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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

DISGRACED BUT NOT BOWED

A look at how Suharto and family are faring

By Dewi Loveard / Jakarta


Habibie The first 100 days - not all bad, but not great

Report Card How's he doing?

Interview "I refuse to be called a 'transition president'"

Batam The place that made the man

ASEAN Don't expect Jakarta to lead

FOR A MAN WHOSE VISAGE was once seen everywhere, former president Suharto has dropped dramatically out of sight since his resignation on May 21. Suharto watchers now spend their time guessing which mosque he is likely to select for his Friday prayer session that week. The last sighting was on Aug. 14, when he turned up at a mosque in the Bimantara building in the company of his second son Bambang Trihatmodjo.

In some ways, the Bimantara mosque was a step down for Suharto after earlier appearances at mosques attached to important military establishments. His companion at many of those occasions was Maj.-Gen. Syafrie Syamsuddin, military commander of Jakarta during the May chaos. Syafrie has now been pushed aside, along with his close associate Lt.-Gen. Prabowo Subianto, Suharto's son-in-law and a prime suspect in the wave of abductions of activists that preceded the March presidential elections.

Former friends and allies - including armed forces commander Gen. Wiranto and even the old guard of retired military officers - have been steering clear of Suharto. In this new age of reform, it is a liability to be associated with the former First Family. The victory of Habibie-backer Akbar Tandjung as chairman of Golkar at the ruling party's congress in July marked the apparent end of what control Suharto may have had over major political forces.

His fall from grace notwithstanding, Suharto remains unchanged in many respects, not least in keeping his opinions to himself. Asked by a journalist about his health at the Bimantara mosque, he replied: "I'm fine, thanks to God." But when the reporter pressed for his opinion on the current political situation, Suharto's only response was a quiet "ah" before he was ushered away by bodyguards. Son Bambang, normally not one to say much in public, was a little more forthcoming: "We prefer not to say anything at this time because whatever we say will cause a fuss." Most of the time, say reports, Suharto spends his time at home playing with his grandchildren and watching television.

Meanwhile, much talk continues to be generated over the supposed wealth amassed by the Suharto clan. New rumors have it that the family has placed some $8 billion in banks in Austria, although no one has come up with anything in the way of firm evidence. Half-brother Probosutedjo says he has asked Suharto if the allegations have any basis: "When I asked him, he replied, 'I don't have any money.' He said he had no money either inside or outside the country. What he did have was in the foundations."

The many charitable foundations that Suharto once controlled are now also under the spotlight - especially in regards to their role in funding Golkar. One businessman close to the family says that while the foundations did not serve personal ends, they were used to fund programs, especially in rural areas, that helped to cement the vote for Golkar at election time. "One village might have gotten half a dozen water pumps, another a few bulls to improve their cattle strains," he says. "It was made clear that the money came from the president and that Golkar was the vehicle for delivering the goods."

The battle over what wealth the Suhartos may have accumulated is not likely to be a quick one. When the attorney-general was sacked just a few weeks after the Habibie cabinet was formed, observers felt it was because the official had been too diligent. Says one analyst: "If you dig too deep, you are likely to find that too many names surface. You could end up implicating the entire elite of Suharto-era Indonesia."

For the Suharto children, life is now different but not markedly so. The government has taken over some of their interests - the Bank Central Asia, for example, in which eldest son Sigit Harjojudanto and eldest daughter Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana ("Tutut") had a 30% stake - but they are not exactly facing a life of penury. Bambang has stepped down from the boards of all the companies he was involved in, but is believed to remain a significant shareholder in most of them. He and Tutut have reportedly been playing an active role in recent months in the trading of cooking oil, a critical commodity in today's food-short environment. As for youngest son Tommy, his Timor national car project may be in shambles, but he has retained his clove monopoly, which is still bringing in revenues as it has a year's worth of stock that was bought at well below current market prices.

An outcast within this family of outcasts is Prabowo, who got the cold shoulder when he turned up at Suharto's 77th birthday bash in June. (He has since been discharged from the military over the abductions and may face court martial.) Suharto's public displeasure with his headstrong son-in-law, though, may just be a smokescreen for an attempt to get the family back into the picture. A far-fetched scenario? Perhaps, but if Indonesia-watchers have learned anything during Suharto's 32-year rule, it is to never write him off.


This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home

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