Saturday, September 12, 2009

Is the Suharto clan making a comeback?

GOLKAR Party deputy chairman Agung Laksono surely must have been joking when he suggested that Tommy Suharto, the former president's son and the man who ordered the murder of a Supreme Court judge, is not 'mature enough' to contest the party chairmanship.

'Tommy is a young man with a long future,' the House of Representatives Speaker told a press conference last month. 'I believe he should gain more experience in the party's organisational structure. 'However, if he wants to go ahead with his plan, then by all means, go ahead,' he continued. 'Our party allows any member to run for the chairmanship. But when we talk about his chance to win, it's a whole different story.'

What was he thinking? No mention of Tommy's criminal past, which under party rules should forbid him from running for dog-catcher, let alone the leadership of the country's best organised and, in the past at least, best- financed party.
Tommy Suharto, 47, whose father turned Golkar into an all-powerful political machine, caused widespread public incredulity when he announced his intended candidacy early last month. But instead of questioning whether a convicted murderer should be fit for the post, most senior Golkar executives focused on the fact that he had not served the necessary five years working in the party structure.

Many of the years Tommy could have done so were, of course, spent in prison for ordering the assassination of the judge who had found him guilty of corruption. Not just any judge, mind you, but a member of the country's highest, if somewhat tainted court. In many countries, he would have been given the death sentence, but in his case, he served only a third of a 15-year sentence. Now this piece of absurd political theatre, which casts serious doubt on whether Golkar's old guard has even the slightest clue about what has happened in Indonesia over the past decade.

'This is so Javanese,' a long-time Indonesian observer noted. 'Using indirect and convoluted logic to make a point that if made too directly would offend and make a lot of other people associated with Tommy feel uncomfortable.' Not to mention all those Golkar members who used to embrace the late president's money and patronage and even today are reluctant to share the responsibility for the New Order regime's excesses. Outgoing Chief Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie has far more support among the provincial branches than his closest rival, Mr Surya Paloh, to replace vice-president and party chairman Jusuf Kalla at next month's convention. Mr Paloh, a newspaper publisher and owner of the Metro television news channel, is head of the board of patrons and has been more actively engaged in Golkar's organisational affairs over the past decade than Mr Bakrie ever has.

But Mr Bakrie has paid his dues where it counts - in the party coffers, which he has helped refurbish since the collapse of the Suharto regime dried up many of Golkar's previous sources of revenue.

Tommy's initial enthusiasm appears to have waned, with insiders claiming he was throwing his support behind Mr Paloh. He also met Mr Yuddy Chrisnandi, 41, a first-term legislator and the third candidate in the race for the top Golkar post. It is not clear why MrChrisnandi would publicly flaunt his association with the Suharto family, given a second meeting he had recently with Tommy's older sister, Siti Hardiyanti 'Tutut' Rukmana. Commentators assume he needs money for his campaign, but it was strange behaviour nevertheless for a new-generation politician who says he wants to reform the party.

In any event, Tommy reiterated his candidacy on Thursday, saying it was 'impossible for me to remain silent'. Again, there was little initial party comment on whether he would be permitted to run.

Bakrie wants to take Golkar back into President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's new coalition, albeit with a smaller representation, while Mr Paloh favours going into the opposition. The uncertainty this has created may be one reason why Dr Yudhoyono's Democratic Party has been talking with the Indonesian Democrat Party - Struggle (PDI-P).

Though PDI-P chairman Megawati Sukarnoputri still harbours bitter feelings towards Dr Yudhoyono for toppling her from the presidency in 2004, PDI-P has money problems that will not be solved by spending another term in the opposition.

The Democrats indicate they will support Ms Megawati's husband Taufik Kiemas in his bid to head the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), the country's highest law-making body. But whether this would extend to a coalition partnership, conceivably leaving Parliament without a genuine opposition, may well depend on how long Ms Megawati continues to influence PDI-P decision-making.

Golkar has financial problems of its own, which is why Bakrie remains the odds-on favourite to win the chairmanship.

On that score, the party doesn't need Tommy. But perhaps sensing a leadership vacuum after Dr Yudhoyono completes his second term in 2014, the Suharto clan may well be making a political comeback. But Tommy, with all his baggage, is not the one to lead it.
John McBeth, The Straits Times (Singapore)

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