Ousted leader haunts Indonesian political scene Suharto still exercises power through his offspring

Washington Times, July 3, 1998

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Six weeks after he was ousted from power, former President Suharto continues to loom as a presence in the Indonesian political landscape.

After three decades of one-man rule, Indonesia now resembles a political smorgasbord of emerging political parties representing everyone from students and Muslims to supporters of independence leader Sukarno and the Chinese who bore the brunt of May's violence.

There are as many demands as there are voices.

But against this new backdrop of political transition, there are suggestions that Suharto may be trying to re-exert control from behind the scenes or attempt a comeback.

The military would "not tolerate" a re-emergence of "old political forces," the armed forces commander, Gen. Wiranto, insisted recently. He was an architect of the constitutional coup that forced the 76- year-old leader from office, and he repeated the military's commitment to reform.

Speculation about a Suharto comeback centers on the ex-president's children, all of whom are members of parliament.

Daughter Siti Hardijanti Rukmana, known as Tutut, and son Bambang Trihatmodjo remain key figures in Golkar, the political movement that was Suharto's power base and still controls parliament. Tutut is widely expected to seek the Golkar chairmanship when the party holds its congress this year.

"Suharto and his family are not going to fall from grace easily. They still have plenty of supporters in strategic positions in the party and the government," said political scientist Yusmilarso of Diponegoro University.

A top Golkar official recently called for the resignation of all members elected on the basis of nepotism.

"Why should I resign?" replied Suharto's youngest son, Hutomo Mandala Putra, known as Tommy, in a response reflecting the family position. He said it would be "irresponsible" to resign without being asked by his constituents.

Others believe change has come too far too fast to allow the Suharto camp to regain power.

"It would be foolish for them to try to come back," said political observer Mochtar Pabottingi. "Everyone has already seen what a rotten system they ran."

The legacy of that system is an economy in intensive care. An estimated 20 million Indonesians are now unemployed, inflation is out of control and business is at a virtual standstill.

The Central Bureau of Statistics said yesterday that nearly 80 million Indonesians, 39 percent of the population of 202 million, now live below the official poverty line. Two years ago, 11 percent lived below the poverty line.

A person is considered to be living in poverty if subsisting on less than $3.50 per month in an urban area or less than $2.80 per month in a rural area.

The rupiah's exchange value shows how bad things are: Before the currency chaos began a year ago yesterday, 2,500 rupiah bought $1. Today 2,500 rupiah is worth 15 cents.

The government's announcement that it will soon raise the minimum wage - currently worth about $11.50 a month - will provide marginal relief, but it won't help workers who have lost their jobs.

Up to 30 million Indonesians are expected to be fully unemployed by the end of the year, according to the World Bank, which has called for introduction of food-for-work programs.

In the six weeks Mr. Habibie has been president, things have gone from bad to worse. Even last week's announcement of another revised agreement with the IMF - the fourth in nine months - and a $1.5 billion loan from the Asian Development Bank left the markets unimpressed. The stock market and the local currency both slipped further.

"Ho hum. That's all I have to say," was the response of one Western broker. "Wake me when there's some real news."

"Investors have made their own assessments, and they have determined that politically and economically, Indonesia remains unstable," said Jeffrey Winters, a Northwestern University specialist on Indonesia currently visiting the country.

The revised IMF pact includes provisions to allow continued subsidies on food, fuel and electricity and spending on other "social safety net" programs. The IMF-mandated elimination of subsidies on fuel and electricity in early May was the spark that ignited the riots that brought down Suharto.

The IMF is expected to release the next $1 billion payment on the $43 billion loan sometime soon.

But that, the ADB loan, and several others announced in recent weeks, still leaves the government $4 billion short of the $8 billion needed to cover its immediate budget deficit.


Copyright Washington Times Library Jul 3, 1998

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