The emergence of Tutut as a presidential candidate

Posted by Admin on Tuesday, 9 December 2003 | Opini

The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Tue, 12/09/2003 12:32 PM

Sayidiman Suryohadiprojo, Former Governor, National Resilience Institute (Lemhanas), Jakarta

General R. Hartono, former Army Chief of Staff and presently the chairman of the PKPB Party, last week announced Siti Hardijanti Rukmana, or Tutut, President Soeharto’s eldest daughter, as the PKPB’s presidential candidate.

Although the close relationship between Hartono and Tutut is public knowledge, many were very surprised by the announcement. As with other parties, Hartono as the party’s chairman was expected to be his party’s presidential candidate.

Perhaps not a few people have been surprised to learn that only five years after their father’s resignation and the start of the Reform Movement, a member of the Soeharto family has the courage to return to politics. Not just politics, but actually competing in the presidential election! What is happening now indicates some home truths that the Indonesian public should take into consideration.

First, Tutut’s reappearance in the political world must be seen as a failure on the part of the Reform Movement to achieve its objectives. Hartono would not dare to gamble the future of his party if he was not convinced that many people in Indonesia feel very nostalgic for to the relatively stable situation under the Soeharto regime.

He appealed to all these people to join his party and support Tutut in her bid for the presidency so that the stability of the New Order could be reestablished. Although Tutut stated that she had not yet confirmed her acceptance of the nomination, the fact that she and her husband were present during the nomination indicates that she does not disapprove of the request.

It is indeed public knowledge that for some time many people, especially fishermen and farmers, are longing for security and better conditions for them to make a living. Although they did not earn very much under the New Order government, fishermen and farmers at least felt their livelihoods were secure. Today even fishermen in the Pulau Seribu area, an area quite close to the nation’s capital city, are very often attacked and robbed of their entire day’s catch. They say that things like that would never have happen when Soeharto was president.

Because Soeharto was a very active fisherman himself who at least once a week went to sea on a fishing trip, the fishermen say that Soeharto would never have allowed them to be disturbed and robbed. The same feeling can be found in the countryside where farmers today feel that the government does not understand them and their daily problems. Very different from Soeharto, who could talk with farmers about their problems as he really knew about them — often even better than his minister of agriculture.

These sentiments are not only becoming stronger in Java or around Jakarta, but are developing in other areas also. This is only possible because the Reform Movement, with all its idealistic objectives, has not been able to bring changes that have benefited the majority of the people, in particular those in the countryside and along the coast.

However, this does not mean that Tutut, as Soeharto’s daughter, will be able to deliver the same positive results as her father. On the contrary, she is widely seen as one of the causes behind the growth of the rampant collusion, corruption and nepotism that negated all the positive sides of his 30-year-long leadership. However, nostalgic people are not thinking that far back as they just want a solution to their present problems of insecurity and instability.

It will be very interesting to see whether Tutut can put the incumbent President under pressure. She will first have to prove that she can garner more popularity than the other candidates, especially Amien Rais and Soesilo Bambang Yudoyono (SBY). So far no pollsters have included Tutut in their questionnaires. It is therefore not clear whether Tutut’s nomination has had any significant impact on the race so far.

If Tutut’s past political activities have some influence on her present reappearance, very interesting developments are possible. In the past Tutut was very active in promoting people who were close to her. These were not only Golkar people, but some were people who are now active in the Muslim-based parties. It is very possible that these people in the past were positioning themselves close to Tutut based entirely on opportunistic reasons, namely because of her position close to Soeharto as the decision-maker.

But if some of them are considering other factors, like those who are now members of Hartono’s PKPB, it is not impossible that even today they will be willing to support Tutut. If that happens, the Islamic parties will lose many more supporters than they have so far admitted. It is worth noticing in this regard that according a polling institute, the LSI, Muslim voters seem to be more interested in voting for nationalist rather than Islamic parties.

The speculation by some political observers that the members of TNI families will support Tutut en masse cannot be accepted. Of course, those in the TNI who had outstanding careers because of Tutut’s support will repay their debts and take their family members with them. However, the majority of the TNI did not gain special favors from Soeharto and his family. Some were even disadvantaged by unfair decisions on the part of Soeharto. These people will certainly not be influenced by Tutut’s candidacy. Most members of TNI families will be more inclined to take a stance based upon their present interests.

Although Tutut’s reemergence in the political arena today is a very interesting development, the implications will only begin to become apparent after some polls have been take regarding her popularity vis-a-vis the other candidates. Only if she proves to be in the same popularity league as Amien Rais and Soesilo Bambang Yudoyono will her entry into the presidential race have any relevance to the upcoming presidential elections.

But it is worth mentioning that Tutut as a person can be more active and communicative than President Megawati Soekarnoputri. Many people say that she can be quite charming. Her other strong point is her family’s wealth, a factor that is very important in Indonesia’s political world. The question of whether Tutut has the leadership qualities that the nation needs to achieve progress and prosperity is difficult to answer.

In a discussion with some international business people before Soeharto’s resignation, the late Prof. Sumitro Djojohadikusumo tipped the president’s daughter as a possible successor to her father. However, that was not the writer’s position back then and it is certainly not today.

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