19, 2000 VOL. 158 NO. 24
Cry For Suharto
The Indonesian government gets tough on
the former President, but student activists worry he may never be called
By ANTHONY SPAETH
not easy living on Jakarta's leafy Cendana Street, longtime home of former
President Suharto. When he stepped down two years ago after more than
three decades in office, the military piled on the security and residents
were required to clear checkpoints to get in and out of the neighborhood.
"I had to have a permit to hold a birthday party for my child," recalls
one resident. Yet the security measures don't seem to get in the way of
the demonstrators who now gather regularly at the nearest entrance to
Cendana to demand that Suharto stand trial for corruption. The soldiers
do nothing to stop student activists from venting their rage at the former
strongman, in voice and graffiti. More than two weeks ago, protesters
torched five military vehicles on the street. Last Thursday, Suharto's
79th birthday, they staged another rally, leaving even more graffiti on
the walls of his neighbors' homes.
Indonesian student demonstrators burn a defaced portrait of former
Indonesian President Suharto during a protest near his home in Jakarta.
do these angry people want? On the surface, Indonesian President Abdurrahman
Wahid is taking a tougher stance on Suharto than his predecessor, B.J.
Habibie, who tried to shield his onetime mentor from prosecution. Wahid's
top law enforcer, Attorney General Marzuki Darusman, has rescinded a Habibie
order blocking an investigation into Suharto's wealth. Marzuki has had
the former President interrogated four times and has even promised to
put Suharto on trial before Aug. 10. Less than a week after the burning
of the military vehicles, Marzuki placed Suharto under formal house arrest.
If that wasn't enough, the Central Jakarta District Court last week dismissed
a $27 billion defamation suit Suharto had filed against Time for its May
24, 1999 story on his family's wealth. Suharto's lawyers promised to appeal
Despite those reversals of fortune, however, there is ample reason to
believe that Suharto may yet escape serious punishment--which is what has
inflamed the students near his house. "They have lost trust in almost
everything, including institutions like the Attorney General's office,"
says Jakarta political analyst Salim Said. It doesn't help that President
Wahid has repeatedly promised to pardon Suharto if he and his clan hand
over their ill-gotten wealth. Said Wahid recently: "The West will not
understand our determination to make national reconciliation the nation's
Indonesians view Wahid as naive on the issue. "Somehow he is convinced
that Suharto and his family will surrender their riches to the state,"
says Muhaimin Iskandar, a legislator and a leader of Wahid's National
Awakening Party. To the demonstrators near Cendana, "reconciliation" seems
like a cover for the kind of cozy political dealmaking that flourished
during the former President's time in office. "Without Suharto declared
guilty," insists Bambang Widjojanto, chairman of Indonesia's Legal Aid
Foundation, "his cronies will be freed from accusations of corrupt practices.
They will hide behind the argument that blame should be put on the appalling
system created by Suharto."
For now, the spotlight is on Marzuki. His investigation of Suharto has
concentrated solely on the charitable foundations controlled by the former
First Family and their friends. Those institutions were the root of the
Suharto empire, but there are other branches the investigation could pursue.
For example, Suharto's children have faced little official scrutiny, and
many of the businesses they operate are still thriving. Marzuki is chairman
of the central committee of the Golkar party, Suharto's former political
machine, and even his decision to place the former President under house
arrest is widely questioned. Some think the move was aimed largely at
avoiding an escalation of the protests around Jakarta in late May. Those
anti-Suharto rallies died down temporarily, until 300 activists descended
on Marzuki's office in south Jakarta last week carrying a white banner
containing 4 million signatures calling for Suharto's trial. The 2 km-long
banner was wrapped around the Attorney General's headquarters building.
Student activists say the former President shouldn't be allowed to stay
in his comfortable home and should instead be detained at the Attorney
General's lockup. That is the current residence of Suharto's longtime
friend Mohammad "Bob" Hasan, once one of the country's most powerful businessmen,
who is currently under investigation for corruption.
other potential woes are stacking up for Suharto. An official investigation
into the violent takeover of the Jakarta headquarters of the Indonesian
Democratic Party by pro-Suharto rowdies in July 1996, an event that touched
off major riots, has led to some arrests and the interrogation of army
and police personnel. News reports say Suharto may be questioned about
his possible role in the takeover. Last month, Budiman Sudjatmiko, chairman
of the radical Democratic People's Party, met with Marzuki to demand that
Suharto be investigated for both alleged corruption and various atrocities
that took place when he was in power. If the Attorney General doesn't
follow up, Budiman warns, he'll raise Suharto's alleged human-rights abuses
before the International Court of Justice at the Hague. In addition, Suharto
reportedly suffered two strokes last year, and his lawyers say he is unable
to answer questions intelligibly. Though some Indonesians are suspicious
of that claim, doctors have cut short several of Marzuki's interrogation
sessions for fear of straining the former President's health. Two weeks
ago, the national police chief announced that anyone who wanted to visit
Suharto would need a permit from the Attorney General. That raised the
possibility that Suharto might be sealed off from the outside world in
the same way that he isolated the country's first President, Sukarno,
32 years ago following a coup. According to Suharto associates, that's
a fate he has feared since relinquishing power. His lawyers have challenged
the police chief's decision.
ALSO IN TIME
For Wahid, meanwhile, the question of what to do with Suharto gets trickier
by the week. "I'm absolutely sure that Suharto will never be brought to
court," says Arief Budiman, professor of Indonesian studies at the University
of Melbourne. "The President will be too reluctant to do that." (Similarly,
Suharto made sure that Sukarno was never put on trial.) But in August,
Wahid is due to speak at the annual meeting of the People's Consultative
Assembly, Indonesia's highest political institution, where he will detail--and
defend--his accomplishments. Without progress on the Suharto front, he
risks appearing as ineffective as Habibie was.
Wahid himself has been engulfed in some Suharto-esque scandals. In early
May, his younger brother Hasyim Wahid was revealed to be working for the
Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency, or ibra, a state institution set
up to revive or sell bankrupt companies. ibra's chairman at first denied
it, but the younger Wahid told media that he was employed by ibra as a
korak, which translates as "thug," to force errant businessmen to settle
their debts. He later resigned from the organization. At around the same
time it was also revealed that the President's personal masseur and spiritual
adviser, Suwondo, managed to extract $4.7 million from a government agency
by identifying himself as "Private Assistant of the President of the Republic
of Indonesia." Suwondo has since disappeared, along with most of the money.
To Jakarta's student activists, it all adds up to a pattern of corruption
and nepotism that can be stopped only by vigorous prosecution, starting
with Suharto. "That would be a precedent for our future presidents," says
former student activist Budiman. But the demonstrators on Cendana Street
doubt that will happen. "The government has no guts to do it," says a
university student. "Suharto has to be tried by the people." Which suggests
that those angry placards and graffiti spray cans won't be retired anytime
Reported by Nuraki Aziz and Zamira Loebis/Jakarta
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