office, he removed this ban and recognised Indonesian Confucianism. By the time Megawati became president, she declared the Lunar New Year a national holiday in 2002, henceforth restoring the official status of the Chinese in Indonesia. 

Megawati Sukarnoputri, founder and general chairwoman of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle. (SPH)
Megawati Sukarnoputri, founder and general chairperson of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle. (SPH)

Bonnie Triyana, a young indigenous historian, was also invited to speak at the event. He touched on the important role that the Chinese had played in shaping Indonesia, including participating in the Youth Pledge Day of 1928, providing the venue for the Indonesian Youth Congress, joining the Committee of Investigation and Preparation for Independence, and so on. He said that the Chinese was very much a part of the Indonesian nation.   

Young people from all ethnic groups in Indonesia, including the Chinese, declared in 1928 that they were “of one nation, the nation of Indonesia”, marking the birth of Indonesia. However, he pointed out that until today, some people still refuse to acknowledge this and continue to advocate indigenous nationalism; sadly these people remain trapped in “Era Pra-Indonesia”, or the pre-Indonesia era.   

Later on, Puan Maharani, Speaker of the House and daughter of Megawati, wished the Chinese a happy Lunar New Year. PDI-P chairman Ahmad Basarah, secretary-general Hasto Kristiyanto, and Professor Hamka Haq of the religious department of PDI-P also gave short speeches affirming the contributions of the Indonesian Chinese and wishing them a prosperous Lunar New Year.  

Performances at virtual celebration
A performance at the virtual celebration. (Screengrab from the PDI Perjuangan YouTube channel)

Everyone who took part in the online celebrations, be they indigenous people or the Chinese, said “Gong Xi Fa Cai” (a wish of prosperity) in Mandarin as a new year greeting. It seems that “Gong Xi Fa Cai” has become synonymous with “Wishing You a Happy Lunar New Year” (恭贺新禧) and “Happy Lunar New Year” (新年快乐).

Among the Chinese guests who appeared in the event were Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (popularly known as Ahok), Rudianto Tjen, Sofyan Tan, Charles Honoris, Tjhai Chui Mie, and Me Hoa.  

Ahok, Jakarta’s former governor and incumbent president commissioner of state-owned oil and natural gas corporation PT Pertamina (Persero), revealed the inside story of his run for Jakarta governor in 2014. He said that the PDI-P had nominated Jokowi as the candidate for governor of Jakarta, while the Great Indonesia Movement Party nominated him as Jokowi’s running mate (as deputy governor). But some members of the PDI-P did not want him to be Jokowi’s running mate given his Chinese and Christian profile. They were worried that his background would harm Jokowi and hinder the latter’s chances of winning. But Megawati felt that he was a capable man and insisted that he join the electoral race.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok), former governor of Jakarta. (Screengrab from the PDI Perjuangan YouTube channel)
Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok), former governor of Jakarta, at the virtual celebration. (Screengrab from the PDI Perjuangan YouTube channel)

Ahok said, if not for Megawati’s insistence, he would never have had the chance to stand for election. He believes that the Megawati-led PDI-P upholds the multi-ethnic principle and is a party that all Indonesian nationalists should support. He joined the party in 2019 after he was released from prison (after being found guilty of blasphemy in 2017). He repeatedly expressed his gratitude to Megawati for her support.  

A young member of the audience asked him what one should pay attention to in politics. Ahok simply said that one must firmly uphold justice and never give in to unjust forces.

Megawati’s increasing political capital

Among those who sent new year greetings to the audience were Rudianto Tjen, a Chinese Catholic and long-time Member of Parliament (MP) belonging to the PDI-P faction, as well as Sofyan Tan and Charles Honoris. Tan is an Indonesian Chinese doctor who also does educational work. He spoke about him joining the PDI-P in 2007 and his later defeat at the Medan mayoral election. But he was not disheartened by this experience and ultimately became an MP with Megawati’s support. The young Honoris has been serving as an MP for two terms. He also thanked the PDI-P for supporting him.     

Two female guests, Singkawang mayor Tjhai Chui Mie and chairperson of the Regional People's Representative Assembly (DPRD) of the Central Bangka Regency, Me Hoa, ended the event on a high. They wore masks like the other interviewees, were interviewed and gave their new year greetings to the audience. Born and bred in Indonesia, Tjhai was successfully elected as Speaker of West Kalimantan’s Singkawang People’s Representative Assembly in 2009. Later on in 2016, she contested the mayoral election and became Singkawang’s mayor.

Tjhai Chui Mie
Tjhai Chui Mie, mayor of Singkawang, at the celebration. (Screengrab from the PDI Perjuangan YouTube channel)

Tjhai’s deputy mayor is an indigenous Indonesian. Tjhai received a Bachelor’s degree in economics at a local university and advocates women’s participation in politics. She heaped praises on Megawati, calling her an Indonesian political hero who advocates gender equality. She also thanked Megawati for her trust and guidance which allowed her to represent PDI-P in the Singkawang mayoral election and become Indonesia’s sole female mayor.    

Forty-two-year-old Me Hoa was also born and bred in Indonesia. She became a Speaker of the DPRD of the Central Bangka Regency in her early thirties, and was later elected as chairperson of the DPRD of the Central Bangka Regency in 2019, becoming Indonesia’s only Chinese female to hold such a position. Like Tjhai, Me Hoe also thanked Megawati, saying her support for the Chinese helped her gain electoral victory as the chairperson of the DPRD of the Central Bangka Regency.

All Chinese participants openly expressed their gratitude to her. This certainly increases Megawati’s political capital, and paves the way for her in the 2024 Indonesian presidential election.   

Although a larger proportion of the Chinese reside in Singkawang and the Bangka Belitung Islands, this does not make it easier for a Chinese candidate to become a local governor there. As the native Indonesian population is larger than the Chinese population, the Chinese would need the support of indigenous political parties and voters to win.

Women wearing protective face masks wipe religious figurines ahead of the Lunar New Year celebrations, at a temple in Jakarta, Indonesia, 4 February 2021. (Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana/Reuters)
Women wearing protective face masks wipe religious figurines ahead of the Lunar New Year celebrations, at a temple in Jakarta, Indonesia, 4 February 2021. (Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana/Reuters)

The PDI-P was the only Indonesian political party to celebrate the Lunar New Year online. It is the Year of the Ox this year, coinciding with the “wild ox” in the PDI-P’s party logo. This celebration has not only reinforced to the Chinese community in Indonesia that the PDI-P is the “guardian” of the Chinese, but also raised their esteem in their eyes.

More importantly, the main focus of the event fell on Megawati, the general chairperson of the PDI-P. While she did not attend the event, the celebrations felt like a thanksgiving event dedicated to her. All Chinese participants openly expressed their gratitude to her. This certainly increases Megawati’s political capital, and paves the way for her in the 2024 Indonesian presidential election.      

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