A tale of two political clans – the Marcos and Suhartos


Two eras: Marcos and Suharto while they were in power.

THE landslide victory of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, the namesake son of the Philippines’ late dictator, in the May 9 presidential election has prompted questions over the fate of the Suharto clan in Indonesia, 24 years after the late president was toppled.

Suharto family members have made repeated attempts in the past to get into politics, often seeking to tap into nostalgia about the perceived security and political order under Suharto’s military regime.

These attempts have been fruitless – and all things being equal, it is unlikely that the family will regain its former clout, analysts say.

“After Suharto was removed from office, almost all of his supporters surrendered, and were unable to re-establish a political footing. Despite many attempts to convince the public, it was, and is still, very hard to defend Suharto’s family name. Therefore, up to now, they have been unable to occupy key positions,” Firman Noor, a senior researcher at the National Research and Innovation Agency said.

During his last days in power, Suharto appeared to groom his children for political leadership. In 1988, when he was appointed president for the fifth time by the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), his children were seen at the inauguration ceremony, an event regarded as symbolic of the family’s attempt to consolidate its power.

Such speculation was not entirely far-fetched. Four years later, Hutomo “Tommy” Mandala Putra, Siti Hardijanti Rukmana – popularly known as Tutut Suharto – and Bambang Trihatmodjo were appointed as MPR members after joining the Golkar Party, the political machine that propped up the Suharto regime.

Tutut, who served as Golkar’s deputy chairperson from 1993 to 1998, was even appointed as social affairs minister in Suharto’s final and short-lived Cabinet.

The reform movement that started in 1998 and which led to their father’s resignation destroyed the political ambition of the Suharto clan.

With strong anti-Suharto sentiment in the early days of the Reform Era, Suharto’s children were immediately purged from the Golkar leadership.

They were only able to return to the party a decade after the end of their father’s political career. While graffiti and memes about New Order nostalgia – commonly expressed in the phrase which means, “Hi, how are you? It was better in my time, eh?) with a picture of a smiling Suharto waving in the background, began to spring up in recent years, the Suharto clan, also known as the Cendana family, still struggled to make its political comeback.

‘Reselling’ Suharto Political analysts have said that the unlikelihood of the family’s return as a major political force was because the family had clung to the idea that the New Order was a powerful marketing gimmick and thus chose to present themselves as its political heirs.

“Unlike Bongbong, who has tried to portray himself as someone who is somewhat different from his father, Suharto’s family tried to resell Suharto’s era from the get-go,” Firman said.

“This has not worked well, as the public’s collective memory of the New Order is still strong.” — The Jakarta Post/ANN

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