Thu, 04 Dec 2003

Tutut may join presidential race

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja and Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Former president Soeharto's eldest daughter Siti "Tutut" Hardiyanti Rukmana has been asked to run for the presidency in next year election, a move that could pave the way for the return of the old forces onto the country's political stage.

Concern for the Nation Functional Party (PKPB) chairman Gen. (ret) Raden Hartono asked Tutut on Wednesday to become his party's sole torch bearer, claiming that people across the country wanted her to run.

"People from Aceh to Papua want Mbak Tutut to run," said Hartono, who once served as information minister during Soeharto's 32 years of iron-fisted leadership.

The PKPB is one of the six new parties declared eligible to contest the legislative elections on April 5, 2004. The party must get five percent of the total vote, or three percent of the seats in the House of Representatives, before it can field a candidate in the country's first ever direct presidential election in July.

Tutut, once groomed by Soeharto to take over the national leadership, did not immediately accept the invitation, saying that her abilities had not been tested yet.

"It is not easy to become president. It is a tough job. I have to see whether I am good enough and whether the people want me to lead them," Tutut said in words reminiscent of her father's to the cheering crowd, which seemed to have forgotten that the country deposed her father from the presidency just five years ago after more than three decades in power.

Should the 54-year old businesswoman and former Golkar leader accept the offer, she will end up competing with President Megawati Soekarnoputri, a daughter of founding president Sukarno. Megawati has been renominated by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan).

Tutut served as a Golkar deputy chairwoman from 1993 through 1998.

Her appointment as social affairs minister in 1998, along with Soeharto's crony Muhammad "Bob" Hassan as trade and industry minister, was one of the factors that stirred massive protests across the country that led to the downfall of Soeharto on May 20, 1998.

It was Tutut who held Soeharto's hand and escorted him to his car after announcing his resignation from the presidency.

Soon after Soeharto's resignation, Tutut and her siblings, as well as their cronies, faced criminal charge of corruption for allegedly amassing enormous wealth during Soeharto's decades in power.

Tutut's younger brother, Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra, is currently serving a 15-year jail term in the maximum security penitentiary of Nusa Kambangan, Central Java, for masterminding the killing of one of the Supreme Court judges who sent him to jail for corruption.

Only recently, the Attorney General's Office issued a ruling halting investigation of alleged defrauding by Tutut of US$31.9 million belonging to state-owned oil company Pertamina.

The Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency (BPPN) has also declared her to be a cooperative debtor after she settled the debts owed by Yama Bank to the state.

Tutut refused to be interviewed by the press after addressing members of the PKPB, and left the venue immediately after she delivered her speech.

Meanwhile, Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung said Wednesday that the move by the PKPB to nominate Tutut would not affect Golkar.

Akbar said the PKPB must win at least 5 percent of the vote or three percent of the seats in the House of Representatives to be able to field Tutut in the presidential election.

"To nominate is a party's right. But, every party must fulfill the requirements before nominating a candidate to run in the presidential elections," he told the press here.

Akbar added that his party would not be affected by the nomination of Tutut because Golkar's supporters were loyal voters.

"I am convinced that Hartono's maneuver won't affect Golkar," he said.