IIAS | IIAS Newsletter Online | No. 17 | Regions |South East Asia

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Political Hypocrisy: An Indonesian Way

Two shocking events which were intensely upsetting to Soeharto before he decided to withdraw from the Indonesian Presidency on May 21, 1998, were the appeal from the Parliament/Peoples' Assembly that Soeharto should step down followed by the statement of withdrawal of fourteen Cabinet Ministers in the following week. Both surprising proposals were sent to him by persons who had always been his loyal followers, just at the moment when he was being pushed into a critical corner by his political opponents.

By Amri Marzali


The first proposal was sent by Harmoko, the Chairman of Parliament/People's Assembly, who was once Soeharto's brilliant and loyal cadre, and the second came from Ginanjar Kartasasmita, the Co-ordinating Minister of Economics, Finance, and Development, who once used to be the loyal protégé of Soedarmono, former vice-president and close friend of Soeharto. They were all president's men, who metamorphized into president's foes.

The proposals deflated Soeharto, filling him with a sense of hopelessness. He seemed to be so isolated, deserted by men who used to respect him, hanging on his every word. It seemed that Soeharto had reached a nadir of loneliness and disappointment. It must have been similar to the way he felt two years before when he was left alone after the death of his wife. His spoiled children, who had frequently undermined their father's dignity, and were unable to resist the temptation to accumulate wealth for themselves by manipulating their father's position, were powerless to help their father out of the crisis, or consoling Soeharto's wounded and disillusioned heart.
This is a tragedy of a human being, who had become enthralled by his worldly grandeur. He thought that Indonesia was well and truly in his grasp, and was blind and deaf to people's cries of misery. He was able to order the poor to tighten their belts while he and his children accumulated billions of dollars by collusion, nepotism, and manipulation. He kept quiet when right-wing Indonesians - mostly Javanese - slaughtered hundreds of thousands of their Communist brothers and sisters in 1966 when he was the most powerful general in Indonesia. He had no qualms about ordering his ABRI (military) machine to 'punch' the critical, and intellectually alert young Indonesian students, sending some of them to jail. Others were kidnapped and yet others are believed to have been killed. Soeharto is now bearing the burden of his own sins.

Not Napoleon

Up to 10 July, 1998, when the extraordinary congress of the ruling party, Golkar, was opened (more than a month after the fall of Soeharto), many people in Indonesia still believed that Soeharto would stage a come-back. Now, they say, he keeps silent, lying prone like a soldier. Many people believe that Soeharto's followers are still roaming around, waiting for the right time to make a grab for power and restoring Soeharto to his former position. Soeharto's enemies will begin to count down the days before they are doomed to hell.
This angst is unreal - it will never happen. Soeharto is not Napoleon. He is too old for ordinary men to muster the energy and plan the strategy needed for this sort of goal. His kidneys are failing, and he does not have the heart to carry out such a huge task. Next year, or even in the next months, he will need a stick to totter around.
Nonetheless, the most important factor, of which many people in Indonesia are not aware, is that Soeharto has never attracted fanatical followers. Soeharto is not Soekarno. Soeharto built his gang by the system of the 'whip and carrot'. You obey me, adore me, and give me no trouble, and you are eligible for a carrot. Then you will be rewarded with a strategic so-called 'wet position' in the government structure (the term used to refer to a governmental position, which can be manipulated by its holder to produce wealth for himself by collusion, corruption, and nepotism). If, however, you choose the opposite cause, you will be whipped, or sent to jail or, at very the worst, to hell. The way Soeharto built his mass following is highly reminiscent of the Big Man system in Melanesia, or the Tonowi system among the Kapauku in Irian Jaya. This patron-client system of political recruitment will produce a blurred, illusive, and non-compact group of clients. The clients will be loyal to the patron only when the patron has something of value for them.

Die by the sword

Soeharto is different from his predecessor, President Soekarno, who drew his followers to him with political ideology, namely: Indonesian nationalism, socialism, self-help, and anti-neocolonialism and neocapitalism. When Soeharto was pushed aside by his opponents, there was no poor lower class mass to defend him, crying the slogan 'pejah gesang nderek Soeharto' (live or die with Soeharto), as it happened to Soekarno.
Soeharto's scenario was very different. At the critical moment the president's men, namely Harmoko, Ginanjar, and Habibie deserted the him. In fact, what dealt the body blow to Soeharto were not the demonstrations organized by the Indonesian students and Amien Rais cum suis against him, but the betrayal of the men who had pretended to be his loyal followers. They were just playing the political game that so characteristic of Soeharto's Indonesia: the strategy of political hypocrisy. Soeharto successfully applied this strategy, only to be struck down by the political hypocrisy of his followers.
As it says in the Bible: 'Those who live by the sword, will die by the sword'. For Soeharto, this phrase should read: 'He who ascends the throne trough hypocrisy, will be cast down from the throne by hypocrisy'. Who would dare to say these days that Harmoko, Ginanjar, and Habibie are not among the heroes of the Reformation Order in Indonesia?
Dr Amri Marzali (Indonesia) was a senior visiting fellow at the IIAS from 15 February to 15 May 1998.

   IIAS | IIAS Newsletter Online | No. 17 | Regions |South East Asia