Mon, 08 Dec 2003

Tutut's comeback may have a boomerang effect: Analyst

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The return of Soeharto's eldest daughter to the political stage may backfire if the issue of the former president's ability to speak, and to face the law for charges of corruption, comes into question, an analyst says.

Daniel Sparingga from the Surabaya-based Airlangga University was referring Sunday to reports quoting a founder of a new political party, which is asking Siti Hadiyanti Rukmana to be its presidential candidate.

The founder, former army chief of staff Gen. (ret) Hartono, had cited his conversation on Nov. 24 with Soeharto, conveying the desire of "the people" and mainly members of his party that the businesswoman "come to the forefront."

Soeharto, he said, had replied, "Think about it first." Earlier this year the Attorney General's Office said it could no longer continue legal proceedings against Soeharto, who was charged of embezzling state funds of some US$500 million, citing results of a medical examination. Doctors had confirmed his inability to speak, citing among other reasons, minor strokes.

"I guess it will also be 'a boomerang' for them as they said that Tutut's nomination was due to 'an order' from Soeharto," Daniel said, "The public -- who previously 'pardoned' him (given his reported health condition) -- will again ask whether he seriously faces health problems. And if he does not, we will have to continue processing him before the law."

Tutut has yet to officially respond to the request from the Concern for the Nation Functional Party (PKPB), one of the parties declared eligible to contest next year's elections.

She has told the press that she wants to be judged objectively, not as "Soeharto's daughter".

Daniel shared observations that the comeback of Tutut, popular also for her display of concern for the poor, is an indication that the New Order has far from collapsed since Soeharto quit the presidency in 1998. Tutut was a former minister of people's welfare.

Despite Hartono's claim, former president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid said Sunday that Tutut would not likely get her father's blessing as a presidential candidate. Gus Dur also once appeared to be Tutut's political ally,

"I know pak Harto well. He is the kind of man who will never do something if he is not sure of the results," Gus Dur said as quoted by news-wire, while attending an international dialog on diversity in Bali.

"And I believe that Tutut will not run for the presidency unless she has talked to me about the plan," he added, claiming that "we were once so close to each other."

Late in 1990s, Gus Dur along with Tutut toured several Islamic boarding schools belonging to his organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), across East Java. Gus Dur had said that Tutut "is the future leader of the country." He earlier chaired the 40-million strong NU, the country's largest Muslim organization.

Hartono's party has to win at least 5 percent of total votes in the upcoming legislative election, scheduled for April 5, 2004, or 3 percent of seats at the legislature to be able to field a candidate in the presidential election scheduled for July.

Meanwhile President Megawati Soekarnoputri seems to be remaining upbeat about her chances. Her husband Taufik Kiemas said Tutut could not be considered a competitor to the President.

"She (Megawati) remains optimistic. She was appointed by her party to run for the presidency in 2004 and thus there was no way to back down," Taufik said.

Surveys conducted by a number of research agencies suggest that support for Megawati has ebbed, but she remains the strongest candidate among presidential aspirants.

Taufik brushed aside suggestions that Tutut's candidacy was due to the failure of Megawati's administration in pursuing the reform movement.

"People should be fair in appraising the performance of the current administration and not draw conclusions just like that," he said.