Subject: SCMP: Wiranto - Return of the Strongman?

also: Indonesian presidential hopeful Wiranto to turn to farming if bid fails

South China Morning Post

Thursday, March 4, 2004


Wiranto - Return of the Strongman?


This year's Indonesian legislative and presidential polls, slated to begin on April 5, mark the return of key Suharto-era figures such as his former general, Wiranto, and his daughter Siti Hardijanti Rukmana, better known as "Mbak Tutut", both of whom are vying for the presidency.

The re-emergence of these personalities alongside the surprising strength of Golkar, the former president's political party, signals the country's growing disillusionment with the reformasi, or reform, era that followed the ousting of Suharto in 1998.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri's lacklustre leadership has contributed to the malaise. While she remains the most popular and recognisable national figure, the euphoria surrounding her administration has evaporated. Strife in Aceh, and elsewhere in the archipelagic nation - as well as price increases of basic foodstuffs, cooking gas and other daily necessities - have served to tarnish her reputation among the poor, who initially looked on her as a champion for their interests.

Ms Megawati's diminished stature is further exacerbated by the perceived corruption of the political elite - highlighted by the overturning on appeal of Parliament Speaker Akbar Tanjung's conviction on corruption charges.

As the 240-million-strong nation adjusts to the messy realities of democracy, nostalgia for Suharto's firm leadership looks set to alter Indonesia's political landscape once again. The national mood has opened up opportunities for those linked with the "new order", such as Wiranto, currently campaigning for Golkar's presidential nomination against the wily Mr Akbar.

However, they in turn have had to tackle their own murky past. In the case of Wiranto, the 56-year-old former armed forces chief is endeavouring to distance himself from his alleged role in the atrocities that shook East Timor in 1999 after a referendum sealed the territory's independence.

Instead, he has stressed his credentials as a democrat, highlighting his stewardship of the nation in 1998 when he chose not to seize power for himself, guiding Indonesia towards democracy and thereby rejecting the example set by his mentor, Suharto.

His business-friendly, multiracial stand has also drawn him support from the influential Chinese community. His firm commitment to deal with security issues has been reassuring amid the perception of growing lawlessness. Indeed, he argues: "We need to make the investment climate more stable. Indonesians need to guarantee stability and the rule of law. I would want to improve the enforcement and implementation of our laws. They have to be applied in a consistent manner."

Still, Wiranto's candidacy and its success have perplexed much of the international community. Meidyatama Suryodiningrat, a political analyst, explains: "Foreigners, and especially Australians and Americans, don't seem to understand how little Timor registers on the minds of Indonesians. We've faced countless other crises - in Ambon, in Poso and now in Aceh. These conflicts matter a great deal more to Indonesians. The outside world is fixated on Timor. They ignore the extent to which someone like Wiranto is actually quite popular domestically."

Certainly, his well-funded and professionally run campaign has managed to generate a surprising amount of political heat. Long known for his good looks, calm authority and Javanese understatement, Wiranto has surprised his countrymen with his readiness to hit the ground and press the flesh. He has even become head of a large stallholders' association, and launched a CD of his own songs, entitled For You My Indonesia.

The popular outrage at Mr Akbar's acquittal and Ms Megawati's haphazard leadership have strengthened Wiranto's position, drawing public attention back to the armed forces, whom the public sees as offering strong leadership and a clear vision for the future. Having spent many years at the heart of Indonesia's power politics, the ex-general has an easy familiarity with the region's issues and its key personalities, unlike Ms Megawati. He has also done his best to assure the country's commercially powerful Chinese community. "I met with them and told them that they possess the same rights as everyone else in the country," he said. "They've been here for many centuries and endured both the sweetness and the bitterness of life in the archipelago."

His views on Islam are similarly open: "Indonesia is the world's largest majority Muslim nation. However, that doesn't mean that we should force the faith on others. We are committed to our multireligious heritage."

Indonesia's democracy is so new it defies easy explanation. Still, Wiranto's continuing presence in the Golkar nomination race and Tutut's vigorous campaigning serves to indicate Indonesia's clamour for leadership in the mould of Suharto. While most Indonesians would not want to return to the authoritarianism of the "new order", the security and prosperity offered under Suharto's leadership remains a powerful allure.

Karim Raslan is a lawyer and writer based in Kuala Lumpur.


Agence France Presse March 3, 2004

Indonesian presidential hopeful Wiranto to turn to farming if bid fails


Retired Indonesian general Wiranto said Wednesday he would become a farmer if his bid to contest the presidential election failed.

The former armed forces chief added that he would have "no problem" if the Golkar party did not select him as its candidate in an April convention.

"If it fails, it's okay. I will resort to my earlier plan. I am learning to become a corn farmer in my wife's home town," he was quoted by Detikcom online news as saying.

Wiranto is one of six hopefuls seeking the party's nomination for the country's first direct presidential election on July 5.

Analysts say Golkar chief Akbar Tanjung is strongly placed to secure the nomination after winning an appeal against a graft conviction last month.

Wiranto has had his own legal problems. He has been indicted in East Timor for crimes against humanity during the territory's bloody breakaway from Indonesia in 1999.

East Timorese prosecutors accuse the general of failing to punish or prevent crimes committed by those under his control. He says he did his best to prevent bloodshed.

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