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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

Leaving Little to Chance

The coming election will be a family affair

By Susan Berfield and Keith Loveard / Jakarta


President Suharto must be the envy of some world leaders. Elections in Indonesia are so tidy. His government allows only three political parties to participate in parliamentary polls that are held every five years. The parties choose their own candidates to contest the 425 elected seats, but they must be vetted by the authorities. The president outright appoints the remaining 75 representatives from the military to sit in the 500-member Parliament. The MPs and 500 others chosen by the government make up the People’s Consultative Assembly, which selects the president and veep. Suharto, 75, has been named president every five years for the past 25.

The system has always been rigged in favor of Suharto. Now, it also seems rigged against aspiring -- and deserving -- politicians in his own party. For the first time, the list of Golkar candidates for the May 29 general election includes four of the president’s six children and several wives of prominent officials. “If nepotism continues to spread, meritocracy will be defeated by family connections,” says political scientist Amien Rais. Editorialized the respected business newspaper Bisnis Indonesia: “Among the candidates are those whose work is open to question.”

Not so, counters Burhan Magenda, a senior Golkar official. He insists many of the candidates are capable in their own right. He notes that Halimah Trihatmodjo, wife of Suharto son Bambang, “has made a success of helping poor families.”

Perhaps so, but Suharto seems to be taking no chances. Last year, his wife died, he underwent a heart check and riots shook Jakarta. Some Indonesians began to think Suharto’s reign was coming to an end. Throughout the nation violence sparked by the rich-poor gap continues to unsettle the government. Golkar is still expected to beat the United Development Party and the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) in the polls. Suharto will be unsatisfied, however, unless Golkar secures at least 70% of the vote. He is likely to seek, and win, a seventh term in 1998, but he wants the entire process to be trouble-free.

That was why the government engineered the ouster of Megawati Sukarnoputri from the leadership of the PDI last June. No matter that Megawati never said she would challenge Suharto for the presidency. Needless to say, none of the PDI candidates she backed survived the government cuts. Too bad she isn’t family.


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