SUHARTO AFTER HIS RESIGNATION: HIS LEGACY, LEGAL BATTLES, FAMILY AND VICTIMS

SUHARTO AFTER HIS RESIGNATION

Kerry Brown wrote in the Asian Review of Books, “Suharto was, seen outside his cultural and historical context, something of an enigma. His early career as a soldier was undistinguished, and he almost chanced upon power in 1965 when he survived the purge of the Generals alleged to have been planning a Communist coup by the Sukarno government. This left the way for Suharto to make his gamble for power when it came, in 1966—unleashing a huge purge of Communists, something Parry comments, which involved the enthusiastic involvement of thousands of ‘normal people’ (rather than the army or security services) who managed to slaughter between half a million to a million purported ‘communist’ activists. Suharto’s ensuing 33 years of rule were characterised by a depoliticisation of society, and a blandness which was almost miraculous in view of the country’s massive complexity and the potential for conflict. This paradoxical blandness was personified in Suharto, a man who lived in relative simplicity (his house in Jakarta apparently largely furnished with kitsch) and who travelled rarely, never raised his voice in public, and yet who instilled fear in his subordinates, and dealt with any opposition for three decades with ruthless efficiency. [Source: Kerry Brown, Asian Review of Books, May 4, 2005]

“In 1998, Suharto seemed “eerily unconcerned” during a television speech “as the students and then other sections of society took to the streets, appalled by the near-complete wipe-out of the Indonesian economy as a result of the economic crisis blazing through Asia. Just as his ascent to power in the 1960s had been bloody, so was his exit—though this time, the violence was limited and came not from the army, who had so loyally supported him almost to the end, but from vigilantes and looters who targeted, among others, the wealthy ethnic Chinese. The demise of the ‘mystic’ ruler (Suharto was increasingly interested in Islamic mysticism in the later stage of his rule, and apparently imputed his downfall to ‘Zionist’ elements) was, however, mercifully swift—and by 1999, in a further paradoxical twist of Indonesian history, Suharto’s deputy Habibie was passing some of the most radical legislation in Indonesian history, reengaging with the disaffectations of regions like Aceh and Papua, and trying to resolve the perennial problem of East Timor, at the time a ‘Special Region’ of Indonesia. [Ibid]

Suharto His Family after His Resignation

After Suharto resigned he moved into a house in the swank Jakarta suburb of Menteng. He began his day with a mandi, prayers to Mecca and a breakfast or rice porridge, orange juice and tea and spent much of his day repeating Muslim prayers, caring for his pet birds—one of whom could whistle the Indonesian national anthem—watching Indonesia sitcoms and nature shows on the Discovery and Animal Plant channels, and meeting with family members. He smiled a lot but didn't say much. His doctors told him to avoid reading newspapers and magazines.

Suharto wore a sarong and a polo shirt around he house and put on trousers and a Batik shirt when visitors came. He did stretching exercises on his terrace and occasionally practiced his golf swing in his bedroom. He favored simple Javanese food: steamed bananas, rice crackers, noodles in soy sauce, salted eggs and rice.

The 50,000 rupiah banknote with Suharto's portrait were taken out circulation and replaced with 50,000 banknotes with a portrait of Wage Rudolf Supratman, the composer of the Indonesian national anthem. The homes and Suharto and his family were surrounded around the clock by lines of heavily armed troops. Protestors sometimes gathered outside of Suharto's home ant shouted slogans like "Hang Suharto!"

Suharto's second son Bambanng Trihatmaojdo was forced to resign as president and director of Bimantara Citra, one of Indonesia's largest conglomerates. Hus eldest daughter Tutut lost her energy project. His youngest son Tommy lost his clove monopoly and his special tax breaks for the Timor car project (More on Tommy see Below). Tutut reemerged as the presidential candidate for the PKPB Party in the 2003 election. Earlier she had been named as a suspect in corruption investigation over a pipeline project for the state oil company Pertamina. For that she failed to show up for questioning on the grounds of ill health. The only crony of Suharto to be convicted of any crime was Mohamaed “Bob” Hansen, his golfing buddy, who was sentenced to two years in jail for corruption.

Suharto’s Legal and Health Problems After His Resignation

Suharto and his children were investigated for corruption and involvement in agricultural monopolies after Suharto resigned. Suharto lost a $27 billion defamation case Time magazine, which reported details about his family’s wealth. There was some discussion that the Suharto clan would be granted some form of clemency if they turned over the lionshare of their assets to the state. President Wahid suggested that Suharto might turn over $25 billion. Instead of going after Suharto in the courts, Wahid tried negotiating with his daughter to convince her and the Suharto family that clemency would be granted if the money was returned.

After his resignation Suharto had three strokes and suffered from intestinal bleeding. His doctors said he also suffered from amnesia, dementia and speech difficulties. After Pinochet was charged with genocide in 2001 after going to Spain for medical treatment, Suharto didn't go Germany for treatment after his stroke and severe intestinal bleeding as he had planned out of fear he would be arrested for human rights crimes. He had received treatment in Germany in 1996 for kidney problems and high blood pressure. In April 2000, Suharto was banned from leaving Jakarta. In June He was placed under house arrest.

An 82-year-old Suharto voted in the 2004 election. He voted at a polling station near his home in Menteng. A few weeks later he was admitted to the hospital with internal bleeding related to complications with his digestive system. In the preceding year he had his appendix removed, and was hospitalized with breathing problems. He also has problems with his kidneys. In May 2005, he was hospitalized with internal bleeding that affected his heart, brain and lungs and was given a 50-50 chance of survival.

Suharto's Trial

In August, 2000 Suharto was formally charged with corruption for skimming 2 percent of Indonesia's income taxes and siphoning off $570 million from seven charitable organizations he controlled. Prosecutors claimed alleged that rather than building schools, mosques and hospitals Suharto funneled the money into businesses run by his children. The trial was marred by bombings and threats against prosecutors. Suharto failed to show up, usually claiming poor health.

On August 31, 2000, Suharto’s trial began but Suharto didn't show up. Suharto's lawyers used his health problems as an excuse to keep Suharto from testifying. His defense lawyers insisted questions had to be broken down into simple parts and said "Mr. Suharto can't account for what he is saying. He's not aware of what's happening now." There was a discussion of whether the trial should go forward. Under Indonesian law a trial can proceed without a defendant. Many Indonesians were shocked by the decision. Police had to use tear gas to break up protests by students demonstrators angered by the decision.

In September 2000, a bomb exploded in parking garage at the Jakarta Stock Exchange, hours before Suharto was supposed to show up in court. It killed 15 people. Many thought the intention was to draw attention away from the Suharto trial. Some believe that Tommy was involved in the blast.

In October 2000, Suharto was judged to be medically unfit to stand trial. Using the “Pinochet defense” his lawyers argued he too sick to stand trial. They said: “Physically he looks Ok, He can walk. He can talk. He remembers us. But he can’t think properly. He has brain damage.” Wahid said afterwards, “We have already been too kind, because even a chicken thief gets locked up."

In May 2006, Indonesian courts dropped criminal proceedings against Suharto saying he was too ill to face trial. Heda Bayron wrote in VOA News, “Attorney General Abdul Rahman Saleh said the government would halt the prosecution of the former president because of his worsening health. The 84-year-old leader was hospitalized last week and has undergone two surgeries in recent days. The announcement came just hours after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he would defer any decision on the issue because of possible public anger. Anti-corruption activists in Indonesia condemned the decision, saying it undermines the country's fight against corruption. "We are very disappointed," said Danang Widoyoko, deputy coordinator of the Indonesia Corruption Watch, an organization that has long demanded the former president face trial. "Suharto is the biggest corruption case in Indonesia. If the government cannot solve this case, I think it would undermine other corruption cases. There are hundreds suspected of corruption especially [involving] the local MPs (members of parliament), mayors, governors, but the decision to stop the Suharto case is I think a discriminative action. Why is a big corruptor released? Why are small corruptors prosecuted?" [Source: Heda Bayron, VOA News, May 2006]

Suharto Acquitted But His Charity Foundation Guilty of Graft

In July 2007, prosecutors filed a civil lawsuit against Suharto, seeking $1.54 billion in damages and funds allegedly stolen from the state during his 32 years in power. "This is not a criminal case against corruption, but a civil lawsuit," public prosecutor Dachamer Munthe said. "We just want the money back. It could be used for the development of this country." Associated Press reported: Court documents show prosecutors want Suharto to repay $441 million in allegedly stolen funds and $1.1 billion in damages. The money allegedly was channeled from the Indonesian Central Bank through state-owned banks to a Suharto-headed fund called Yayasan Supersemar. The fund was said to finance education scholarships, but the money ended up going "to uncertain purposes," Munthe said. [Source: Associated Press, July 9, 2007]

In October 2009, an Indonesian court acquitted Suharto in a civil case but found his charity foundation guilty of graft and ordered it to repay the government more than $100 million in state funds. Nancy-Amelia Collins of VOA News wrote: Judge Wahyono ruled Suharto's Supersemar Foundation had stolen $110 million from the state, but said the former president and his children were not legally liable because the decisions were made by the foundation's board and not Suharto. The Indonesian government had sought more than $1 billion in damages in the civil case, alleging Suharto pocketed millions of dollars of state money intended for student scholarships from the foundation. [Source: Nancy-Amelia Collins, VOA News, October 27, 2009]

Indonesia Drops Defamation Charges Against Time

In May 2009, Indonesia's top court cleared Time Magazine of charges it had defamed former dictator Suharto in a cover story that alleged his family amassed billions of dollars during his decades-long rule. The Huffington Post reported: “The court said the publication did not have to pay $106 million in damages to his estate. The ruling, which marks the end of the appeals process, was hailed as a victory for press freedom. "We have been struggling to find justice for a decade now," said Todung Mulya Lubis, the magazine's lawyer. "It has been a long road." Time ran a cover story in its Asian edition in May 1999 saying Suharto's family had pocketed billions of dollars during his 32-year rule. Lubis said the article was based on four months' reporting in 11 countries. [Source: Huffington Pst, May 17, 2009]

Suharto initially filed lawsuits against the magazine with the Central District Jakarta Court and later the Jakarta High Court, both of which ruled in Time's favor. But in August 2007, the country's top court overturned the decisions, prompting the magazine to demand a judicial review. Supreme Court Judge Hatta Ali said the article "did not violate the law" or breach ethical standards. He said Time owed no money to the Suharto family. "I'm very glad," Atmakusuma Astraatmaja, a senior journalist and former head of Indonesia's Press Council, said after hearing about the court ruling. "This is a victory not just for Time but for press freedom in Indonesia."

Suharto Dies at Ager 86 in 2008

Suharto died of multiple organ failure in a Jakarta hospital, with his six children at his bedside, in January 2008. Ian MacKinnon wrote in The Guardian, “The 86-year-old former general was taken to hospital in a critical condition three weeks earlier with heart, lung and kidney problems. His eldest daughter, Siti Hariyanti "Tutut" Rukama, broke down in tears as she spoke outside the hospital. "Father has returned to God," she said. "We ask that if he had any faults, please forgive them ... may he be absolved of all his mistakes." [Source: Ian MacKinnon, The Guardian, January 28, 2008 |::|]

“Indonesia's president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, broke the news in a televised address to the nation, which is to observe a week of mourning after the funeral today in the royal city of Solo, central Java. "I invite all the people of Indonesia to pray that may the deceased's good deeds and dedication to the nation be accepted by Allah the almighty," he said. "Suharto has done a great service to the nation." |::|

“The president and his deputy, Yusuf Kalla, paid their respects, kneeling before Suharto's body shrouded in white at his home in Jakarta. Hundreds of Indonesians crowded the streets outside, weeping and chanting verses from the Qur'an. The former prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kwan Yew, and Malaysia's former leader, Mahathir Mohamad, flew to the capital, paying tribute to his part in bringing stability and economic growth.” Suharto was buried in the family mausoleum near the royal city of Solo next to his wife Tien who was a member of the Solo royal family.

As Suharto was dying, Seth Mydans wrote in The New York Times, “Now in Jakarta, the mood seems to be one of forgiveness and amnesia. A parade of politicians, religious figures, pop stars and three foreign leaders has paid hushed visits to his bedside as if he were already lying in state. A number of public figures have joined a call for an end to investigations and prosecutions against him, describing them as unseemly.” [Source: Seth Mydans, The New York Times Friday, January 18, 2008 \^/]

Tommy Suharto on the Run After Corruption Conviction

In 2000, Tommy was put on trial for his involvement in a $11.2 million dollar land deal—in which his company traded worthless swampland for prime government-own real estate through Bulog, the main food supply agency— and questions about the national car company he ran. Tommy admitted his guilt and asked the court to spare him a prison sentence. In September 2000, Tommy was convicted on corruption charges and sentenced to 18 months in prison for his involvement in the land deal. He was the only members of the Suharto clan to be convicted of a crime.

After being convicted, Tommy went on the run. Authorities showed up at his house to take him to prison. He wasn’t there. They were unable to find him as they searched “in the kitchen and the cupboard” of every Suharto house. They even used radar to locate a secret bunker where authorities thought he may have been hiding. The case was an embarrassment for the Wahid government, which was supposed to be cracking down on corruption. Later it was revealed that two close aids of Wahid received $2 million as a pay off to pardon Tommy.

Tommy was on the run for a year. During that time he was both Indonesia’s most recognized face and most wanted man. Helicopters dropped leaflets with his photograph; road blocks were set up; psychics were consulted; telephones were tapped; and wanted posters were placed all over the country. While he was on the run the judge who sentenced him was assassinated in broad daylight and the convictions against him were thrown out. There was rumors that he was protected by generals loyal to Suharto senior and anybody that dared to arrest Tommy risked being killed. Finally in November 2001, he caught in a mansion where he was hiding out.

Tommy Suharto and Murder

In July 2002, Tommy was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the murder of a top judge, possessing an illegal weapon and fleeing justice. Tommy, the court ruled, paid two hit men $11,000 to kill Syafiuddun Kartasasmita, the Supreme Court judge who sentenced Tommy in the 2000 graft case. The judge was shot dead by the two hitmen as they rode by on motorcycles in July 2001. They used two pistol that, the court said, Tommy owned and gave them.

The trial was marked by frequent outburst by the defendant—Tommy— and his brief detention for allegedly bribing witnesses. The primary evidence against Tommy was the confession of the two hitmen that they worked for Tommy and the ties between Tommy and the murder weapons (a cache of weapons and bombs found at a house owned by Tommy), and the fact that Tommy once threatened the murdered judge at his home.

Tommy denied the charges and appealed. He claimed the weapons used in the murder, that he was charged with possessing, were planted on him. Many ordinary Indonesians believed he got off too easy even with 15 years. Some thought he should have gotten the death penalty. The trial was regarded as a test on the fairness and corruptibility of the Indonesian justice system. The two hitmen who killed the judge received life in prison sentences,

Tommy was also questioned in connection with a string of bombings in 2000. He was believed to have been behind rallies of pro-Suharto supporters, who clashed with students over senior Suharto not appearing for his corruption trial. He also reportedly collaborated with separatists in Aceh province who were fighting the government.

In July 2003, after spending a year in prison, Tommy appealed his conviction. In October 2006, he was freed from prison on conditional release, after serving just five years of an original 15-year sentence over the murder of a judge.

Other Legal Problems for Tommy and Suharto’s Half Brother

In May 2008, Indonesian prosecutors sued Tommy for $400 billion over a business deal involving his failed national car project. Reuters reported: “The attorney-general's office, acting on behalf of the finance ministry, is seeking 4 trillion rupiah in damages from Hutomo Mandala Putra Suharto, known as Tommy, and his companies, which include PT Humpuss. PT Timor Putra Nasional, set up by Tommy Suharto to build Indonesia's national car, defaulted on its loans to Indonesian state banks after the 1997-98 financial crisis. But in 2003, Timor's assets were sold to a little-known company called Vista Bella Pratama. The sale was a breach of Indonesia's regulations as both the seller and buyer were controlled by the same individual, Tommy Suharto, prosecutor Dachmer Munthe told Reuters. In August 2007, the national logistics agency, known as Bulog, filed a civil suit against Tommy over a land deal.[Source: Reuters, May 6, 2008 ]

In March 2008, Suharto’s half-brother was freed from prison after serving two thirds of an original four-year sentence for corruption. Reuters reported: Probosutedjo was jailed in 2005 for siphoning more than Rp100 billion (about US$10 million at the time) of public money for a project to map forestry logging in the vast archipelago nation. The businessman was granted conditional release after serving most of his sentence, and accumulating remissions totalling six months and 25 days, said the head of Sukamiskin Prison in Bandung. Probosutedjo was the second member of the Suharto family to be jailed. [Source: AFP, March 14, 2008]

After getting out of jail, Probosutedjo helped build a museum at the site of Suharto’s humble birthplace outside Yogyakarta. At the entrance are displayed images of the ex-leader as a general and a pious Muslim. [Source: Jonathan Thatcher, The Guardian, April 2, 2014 |+|]

Suharto’s Legacy

Aubrey Belford of AFP wrote: “Over more than three decades in power, Suharto's autocratic rule was marked by rampant corruption, cronyism and widespread human rights abuses. At the same time, he established much-needed stability and presided over a 1970s oil boom that raised the living standards of millions of Indonesians and allowed the nation to become self-sufficient in its staple food, rice. Despite his overthrow, Suharto's rule is fondly remembered by many here as a time when the basics of life such as foodstuffs and fuel were more affordable. [Source: Aubrey Belford, AFP, January 14, 2008 */*]

“His model, a mix of pro-Western free market policies and institutionalised cronyism, proved a hollow shell that collapsed spectacularly in the financial crisis and unwound much of the progress it had achieved. "The technocratic approach of the government of Indonesia at the time basically went in the wrong direction in establishing an economic system," said Kusnanto Anggoro, a political scientist at the University of Indonesia. That system, which welded corruption to the highest levels of government, meant the country was unable to deal with economic uncertainty and set the template for today's Indonesia, where more "chaotic" graft reigns, he said. */*

“Suharto's 32-year dominance of politics also stifled the emergence of new leaders in the wake of his downfall. The result, Anggoro said, is an elite devoid of new ideas to move the country forward in the face of persistent poverty and unemployment. Some parts of Suharto's legacy have collapsed or been curtailed. The centralisation of all power in Jakarta has been replaced with devolution that has given the archipelago nation's far-flung provinces an unprecedented say in their own affairs. The long separatist war in restive Aceh province is at a lull while East Timor -- invaded by Suharto in 1975 and the site of some of his regime's worst abuses -- is now an independent nation. The previously dominant military has also made a modest retreat from politics, but still acts with impunity in far-flung areas such as Papua, according to human rights groups. The continued existence of a Suharto-era system that puts military commands in every village means shady military business activities still bring sporadic violence, said Haris Azhar, a campaigner with rights group Kontras. "The structure of violence that is still running now has its heritage in the Suharto regime," Azhar said. */*

“Suharto's personal quirks have also had an influence on Indonesian life. A Javanese man from the country's largest ethnic group, his error-laden and heavily accented version of the national language was imitated by sychophantic officials during his reign and leaked into wider usage, to the horror of purists. Although a Muslim, Suharto's devotion to traditional pre-Islamic mysticism also influenced the national culture. His Javanese brand of synchretic Islam, popularly known as Kejawen, later was added to the list of five major religions then recognised by the state, but under a different name: Belief in God Almighty. Suharto's 1998 fall was quickly followed by a rise in more orthodox Islamic piety, but the supernatural still looms large -- especially when it comes to talk of the ex-dictator himself. While many would see Suharto's team of doctors as the main reason for his survival so far, theories popular among millions of Indonesians include possession by black magic and his ownership of a Javanese royal family's sacred dagger. */*

According to Lonely Planet: More than a decade “after his downfall, it’s still apparent that Suharto’s network of corruption, collusion and nepotism still lingers. Attempts to bring corrupt officials to justice have rarely eventuated in convictions, often because the implications of a serious crackdown would reach far into the current power structure. A 35-year, multibillion dollar web of state-supported corruption is a hard thing to untangle.” [Source: Lonely Planet]

The Jakarta Post reported: “Ever since March 11, 1966, Soeharto had been a constant in Indonesian nationhood. Wherever the political winds blew, Soeharto was unquestionably the dominant factor in Indonesia. People were either for him or against him. A vast majority supported him in 1966. Soeharto's "New Order" met with enthusiastic public acclaim. But the democratic hopes were dashed as the masses got restless in 1969, 1974, 1978, 1989. Finally, expressions of disenchantment escalated from 1996 to 1998 and triggered the downfall. Even when his corruption and human rights atrocities were uncovered, Soeharto remained a formidable figure. Four presidents were unable to bring him to justice. His family and cronies remain free, prosperous and impervious to public recrimination. A few criminals close to Soeharto did spend time in prison, but they got soft treatment. Soeharto money still floats around, his investments thrive and his interests lurk behind political and commercial interests.[Source: Jakarta Post, May 23, 2005]

“Soeharto brought prosperity to the people, but its distribution was skewed. Loyalists were handsomely rewarded; common people were ignored and dissenters disappeared without a trace. Dozens of expensive homes in Jakarta hint at the wealth accumulated by former Cabinet ministers who legitimized his corrupt schemes. His sons took most of the blame but low-profile ministers amassed assets like luxury houses for their sons, daughters and in-laws. The second generation of the Soeharto profiteers now have become respectable businesspeople. Some have even become public officials.” [Ibid]

Suharto Versus Sukarno

The Jakarta Post reported: The time span of the New Order is matched in recent history only by Cuba's Fidel Castro. Soeharto survived -- politically -- American Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush Sr. before facing Bill Clinton's strong human rights lens at the end of the New Order. Countless Prime Ministers and two Popes knew him as President and generations of Cabinet ministers succeeded each other for 32 years. Children returning home after spending time in the US would ask why there were so many presidents in America, but only two in Indonesia.[Source: Jakarta Post, May 23, 2005 \=\]

“Even now, with the sixth President of Indonesia in office, only two really count in historical terms, Sukarno and Soeharto. They were the truly powerful ones, with significant differences. While Sukarno invited breathless emotions in the range of love and hate, Soeharto was neither massively adored nor loathed. He was generally respected for his effectiveness, but quietly resented for his suffocating control. Statistics generally protect Soeharto as his misdeeds have not been formally proven. His crimes are horrendous and his victims stretch out from Tanjung Priok to East Timor, from the Petrus killings (mysterious killings) to the May riots. And yet, formal observers do not always portray him as a world-class enemy of human dignity and civil rights. \=\

“From a personal perspective, Soeharto appeared in 1966 to rescue the nation from ruin as Communists were presented as a public terror. Sukarnoists defended themselves poorly as Sukarno allowed himself to be identified with the Communists. Soeharto The Hero, drove his jeep from his home in Menteng to the presidential palace. He still managed to maintain his low-key image when his home burgeoned into blocks of high-security mansions. However, he became isolated as his public appearances were limited to highly controlled situations. He started out with strong support from democratically minded Army generals, and lost power decades later when hardline generals turned the New Order into an arrogant display of absolute power.” \=\

Contribution of Suharto’s New Order to Democracy in Indonesia?

In recent years a handful of commentators have quietly begun to raise the possibility that a powerful explanation of the undeniably rapid, and apparently successful, transformation since 1998 may lie precisely where least suspected: in the policies and realities of the New Order itself. The basic notion is that the “amazing” transformation after 1998 is not quite as amazing as has generally been suggested because the New Order regime was never as powerful and monolithic, in some views even totalitarian, as many believed, and that its ability to control the way people thought and behaved was overestimated. (In the same vein, the military was never as unified or free to assert its will as most assumed.) From this perspective, for example, the New Order censorship about which critics constantly complained was on the whole much milder than portrayed, and at best erratic and incomplete; it certainly did not entirely smother public debate or expressions of discontent. Similarly, the regime’s signature efforts to inculcate the ideology of Pancasila, which critics decried as so much self- interested, statist propagandizing, were surprisingly ineffective, producing more cynicism and questioning than acquiescence, and certainly not blind adherence. Individuals’ ability to think or act independently in political matters, although indeed limited under the New Order regime, was far less severely damaged than imagined, and did not require a miracle to revive. [Source: William H. Frederick, Library of Congress, 2009 *]

This explanation also suggests that the New Order may have contributed to the post-1998 transformation in a more positive manner. It is not, for example, quite so astonishing that Indonesia was able to hold complex and reasonably peaceful elections in 1999, 2004, and 2009 if we recall that, in fact, the nation had practice doing so for a quarter of a century under New Order auspices in 1971, 1977, 1982, 1987, 1992, and 1997. This notion may be repellent to critics who spent years pointing out how the New Order political process was anything but free, manipulated as it was by numerous means, including dishonest management of elections, curtailment of party independence, manipulation of parliament through large appointed memberships, and the like. Nevertheless, elections were routinely held and order maintained until the process became familiar, even taken for granted; it was by no means new in 1999, even though the all-important political context had changed. Furthermore, it seems likely that the millions of Indonesians who participated in those New Order elections came to understand that process’s shortcomings and to develop ideas about how it could be improved. There was no dearth of ideas when the time came to make changes, and the journey to democracy required modest hops rather than great leaps.

One illustration concerns the promotion of Pancasila ideology, a widely criticized hallmark of the New Order that appeared to have been summarily abandoned in 1998. Beginning in about 2002, however, there was a revival of interest in Pancasila and in honoring it as a kind of national creed and summation of national identity. Even prominent intellectuals who had considered New Order leaders’ interest in a national ideology an anathema, and the Pancasila itself as shallow and outdated, appeared at symposia and on op- ed pages as advocates of a “revitalization,” emphasizing the ways in which the message of the Pancasila is not only appropriate for post–New Order Indonesia, but indeed even necessary. In 2006 President Yudhoyono made a point of giving a major national speech on the then-neglected Birth of Pancasila Day (June 1), recommending that politicized niggling over the historical origins and other details surrounding the Pancasila—which he described as the “state ideology”—cease and that greater attention be paid to its precepts. There were numerous calls for making June 1 a national holiday, and the minister of education said that the Pancasila would remain part of the curriculum. It looked very much as if a key element of the New Order was about to be reinstated. *

Suharto Avoids Answering for Crimes

As Suharto was dying, Seth Mydans wrote in The New York Times, “Gilang was one of the last victims of former President Suharto’s harsh 32-year rule, a young activist who disappeared on the day the former president was forced from power and whose body was found six days later, shot, stabbed and disemboweled. As with many of Mr. Suharto’s victims, his killers have never been identified or brought to justice, escaping prosecution much as Mr. Suharto himself has done. Mr. Suharto ended his life — like Pol Pot in Cambodia — without having to answer for crimes on a monumental scale that include severe human rights abuses and prodigious corruption. [Source: Seth Mydans, The New York Times Friday, January 18, 2008 \^/]

“There is nothing wrong if we pardon the mistakes made by our former leader, who has made significant contributions to the nation,” said Suryadharma Ali, the minister for small and medium enterprises, in a commonly heard comment. The philosophy behind this view was articulated the other day by a trader named Japendi Hendry Christianto, 33, as he sat on a stool on the sidewalk here in Solo, in central Java. “Many people see Suharto as the tiger that eats the deer,” he said. “It is not cruel. It is natural. This is what tigers do.” Every animal has its own nature, he said, and must accept its place in the natural order. “Suharto cannot be tried, because he is the tiger,” Mr. Japendi said. “He is the king of the jungle. He will die a natural death, and the worms will eat him. It is the cycle of life.” \^/

“But as the days have passed, other voices have emerged, taking the view that Mr. Suharto’s crimes are too enormous to shunt aside and that no one is above the law. “We cannot excuse him,” said Hendardi, who heads the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association. “Forgiveness is in the private domain, but law enforcement is in the public domain. We cannot set a precedent that discriminates in favor of the powerful.” One of Suharto’s successors as president, Abdurrahman Wahid, also said the law must take its course. “It is all right to forgive someone’s mistakes,” said Mr. Wahid, who was president from 1999 to 2001. “For Suharto the charges must be continued and examined by the courts. After the trial it is up to people whether he should be forgiven or not.” \^/

“Among those challenging the public mood of forgiveness are victims of the abuses of his rule, who have staged small demonstrations in Jakarta and here in central Java. “Suharto must be put on trial to prove whether he is guilty or not guilty,” said Budiardi, the mother of Gilang, who still weeps when she talks about her loss. “I cannot forgive him before he is put on trial.” Gilang, whose full name was Leonardus Nugroho Iskandar, was a 20-year-old street singer who joined the student movement calling for Mr. Suharto’s ouster and who had been beaten and arrested several times before his disappearance. His parents have petitioned the government to investigate the case but have received no response, his mother said. That lack of response has played out also on a national scale. \^/

“Four presidents have succeeded Mr. Suharto over the past decade but, facing the power of his money and his influential friends, none has pushed through a case against him. Some people who say they are realists assert that no matter what the furor, this will never happen. “The idea of putting former President Suharto on trial, which has been heard often lately, is now as unlikely as draining the oceans,” said the weekly newsmagazine Tempo in an editorial this week. “What is the point of discussing things that are unlikely to happen?” \^/

“Those who suffered under his regime may be left with only their tears and their anger. Winarsa, 69, was one of the first victims of Mr. Suharto’s rule, a schoolteacher who was imprisoned for 15 years in a series of camps. He was arrested in 1965, when Suharto seized power, at the start of an anti-communist purge that took at least 500,000 lives. “All these people who are saying good things about Suharto don’t know what they’re talking about,” he said. “What I remember is that whoever had a different opinion on politics from Suharto would be killed or kidnapped.” Three brothers and a cousin were killed in the purges, he said. He still carries the scars of beatings he received. “As a human, no, I’m not angry,” he said, although he sounded angry. “But if you ask me to say a good word about Suharto, no, I won’t. For me he is not a good man.” \^/

Indonesia Reviews the Suharto Era

There is evidence that views of the Suharto era are being modified in public memory and thinking about contemporary society. Calls for the promotion of Pancasila, which had become a hated feature of the Suharto era, continue to surface, and the government has announced its intention to revitalize the philosophy, but without saying how it would do so. The humanist thinker Radhar Panca Dahara acknowledged that most Indonesians still do not understand Pancasila, but he cautioned that interpretation has to be individual rather than codified to be effective. A member of the government commission overseeing culture and education initiatives suggested that Pancasila could best be revived by encouraging exemplary behavior rather than endless discussion. Youth activist Melki Lakalena proposed that, rather than any sort of rigid indoctrination, popular music and other forms of mass culture could be used as vehicles for reawakening interest in Pancasila. He said his suggested approach was a more “relaxed” way of recognizing “the political role of culture in disseminating the value of the state ideology,” a statement with an oddly back- to-the-future ring. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Another feature of both the Old Order and the New Order that, after a brief eclipse, showed signs of returning was the government’s use of book banning as a tool of social control. Between 1998 and 2006, no books had been banned, although the Sukarno-era law sanctioning such action remained in force. But after 2006 the practice saw some revival. In December 2009, the attorney general invoked a 2004 law (which had replaced a 1969 law based on a 1963 presidential decree) that did not address “banning books” but rather “supervising the circulation of printed materials” to ban five books. Among them was the Indonesian translation of John Roosa’s Pretext for Mass Murder: The September 30th Movement and Suharto’s Coup d’état in Indonesia, a publication that the Attorney General’s Office deemed disturbing to public order, even though it had already been in circulation in Indonesia for nearly two years. By mid-2010, the Department of Justice and Human Rights was reviewing about 200 books considered potential “threats to the country’s unity,” 20 of them seriously. On October 13, 2010, however, in a case brought by a group of prominent authors, the Constitutional Court ruled against the original 1963 decree that gave the Attorney General’s Office the authority to place bans on specific titles or on an author’s entire oeuvre, declaring instead that any calls for bans had to be made through the court system. The government can still proscribe certain works under a 1966 anticommunist law, and under the 2008 anti-pornography law, but the practice of book banning now is far more limited than in most of the past half-century. *

All of these developments suggest that Indonesians are busy adjusting—and often moderating—their views of the pre-1998 period, reconsidering some aspects and rejecting others. Perhaps the most surprising evidence of this process was the nomination, in mid-October 2011, of former President Suharto as a “national hero,” one of 10 per sons put forward by local officials. This suggestion, which was first made by a Jawa Tengah district head on the 1,000- day anniversary of Suharto’s death, elicited a vigorous debate in which there was unexpectedly strong support for Suharto’s rehabilitation and recognition. Public-opinion polls noted that, although the approval rating of Indonesia’s new democracy had grown from 42 percent in 1999 to 70 percent by late 2010, and few expressed any desire to return to the New Order, Suharto now seemed to command growing respect. In a May 2011 survey, 41 percent named him “Indonesia’s Best President.” The government finessed the national-hero issue by choosing only two minority candidates connected in some way with Indonesia’s struggle for independence, former cabinet minister Johannes Leimena, a Christian from Maluku, and military officer Johannes Abraham Dimara, a Christian from Papua. *

Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) coordinator, Ade Irawan, has condemned romanticising the Suharto era. "It was a time for cronyism and corruption on a very large scale," he told The Guardian. "Suharto's children should also be held responsible for their wealth. But no one will try them. Instead they're trying to come back as heroes which is very ironic." [Source: Jonathan Thatcher, The Guardian, April 2, 2014 |+|]

Suharto-Era Victims Still Waiting for Truth and Justice

In 2012, Amnesty International reported: “In Indonesia victims of serious human rights violations, including unlawful killings, rape and other crimes of sexual violence, enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment continue to call for truth, justice and reparation for past crimes. In 2004, the Indonesian Parliament passed the Law on a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which provided for the establishment of a national truth commission with powers to receive complaints, investigate grave human rights violations which occurred in the past and to make recommendations for compensation and/or rehabilitation for victims. In 2006 the Indonesian Constitutional Court struck down the law, after it ruled that an article which provided reparation for victims only after they agreed to an amnesty for the perpetrator was unconstitutional. Amnesty International welcomed this ruling, as amnesties, pardons or similar measures of impunity for the most serious crimes and human rights violations such as unlawful killings, rape and other crimes of sexual violence, enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment are contrary to international law. [Source: Amnesty International, March 25, 2012]

Attempts to pass a new law and enact a national truth commission have stalled. Although a new law has been drafted and is scheduled for discussion in Parliament in 2011-2014; to date there has been no progress, with Parliament failing to prioritize debate of the draft in the 2012 legislative programme. The continued failure to debate and pass a new law in Indonesia leaves many victims without an effective mechanism for truth and full and effective reparation. In May 2011, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono established a multi-agency team to devise “the best format to resolve grave human rights violations that occurred in the past”. The team has so far visited victims of such violations in various part of the country, including Talangsari, Tanjong Priok and Kupang. However, it has been criticized by human rights organizations and victims’ groups for failing to develop a concrete strategy to ensure truth, justice and reparation for victims. [Ibid]

Harry Bhaskara wrote in the Jakarta Post, “Was he responsible for the killing of criminals in the 1980s? Yes, he admitted it in his book Soeharto, My Thoughts, Words and Deeds and yet still there was no trial. Four governments have turned the Soeharto case into a publicity stunt. Every time he was about to be taken to court, he fell ill. It is clear that there were people in power who wanted to stop the process lest it would expose their own vulnerable positions. Soeharto is being used as a buffer to save themselves. It looks like a vicious cycle and in the end the whole nation is to suffer as it will never know what he has done wrong. [Source: Harry Bhaskara, Jakarta Post, January 17 2008]

“President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's call for restraint in all talk about Soeharto's cases reflects the sentiments of many. Soeharto ruled this republic like a king and many people seem to have liked serving him. It is a contrast to the fate of his many victims, who languished in the dark, suffering hunger and pain from untreated wounds inflicted by their torturers. No media dared report their plight during his tenure as Soeharto had tight control over the media. There were no comforting ng words from family members or friends and no adequate medication. Or what about the tattooed criminals who were shot in the street in the episode known as the "mysterious killings" in the 1980s? Or the violence committed in the troubled regions of Aceh, Papua and East Timor?” [Ibid]

Search for Justice by Victims of the Massacre at the Rat Hole in Lorejo in 1968

On what victims of the Massacre at the Rat Hole in Lorejo in 1968 were doing, Ellen Nakashima wrote in the Washington Post: “Survivors are taking action on various fronts. One group this year filed a class action suit against the government, seeking $40 trillion in reparations -- a symbolic sum -- and an apology for policies that banned them and their children from state jobs or running for office. A youth wing of the country's largest Muslim civic group, which participated in the killings, is trying to reconcile with victims' families. A few researchers are trying to identify mass grave sites. Historians are recording survivors' stories in a bid to preserve memories before this generation dies. [Source: Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post Foreign Service, October 30, 2005 /+\]

“The task is monumental. Militant groups threaten violence against those who want to bring this past to light. Local military and government officials have tried to thwart researchers' efforts. Sometimes the survivors' own families ridicule them. In one case, a former political prisoner's family has him under virtual house arrest in Jakarta to prevent him from publicizing his story. Tension at the Rat Hole was evident between Katirin [a killer] and Supiyem [wife of a victim], who live in neighboring villages. They were here at the invitation of Putmuinah, 76, a tough-minded former political prisoner who is encouraging survivors to speak out. For years Supiyem dared not speak about what happened, fearing retaliation from authorities. In 2001, an Indonesian human rights group began an investigation. It was her son, Puput, who urged her to talk. "I said, 'Speak up, Mom,' " he recalled. " 'This is something you should do. If we can bring the truth to light, let's do it!' "

Though nearly 40 years have passed, Supiyem has kept her pledge never to remarry. Her only surviving brother, whose life she saved by sleeping with Sarmin, has recurrent nightmares of drowning in a river. Even Katirin, who was forced to kill, says he is still haunted by the look of "surrender" on his victims' faces.

In 2002, when human rights researcher Albertus Suryo Wicaksono “was excavating the Rat Hole, a natural underground cave some 45 yards deep, a local military officer's son warned him to stop. His team kept going. They hit the first set of bones at 21 yards and found three skulls, enough to prove the mass grave existed. Wicaksono removed a jawbone and a tooth for forensic testing. A farmer, Damin, keeps the bones in a plastic bag in his closet. The bones, Damin said, often make a "clacking" noise at night. The Rat Hole was the first of 27 mass graves Wicaksono has identified on Java. He has vowed to expand his search, despite efforts to intimidate him. Near the site, the military erected a monument to the execution of the Communists. Supiyem and other relatives want the mass grave turned into a memorial honoring their dead.

Comeback of the Suharto Children?

In 2009, Tom Allard wrote in The Age, “After a more than a decade in the wilderness, the family of Indonesia's former ruler Suharto are making a comeback into political life, launching a bold bid to wrest control of the party created by their father, Golkar, and re-establish a dynasty that foundered amid the rioting and financial mayhem that marked the end of the country's dictatorship. For Tommy Suharto, the youngest of the six Suharto children and a flamboyant playboy who spent four years in prison after being convicted of ordering the murder of a Supreme Court judge, the motives could not be purer. ''I have a moral obligation to help advance the party, which was founded and built by my father,'' he said in announcing his candidacy for the chairmanship of Golkar. Golkar, once the dominant political force, is a shadow of its former self, commanding support of just 15 per cent of voters in 2009 parliamentary and presidential polls. [Source: Tom Allard, The Age, September 7, 2009 \~/]

“With his criminal record and notorious past as a strongman and corrupter, Tommy's bid for power could struggle. But attention is turning to his eldest sister - Siti Hardiyati Rukmana, known as Tutut - as a possible alternative. Either way, says political analyst Burhanuddin Muhtadi, the motives for the ''Cendana family'' - Indonesians' name for the Suhartos in reference to the former dictator's compound in the upscale suburb of Menteng - lies not in trying to continue their father's legacy or any sense of noblesse oblige. Rather, with an eye on the 2014 presidential elections, it is an investment in their business future. ''The reason is economical,'' says Burhanuddin, a senior researcher with the Indonesian Survey Institute. ''In Indonesia, economy and power are like two sides of a coin. If you want to enjoy economic privilege you must have a strong bargaining power in politics. ''So, the Cendana family, I believe, is seeking chance in 2014 presidential election for the sake of their business. \~/

“During the deeply corrupt decades of Suharto's rule, it is believed his family amassed a fortune of about $15 billion. The palatial apartments in Hong Kong, London and Boston remain, but much of this astonishing wealth has been frittered away amid forced divestments, bad business decisions and profligate lifestyles. Tutut still controls a lucrative toll-road concession and Tommy's Hampuss conglomerate is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, but among Indonesia's mega-rich elite, the Suhartos have fallen well down the pecking order. ''They have been persona non grata for a decade,'' said one Jakarta-based business figure. ''Nobody has wanted to partner with them. Now they want to restore their position.'' A former confidant of Suharto - who also asked to remain anonymous - described a family that, apart from Tommy, remain cloistered within their palatial homes, rarely venturing out into Jakarta society. ''Sigit [the eldest child] likes to go bowling at night in Ancol [a Jakarta amusement centre]. The rest of the time, he is just sleeping at home,'' he said. \~/

In 2014, Jonathan Thatcher wrote in The Guardian, “The image of former President Suharto now waves genially from the election campaign poster of one of his daughters. Enter 54-year-old Siti Hediati Suharto, popularly known as Titiek, who on the campaign trail in the city of Yogyakarta, which she hopes to represent in the national parliament. The Golkar party, which she is campaigning with, is also turning openly to a legacy that until recently would have been political poison. "I want to continue to take the struggle (of my father) forward," she told Reuters. [Source: Jonathan Thatcher, The Guardian, April 2, 2014 |+|]

"Reformasi (the reform era) started 16 years ago and we've been changing presidents but it seems Indonesia isn't going anywhere," she said before heading off to a campaign rally with her older sister Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, 65 and known across Indonesia as Tutut. "(Titiek's) lineage will definitely increase votes for Golkar in the legislative election, because there are many loyalists of Suharto and many people who miss that ... era," said Tantowi Yahya, a legislator and spokesman for Golkar, saying it would help nationally, not just in her constituency. |+|

“With no suggestion of irony, Titiek did point to graft as a major issue in Indonesia. "If I watch TV, every day (there is) corruption, there are all these food imports, all these problems," she said in a reference to a stream of high profile corruption trials, almost unheard of in the Suharto era, and concerns that Indonesia is too reliant on imports of basic food. It is a sentiment her supporters share. "Even if the Suhartos were corrupt, at least the people were well off," said Juani, a middle-aged housewife attending the relatively modest campaign rally. Titiek's older sister, Tutut, once a political and business force during their father's rule, failed to muster enough support to herself be able to contest the presidency in 2004. But the way some of the crowd rushed to shake her hand at the latest rally pointed to her continued popularity. |+|

“Their four other siblings have stayed out of the latest political limelight, including Tommy, 51. However, some media reports have suggested he might have his sights on the next campaign in five years. "The people demand (we have a role)," said Titiek. "We try to shy away but some people always ask why doesn't the Suharto family show up." She said she did not seek the presidency for herself. As for other members of her family: "I don't know. Maybe in due time." |+|

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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