Thursday, October 8, 2009

Vote-Buying Soeharto Humiliated By Party

JAKARTA: Tommy Soeharto, the convicted murderer and son of Indonesia's long-serving dictator Soeharto, has failed spectacularly to regain control of Golkar, the political party his father founded. In a carnival of vote-buying and largesse at the Golkar congress, Soeharto, a multi-millionaire, attempted to win support with a $60 million ''operational fund'' for Golkar cadres if he was elected chairman.

But he was outgunned by Aburizal Bakrie, one of the country's richest men. Mr Bakrie promised a fund of twice the size if elected, and handed out $30,000 to each provincial branch head - slightly less for regency heads - if they swung their support behind him. In a humiliating setback, Mr Soeharto - whose real name is Hutomo Mandala Putra - garnered no votes at all from the 535 delegates.

The youngest of the six Soeharto children appeared to suffer because he did not offer his money upfront to the delegates but made his offer conditional on victory. He denied he tried to buy votes but said, nonetheless, that there was nothing unlawful about money politics. ''It's just dealing with morality,'' he said. A triumphant Mr Bakrie insisted that the money doled out at the congress, held at a lavish resort in Riau, had not affected votes. Moreover, it was acceptable because Golkar branch heads ''need funds to develop their regions'', he said.

A playboy notorious for his threatening behaviour towards critics and business rivals, Soeharto ordered the assassination of a Supreme Court judge who found him guilty of corruption. The corruption charge was later dropped but Soeharto was sentenced to 15 years in prison because of the murder. He served only four years of his sentence, much of it recuperating in luxurious hospital suites or at home as he suffered from a series of mysterious ailments while incarcerated. The Soeharto children siphoned off at least $US15 billion from taxpayers during the reign of their father, according to the World Bank.

Soeharto has kept a low profile since his release from prison, although he has remained active building his business interests and successfully fighting off attempts by the Government to recover funds he allegedly obtained corruptly. His push for the chairmanship of Golkar was supposed to mark his re-entry into wider political life, and an opportunity to use the power from the position to advance his business interests, which span roads, transport and energy.

Bakrie's win showed that Golkar still sees itself as a party that exists to be in power, even if it has failed to produce a winning presidential candidate since the fall of president Soeharto in 1998. After being roundly thumped in presidential and legislative elections this year, some Golkar candidates for the chairmanship argued it should now move into opposition, rather than attempt once again to snare a few cabinet positions and join with the Government of the President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

But Bakrie stood on a platform of continuing the policy of becoming a junior coalition partner of the Government. He is now People's Welfare Minister, simultaneously overseeing a multibillion-dollar business empire.

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