Fri, 29 Sep 2000

Verdict on Soeharto may cause 'greater unrest'

JAKARTA (JP): Observers sounded a warning in the wake of the court's decision not to pursue the trial against former president Soeharto, saying that it could spark greater unrest across the country.

Political analyst J. Soedjati Djiwandono said on Thursday the turn of events could have a damaging political impact on Abdurrahman's administration.

"The consequences for Gus Dur is very bad. This is a great political defeat for his administration as it has failed to bring Soeharto to trial," Soedjati told The Jakarta Post after attending a workshop on regional autonomy here.

"Legally, he (Soeharto) is free to go. Like it or not, people have to accept that decision because the law and the court have ruled it".

"But we are now facing unintended consequences such as these outbreaks of violence following the court ruling," he remarked.

Soedjati stressed the need for the government to follow-up this "defeat" by taking firm action in other areas to mitigate possible public anger so that people would not lose faith in the law.

Among these actions could be the prompt jailing of Soeharto's youngest son Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra who earlier this week was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment after being found guilty in a scandal involving a Rp 95.4 billion (US$11.2 million) land exchange deal with the State Logistics Agency.

"If Tommy was guilty, he should go to prison immediately. Why wait?" Soedjati added.

Political scientist Andi A. Mallarangeng said the court's ruling reflects the condition of the country's legal system.

"Personally I think Soeharto's acquittal reflects that the 'old forces' are still maintaining their grip on power, despite the fact that the former ruler is ill," Andi said.

Meanwhile in Yogyakarta, political observer Riswandha Imawan of Gadjah Mada University also expressed concern saying the decision would only further extend and aggravate the country's existing problems.

"It will make it even more difficult for Gus Dur's government to perform," Riswandha told the Post, while noting the prevailing negative sentiments over the case.

"Such a decision could incite chaos everywhere. Just wait and see," he said.

Riswandha also pointed out that the decision taken in the Soeharto case was another example of the lower court's fear in taking stern decision against the Soeharto family as Tommy was only sentenced at the Supreme Court level.

Riswandha then attacked lawyers defending the former president saying they sacrificed the concept of up holding and nationally respecting the law for the sake of money.

"They (the lawyers) blindly defended him (Soeharto) just for the money," he charged.

Criminal code expert Bambang Purnomo who is also a professor in the School of Law at Gadjah Mada University also lamented the decision and the judges' poor judgment in the case.

Bambang argued that cases against underaged defendants in poor health often continued regardless of their situation, thus the Soeharto trial should have proceeded.

Now that the judges had made their decision, Bambang said the prosecutors should appeal and contest the ruling.

Otherwise they would be considered as weak as the judges, he remarked.

Meanwhile lawyer Dindin S Maolani when asked to comment on the decision, said in Bandung on Thursday that if the court feels that Soeharto is unfit to stand trial, the former president should then be admitted in hospital.

He argued that it was part of the state's responsibility to ensure that those accused of a crime but too ill to stand on trial be given medical treatment to help them recover so that they can be tried.

Dindin also lamented the court's decision to readily concur that Soeharto's medical condition was permanent.

House of Representatives Speaker Akbar Tandjung said in Jakarta that like it or not the court's decision to drop Soeharto's case should be respected since it was based on an examination conducted by a team of independent doctors.

"If Soeharto physically cannot undergo the legal process, how can we force him," Akbar who is also chairman of the Golkar Party contended.

He said all parties, especially the government, should explain to the public why the former president could not be tried.

"It's our duty to formally explain it to the public and the public should accept that," he remarked.(edt/jun/swa)