Saturday, June 03, 2006
  Richard Parry has been in Indonesia.

The author of In The Time Of Madness, which has now been reviewed twice in Jakartass, has recently left Indonesia. He was initially here for the photogenic eruption of Gunung Merapi. As journalist's luck would have it, he was handily placed for last weekend's earthquake and he has written quite movingly about it in his blog. Unfortunately we couldn't meet up for a beer ~ he emailed me from the departure lounge at Soekarno-Hatta Airport ~ so until now I've been unable to propose the following book project to him.

Both Miko, my 'guest' reviewer, and myself would like a bit more substance to the reportage on affairs here. Since starting Jakartass, I've learnt more than expected about this country, but many aspects remain a mystery and most relate to the personalities behind the headlines. Many of the major figures have been around for as long, if not longer!, as I have, cropping up regularly in Yosef Ardi's blog, thanks to their continued involvement in the business community.

When documenting the events of May '98, I asked for information about a son-in-law of Suharto reputed to be in the People's Forum calling for Suharto to step down.

A correspondent replied: I believe the son in law you're talking about was Prabowo Subianto (married to Mamiek, the youngest daughter. Now divorced.) He was previously the head of the feared special forces, Kopassus, and was now head of Kostrad, the Strategic Reserve.

I'm not sure of any People's Forum you mentioned, but there was a Majelis Amanat Rakyat which was primarily a block supporting Amien Rais I'm not sure if Prabowo was ever a named/official member of this forum but he was good friends with Amien and a number of his colleagues were also very close including Mohammed Amin Rais, chairman of the Indonesian Supreme People's Consultative Council (a different guy), and others. It's also worth noting that Prabowo's father, the late Soemitro Djojohadikusumo, was also a member of MAR (People's Message Council).

Other prominent members included Goenawan Mohamad (founder of Tempo magazine), Adnan Buyung Nasution (co-founder of the Legal Aid Foundation), Arifin Panigoro (on the Forbes Rich List), Rizal Ramli (first Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy post-Suharto) etc.

Also while I've no intention of undermining these big guys, some of the much more important names were not officially aligned with them for many reasons. Most notably was the late Nurcholis Madjid (a Muslim intellectual) who was probably the only outsider who had any chance to directly meet Soeharto and was also summoned to the palace and I believe had a hand in orchestrating the most realistic resignation model.

Just a short anecdote here: on the night of the 20th, well past midnight, most of those people and many others including Fadel Mohammad, Iqbal Assegaf, Ginanjar Kartasasmita (Suharto's Coordinating Minister for Economy and Finance), Emha Ainun Nadjib (Muslim poet and "man of the people"), Haidar Bagir (Islamic educationalist), etc. were present in Hotel Nusantara - just behind HI (Hotel Indonesia) - and were notified of Soeharto's decision to resign.

The atmosphere was euphoric if not still tense.
Amien Rais was among them who wanted to announce this right away since many journalists were camping in the Mandarin across the road. Nurcholis was one calming voice to tell them that they should let Soeharto announce it himself, to allow him to save face. If he changed his mind before the official announcement, everybody could be charged with treason and God knows what would happen then. Among the elite especially, nobody would ever doubt Soeharto's willingness to use force if neccessary, so it was crucial. Nurcholis made this call, I believe from Cendana where he had just met with the old man and they were just waiting for Yusril to finish writing the announcement.

Other notables also included of course Gus Dur. The NU
(headed by Gus Dur) vs Muhamadiah (headed by Amien Rais) rift was what kept Gus Dur out. He would consider that Amien was too full of rhetoric and lacked the tact needed to deal realistically with Soeharto. Many were inclined to side with Gus Dur on this - including Nurcholis, Prabowo, Emha etc. Gus Dur was also on very good terms with Tutut/Prabowo - his blessing in his insanity was that this man could stand with everyone, but he wasn't really as nutcake as he is now.

If it weren't for Gus Dur, Megawati would've disappeared from the scene, but Gus Dur lent a lot of credibility after the PDI debacle and despite Soeharto's crackdown on PDI, Megawati largely survived. She was notably absent during the May crisis but really that's because she was just lame. Emha Ainun Nadjib was also playing a critical role in talking to Soeharto. I believe these three (Nurcholis, Gus Dur, Emha) were probably the three most important people as a calming influence behind the scene as all three had very, very extensive access to Cendana despite their very public opposition to Soeharto. All three were among the very few civilians - non military/Golkar/cabinet/family - that were accepted and consulted by Soeharto during the last 24 hours of his days in office.

This might not be of much interest to non-Indonesianphiles, but toss in the Suharto family foibles ~ how did Madame Tien die? Did eldest daughter Tutut really snipe at her former secretary and reputed lover when she got married? What's that little shit, Sigit the grandson, up to these days? Was Amien Rais really a friend of Saddam Hussein ~ and you have all the ingredients of a major South American soap opera

Are you interested in writing it Richard?

Recommended further reading:
AsiaWeek: Prabowo the scapegoat?
George J. Aditjondro: Financing Human Rights Violations in Indonesia.
Time Magazine: Suharto Inc.
Yosef Ardi: daily updates mainly on the business/political/miltary connections.
Foreign Fields Forever by Dave Jardine. Absolutely no connection to the above except that today I lent Dave my copy of In The Time Of Madness and he'd like to find a (re-)publisher of Foreign Fields. Offers anyone?


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