Suharto's youngest son in new bid to enter Indonesian politics

Mr Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra, son of former president Suharto, hitting a gong at the opening of the Berkarya Party national meeting last weekend, when he was voted party chairman. Berkarya aims to win 80 Parliament seats in next year's election, a
Mr Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra, son of former president Suharto, hitting a gong at the opening of the Berkarya Party national meeting last weekend, when he was voted party chairman. Berkarya aims to win 80 Parliament seats in next year's election, and is trying to capitalise on Mr Suharto's legacy.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA • The youngest son of former Indonesian president Suharto, Mr Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra, is making a new push to launch a career in politics at the helm of a party that believes it can cash in on his late father's legacy.

Mr Suharto, who ruled Indonesia with an iron fist for 32 years, was brought down by protests in 1998, amid accusations of vast corruption and nepotism benefiting his family and cronies.

Nonetheless, family members have made repeated attempts to get into politics, often seeking to tap into nostalgia about the unity and security under Mr Suharto's government, which was backed by a military that crushed any sign of revolt.

"The vision and mission of this party is to prepare an alternative option for the 2019 elections," Mr Badaruddin Andi Picunang, acting secretary-general of the Berkarya Party, said in an interview at its Jakarta headquarters.

Many people still yearn for the stability and the robust economic growth and development, at least in the earlier decades, of the Suharto era, said Mr Badaruddin.

"But now we see killings everywhere, pickpockets and religious leaders attacked," he said.

Mr Tommy echoed this theme in a news conference after being elected chairman of Berkarya, which means "working" in Bahasa Indonesia, at a party meeting last weekend in the city of Solo.

"It is impossible for us to return to the New Order; it has become part of history," said the 55-year-old, referring to his father's government.

"But what we want to develop and continue are the good things that were carried out by the New Order," he said, highlighting Mr Suharto's rolling five-year development plans.

Berkarya has an ambitious target of winning 80 seats, or about 14 per cent of the 575 seats in Parliament. It is mostly being funded by Mr Tommy and associates, according to Mr Badaruddin.

A former racing driver with a playboy reputation, Mr Tommy made a fortune under his father's powerful patronage.

He was sentenced in 2002 to 15 years in jail for paying a hitman to gun down and kill a Supreme Court judge who had convicted him in a graft case. His term was later reduced on appeal and by remission, and he was released in 2007.

In his speech in Solo, Mr Tommy said those who had been convicted and had served their sentence, like himself, had the same rights as anyone else.

Many of the members of Berkarya are former members of Golkar, his father's old political machine. His sister Siti Hediati has stuck by Golkar and is an MP.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 18, 2018, with the headline 'Suharto's youngest son in new bid to enter Indonesian politics'. Print Edition | Subscribe