Future of Suharto's children

Father's legacy: Indonesian former president Suharto's daughters Siti Hadiyati Rukmana (C) and Titi Suharto (L) cry after their father died at a hospital in Jakarta on January 27, 2008.Picture: EPA

Sunday, February 10, 2008

THE death of former president Suharto last month can become a pivotal turning point — negatively or positively — for his six children and their descendants. Negatively, after their father's death, the children now are more open to become targets of corruption charges. Positively, they can enter politics.

Suharto's children can become magnets for those who are missing positive things under Suharto's regime. That is one of the reasons why now Golkar is enthusiastic in recruiting back the children, although it was the party which "expelled" Suharto and his children from Suharto's political party.

We may soon see fresh attempts to implicate the Suharto family for corruption, collusion and nepotism, which for 10 years fail to be disclosed. Shortly after Suharto's fall in May 1998, for the first time this untouchable family faced a legal process.

One by one, Suharto's children were summoned on corruption allegations or other legal cases. But for most cases they were untouchable. In 2000, the Supreme Court sentenced Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra to 18 months in prison for his involvement in a 95.4 billion Rupiah (US$10.3 billion) land exchange deal with the State Logistics Agency (Bulog) in 1995.

But Tommy run away and was never jailed for the case, until the Supreme Court reviewed it in 2001 and found Tommy not guilty.

In 2002, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for masterminding the murder of a Supreme Court justice. He is a free man now.

Suharto's eldest daughter Siti Hardijanti "Tutut" Rukmana was named a suspect by the Attorney General's Office (AGO) in the Pertamina pipeline corruption case in 2001.

But Mbak Tutut, her popular name, never stood trial for the case. The AGO closed it in 2003 due to a lack of evidence.

In the same year, Sigit Hardjojudanto, Suharto's eldest son, was questioned for his alleged involvement in the marking up of the Balongan oil refinery project in Indramayu, Cirebon, West Java, in 1989 and 1990.

At the same time, his brother, Bambang Trihatmodjo, was also questioned as a witness in connection with the acquisition of the assets of textile company Kanindotex.

There was no follow up.

The youngest Siti Hutami Endang Adiningsih was sentenced to 10 days in jail with a 30-day probation period for failing to report the loss of her gun by the Central Jakarta District Court in 2000.

Ari Sigit, the son of Sigit Hardjojudanto, was sentenced to two months and 22 days in jail after the Central Jakarta District Court found him guilty of illegal possession of firearm ammunition.

So far, only Suharto's fourth child, Siti Hediati Harijati, popular with Titiek, is the only one to have not faced criminal charges.

So, 10 years after Suharto resigned, none of his children have been found guilty of corruption. Two possible answers can be given.

First they are clean, really clean. But, it is hard to believe.

Second, they are not clean, but the government has no courage and is not serious in investigating them any further. Why?

The answer is Suharto.

Many of those in government and politically elite circles still pay respect to this former dictator.

What happened during his last days clearly showed the strong influence of the former president.

But after Suharto's death, there is no more a political hurdle to jump in order to bring his children to justice.

Now the government has a free-hand to conduct legal prosecutions against Suharto's children. Many files can be reopened.Confronting such potentially unfriendly futures, Suharto's children have several options on the table.

They enter politics. They have all the prerequisites to do this: money, networks, and supporters.

With the right strategy, these can be converted into real political power.

But they will find some obstacles especially in terms of age, many of them can no longer be regarded as young.

It seems only Tutut has political talent.

She was a social minister in her father's last cabinet. In 2004 general election, Tutut tried her luck by joining the chorus of presidential candidates and all-out campaigned for her Concern for the Nation Functional Party (PKPB), which promised to bring back all the good memories of the New Order era.

PKPB gained no seat in Parliament. Tutut's comeback at that time was too early, just six years after her father resigned. But next year's general election could be the best time to make a political comeback. After that, it is too late for Tutut who is now 59 years old.

However, Suharto's fans do not automatically rally their support behind his children.

Unlike Sukarno's children, people have bad feelings towards Suharto's children for their wide involvement in business that was allegedly built around corruption, collusion and nepotism.

Another problem they have is around their marriages.

Four of Suharto's six children reportedly have problems with their marriage.

This could be a negative point. While divorce becomes more common, people still have some ideals for their political leaders and their public life.

Whatever the choice, Suharto's death could be a start of a long and hard way to go for his children.

The Jakarta Post/ANN