gumun in “Time” Magazine


Source: March 23, 1998 VOL. 151 NO. 11 

As he begins his seventh term as President, Suharto packs his cabinet with political cronies and continues his standoff with the IMF, further raising the stakes for a struggling Indonesia
Here is the crux of Indonesia’s tragedy: Suharto is clearly determined to remain President for as long as it takes to solve Indonesia’s economic crisis. But he does not realize that because of his family’s extensive business interests in almost every sector of the economy, he is part of the problem. “None of the economists around him dare to tell him the truth,” says Buchori. “None has the courage to tell him, ‘No, Pak [Father], you are wrong.'”

“Suharto is difficult to read,” says Notosuwito, who is 13 years younger than the President. “He is never emotional. Now we are seeing trouble, students demonstrating, but Suharto is quiet, searching for a way. If he has already worked it out, he speaks, and everyone is surprised. He himself is never surprised, but he surprises other people.” (In an autobiography published in 1988, Suharto says he lives his life by the mantra of “the three don’ts”: Aja kagetan, aja gumunan, aja dumeh-don’t be startled, don’t be overwhelmed, don’t feel superior.) Notosuwito saw little of his half-brother in his early years, as Suharto was shunted from family to family by his parents, who separated soon after his birth. Shortly after he turned 14, Suharto was moved to a house belonging to a friend of his father’s where he came in contact with a dukun, a mystical healer in the Javanese tradition that would later come to take on great importance in the President’s world view. It is said Suharto still consults with dukuns before major decisions and foreign trips. Even more defining in Suharto’s early years was his military experience: after a short stint as a bank clerk, he joined the Dutch army in 1940, seven days before his 19th birthday. In the space of nine years Suharto belonged to the Dutch army, the Japanese army and finally the anti-Dutch liberation army of Indonesia. Notosuwito’s first memories are of his elder half-brother coming home in uniform during the Japanese occupation in World War II: “He came riding into the village on a horse-it was very rare to see someone on a horse in our village.”

Suharto stood out in the military. “He was a very noble figure,” says Mangun Wijaya, a retired priest in Yogyakarta who fought in the battalion commanded by Suharto in the independence war against the Dutch from 1945 to ’49. “Everyone revered him. He had a good reputation at the front. But he didn’t talk much, he was distant from us, he was someone you had to be afraid of. And don’t forget-he was educated by the Japanese army. He has the ethics of the samurai. They never surrender.”

These days, that may be a liability. Mangun believes Suharto is unable to adjust to the changing realities brought on by the Asian economic crisis. “He saw this Indonesian miracle, so he thinks ‘my way is the right way.’ Suddenly he sees the debacle of Asian economies, and he thinks it is not our fault.” Suharto, he says, chose instead to blame the IMF and international capital. When IMF director Michel Cam-dessus folded his arms over Suharto at the signing agreement in January, Mangun says, “Suharto thought, ‘Now I am in a trap.'” The former priest, who still follows the fate of his ex-battalion commander closely, says Suharto has become increasingly defensive and nervous as more and more emissaries arrive from the IMF, the World Bank, the U.S. government. “Not losing face in a culture of shame, such as we have, is very important,” says Mangun. “To crawl back for a Javanese leader is very hard. Suharto is not an evil person, he is just a very old-fashioned village chief. But I feel sorry for Indonesia. He has misused the nation.”

As people digested the new cabinet lineup over the weekend, concern was growing in Indonesia that the government and the IMF were finding it more and more difficult to locate common ground. There was fear that the IMF would call Suharto’s bluff, walk away from the poker table and suspend its bailout. There was anxiety that Suharto himself could lose patience with the international body and decide to strike out completely on his own, into the uncertain waters of a currency board and the opprobrium of the global financial community. If any of those scenarios should come to pass, Indonesia will find that its difficulties are only just beginning.

-With reporting by David Liebhold/Jakarta and Bruce van Voorst/Washington

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