Cendana Returns: Longing for The Suharto Days

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  • Siti Hediati popularly known as Titiek (L) and brother Tommy Suharto (R) daughter and son of late Indonesian strongman Suharto attend the 50th anniversary celebration of Golkar Party at the Jakarta international expo pavillion (10/28). ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images

    Siti Hediati popularly known as Titiek (L) and brother Tommy Suharto (R) daughter and son of late Indonesian strongman Suharto attend the 50th anniversary celebration of Golkar Party at the Jakarta international expo pavillion (10/28). ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images

    TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Hutomo Mandala Putra, better known as Tommy Suharto, is grateful that the Berkarya Party was given number seven on the 2019 general election ballot. For Tommy, the number is a sign that his party will likely do well. 

    "All the other parties got unlucky numbers, and we received the 'good' number seven. Hopefully, our election results will also be good," said Tommy, 55, during the party's thanksgiving event at the Granadi Building in Kuningan, South Jakarta, last Monday.

    Once the Berkarya Party qualified for the general election, Tommy began encouraging party cadres to work diligently. The next goal is to win seats in the parliament, whether in the House of Representatives (DPR) or the Regional Representatives Council (DPRD). "We're working hard to win as many seats as possible," said the party's chair of the advisory board.

    Tommy hopes the party will be able to take part in budget planning by having power in the parliament and placing its cadres as regional heads. "Programs in the national and regional budgets must benefit the 'small' people and not just a handful," he said.

    He then compared Indonesian President Joko Widodo's administration to that of his father, Suharto. During Suharto's era, said Tommy, the national debt was about US$54 billion, but today the debt is seven times greater. "If the President or finance minister were asked when it will be paid off, no one would know," he said.

    But perhaps Tommy has not looked hard enough at the figures. At the time of his father's downfall, Suharto left behind a debt of US$68.7 billion, or about Rp551.4 trillion, at the exchange rate prevailing at the time, with a debt-to-GDP ratio of 57.7 percent. In comparison, the government debt as of 2016 was US$258 billion or Rp3.466 trillion, but the debt-to-GDP ratio was only at 27.5 percent, below the safe level of 30 percent. 

    Despite the data inaccuracy, the Suharto era is being flaunted by the Berkarya Party to bring in votes. According to Berkarya Party Secretary-General Badaruddin Andi Picunang, Indonesia's second president is the magnet for the party. Today, the Suharto legacy has been passed down to Tommy, his offspring number five. "Mas Tommy is the prince of the Suharto family," he said.

    Established on July 15, 2016, Berkarya is a merger between two parties, the National Republic Party and the Beringin Karya Party. The former had been registered at the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights since 2012, but did not qualify to run in the 2014 general election. Tommy sat as chair of the party’s advisory board.

    Meanwhile, Beringin Karya was declared by former military police center commander, Syamsu Djalal, along with several Golkar politicians, including Andi Picunang, in mid-May 2016. At the same time, Golkar was holding a national convention in Bali to appoint the party’s general chair, the position which was then given to Setya Novanto. 

    In that national convention, according to Andi Picunang, Tommy intended to run for Golkar’s general chair. Failing to run, he gave his support to Ade Komarudin, who was defeated by Setya Novanto. 

    After the convention in Bali, Andi and several Beringin Karya officials met with Tommy and offered to merge with the National Republic Party. In addition to needing Tommy as a public figure, the National Republic Party was considered because it was already a legal entity. In short, the two parties merged and changed their name to Berkarya.

    Under the new flag, Syamsu Djalal became chair of the board of advisors, while Neneng A. Tuty-previously secretary-general of the National Republic Party-became general chair. Similar to Tommy Suharto, Neneng is also active in the Laskar Merah Putih mass organization. 

    The Berkarya Party did not initially pass administrative verification. According to a member of the General Elections Commission (KPU), Wahyu Setiawan, at the time Berkarya was considered as not meeting the minimum requirements for membership in the regencies/cities of 1,000 people or one-thousandth of the number of residents. Berkarya then challenged the KPU with the Elections Supervisory Agency and showed that their data referred to by the KPU had, in fact, met the requirements. 

    According to Andi Picunang, Berkarya was founded to realize the late Suharto’s aspirations. A number of plans have been drafted, including creating an economy that favors the people and changing the system. "We intend to return to the 1945 Constitution, return to the version before the amendments," said Andi Picunang.

    Those who best understand the late Suharto’s desires, said Andi, are his own offspring. Later on, Berkarya will not only become a vehicle for Tommy, but also become a roosting place for members of the Suharto family wishing to get involved in politics. 

    One member of the Suharto family who already has a party membership card is Haryo Putra Nugroho Wibowo, the grandson of Sigit Harjojudanto, Suharto’s second offspring. Andi says Berkarya has officially asked all the Suharto family members to join. "We have left the lobbying to the chair of the advisory board," he said.

    With the Suharto family behind it, Berkarya has not had too much difficulty running. Its headquarters in Jalan Pangeran Antasari, South Jakarta, is the office of one of Tommy’s companies. According to Neneng, Tommy has supplied a great amount of party paraphernalia for distribution to party cadres. But this does not mean that other party officials are not contributing. "We all pitch in," she said.

    Although the 2019 election will be their first, Berkarya hopes to win 78 of the 575 DPR seats, or about 13 percent-a target that is much higher than the legislative threshold of four percent, or only 23 seats. According to Andi Picunang, the target is not wishful thinking, but the result of calculations made in the field.

    Since officially becoming a political party, said Andi, Berkarya has been serious in working in the election districts. Nearly every week Tommy travels to the provinces and gives aid to the public, especially farmers and fisherfolk. The area most visited by Tommy as of late is East Java, where he encourages the people he meets to farm catfish and join a cooperative. "We are giving out the fishing rods, not the fish," he said.

    Andi claims that because of these efforts, the party’s membership has grown significantly. According to their database, they have about 500,000 card-carrying members. Andi believes the number will continue to grow after Berkarya officially enters the general election.

    When visiting the provinces, Tommy also visited religious pockets. At the end of October 2017, for instance, he went to several Islamic boarding schools in the ‘horseshoe’ region of East Java. At the Ahlussunnah Wal Jamaah Islamic Boarding School in Brani, Probolinggo, Tommy attended the 33rd commemoration of the passing of Habib Husein bin Hadi al-Hamid.

    According to Andi, Tommy has close relations with several kiai (clerics) and habib (Islamic figures). "He has a spiritual guru," he said, adding that Tommy has not limited himself to associating with kiai of any particular group. 

    For this reason, it is unsurprising that Tommy appeared at the 19th anniversary of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) last August at the Kamal Muara Stadium, North Jakarta. In December 2017, Tommy also received FPI general chair, Sobri Lubis, at his residence in Jalan Cendana, Jakarta. They spoke about, among other things, the idea of the people’s economy.

    Tommy is not like what most people assume he is, said Andi. He has become increasingly religious and conducts worship regularly. "He never misses his five-time prayers and performs them on time," he said. He also holds weekly religious study sessions at his home in Jalan Cendana.

    Tommy Suharto was incarcerated after a judge found him guilty of the murder of Supreme Court judge Syafiuddin Kartasasmita in 2001. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but was released in 2006 after receiving numerous sentence reductions. It was while in prison that Tommy became more religious.

    Read the full article in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine