Sparked by threats of religious fatwa deriving from different Islamic groups in contemporary Indonesian society, the issue on whether or not, according to Islam, a woman could become leader of a nation, was heavily discussed among religious scholars, politicians, intellectuals, and feminists in mass media. In this debate, the figure of Megawati Sukarnoputri came to represent multiple symbols in the realm of nationalism and religion. Three dominant discourses – namely the nationalist, the Islamic, and the feminist discourse – prevailed during the debate. Their respective arguments, nevertheless, were complex and layered, and did not always pertain to the same ideological framework. Exploring the debate on female leadership in the mass media, this article outlines these complex socio-political and religious layers by assessing how the gendered body is contested and politicized in each of these discourses. I argue foremost that the politics of the media played a crucial role in constituting chaos and polarization between different opposing groups. The mediated effect of the media coverage, nevertheless, showed how the politics of gender in debating female leadership articulated ways of negotiating nationalist, religious, and feminist politics in the ‘new’ national political arena. Thus, I hold forth that rather than seeing the debate as an indication of Islamic radicalization, it pertains more towards the rearrangement of ‘publicness’ according to new priorities in imagining the Indonesian nation-state.
Keywords: Indonesia, political transition, nationalism, religion, gender politics, Mass media
How to Cite:
van Wichelen, S., (2017) “Contesting Megawati: The Mediation of Islam and Nation in Times of Political Transition”, Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture 3(2), p.41-59. doi: https://doi.org/10.16997/wpcc.29