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The Return of Suharto?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
May 25, 2011

Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra, the son of former Indonesian president Suharto, arrives at the Attorney General's office in Jakarta August 16, 2007.

Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra, the son of former Indonesian president Suharto, arrives at the Attorney General's office in Jakarta August 16, 2007. (Dadang Tri/Courtesy Reuters)

As Asia Sentinel notes today, longtime Indonesian dictator Suharto’s son, “Tommy,” recently won an absurd libel verdict against the magazine of national airline Garuda. In the magazine, an article called Tommy a convicted murderer–a true charge, given that he was convicted nine years ago of ordering the killing of a Supreme Court justice. Nonetheless, the court ordered Garuda magazine to run a full-page apology to Tommy for having allegedly besmirched his reputation.

The Tommy Suharto ruling is one of several signs that the Suharto family still wields enormous power in the country, reflected by the court’s obvious fear of Tommy. The family and its allies still allegedly control enormous sums of wealth, and many Suharto allies are positioning themselves for powerful roles in the next presidential administration.

Despite Indonesia’s strong strides toward democracy and solid economic growth, dissatisfaction with the chaos, violence, and messiness of the reform period has soured many Indonesians on elected President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Partly as a result, nostalgia for the authoritarian period has grown in Indonesia, a trend unfortunately echoed in polls taken in other Asian democracies, including Thailand, Taiwan, and South Korea. A poll of Indonesians released last week showed that former dictator Suharto was now  more popular among the public than Yudhoyono,  and that Indonesians thought “conditions were better” under the former strongman. This, even though Suharto and his family allegedly skimmed billions from the state, harshly repressed opposition movements and outlying provinces like Aceh, and ultimately were largely responsible for Indonesia’s meltdown in the late 1990s.

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