Southeast Asia

Indonesia's First Man
By Bill Guerin

JAKARTA - Taufik Kiemas, often dubbed "Mr Megawati", the husband of Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri, turns out to be even more enigmatic than the Silent Lady herself.

Megawati appears to dislike the day-to-day business of politics, but Taufik is a natural politician and, as a legislator in Megawati's Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), his ability to mend fences and build coalitions with potentially hostile political factions has been crucial to Megawati's presidency.

Taufik married Megawati in 1973, two years after her first husband, Indonesian navy pilot Lieutenant Surendro Supjarso, went missing on a routine flight over Irian Jaya and following the annulment of her hasty two-week-long second marriage to an Egyptian diplomat.

Taufik's rise to fame is down to his business acumen and success, political clout, and a network of friends in high places, and he has used his position as the president's husband to wield more power within the party.

Taufik was born in 1942 in Palembang, South Sumatra, and, asked about the trend for top positions in state banks and security positions to go to natives of his home town, told one interviewer, "It's just a coincidence [the Palembang mafia] but, yes, our sense of brotherhood is very strong. [US President George W] Bush is like that too with people from Texas, right? Do people call it the Texas mafia?"

Nonetheless, the June appointment of the new army commander-in-chief, former Strategic Reserve (Kostrad) commander Lieutenant-General Ryamizard Ryacudu, the son-in-law of former vice president Try Sutrisno, was said to be largely due to Taufik's lobbying.

The family of former president Sukarno, Megawati's father, was blacklisted from doing business under Suharto and Taufik dutifully used profits from his business activities to support Megawati's struggle for political survival as the figurehead of the opposition movement.

Surjadi (who led the PDI in the Suharto days) fell foul of the New Order regime when he had the gall to call for a limited presidential term and an end to corruption. The government refused to recognize Surjadi's re-election as PDI chairman in 1993, paving the way for Taufik to lobby successfully for Megawati to take over leadership of the party.

Under Megawati's leadership, the popularity of PDI increased exponentially, but the government engineered her ouster from the party leadership in 1996 and PDI split into two factions: one pro-Megawati and the other pro-Suharto.

When Suharto finally stood down in May 1998, both Megawati's and Taufik's time had come. Amid the political and economic chaos of the time, Mrs Megawati rose to greater prominence and Mr Megawati piggybacked all the way to an increase in his fortunes.

The government-recognized PDI won a tiny 3 percent of the vote in the 1997 general election, but two years later, at the expense of Golkar, Suharto's relentless all-conquering political machine, Megawati's PDI faction, renamed PDI-P, won the June 1999 general election, although she lost the subsequent presidential race to Abdurrahman Wahid after immense pressure from those who did not want a woman to lead the country.

After the election of Megawati as vice president in October 1999, attention soon began to focus on Taufik's business dealings. He was appointed by his wife to head senior government ministers on trip to Beijing last December to hold talks with Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji and negotiate a US$13 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) deal between the two countries.

Critics who said it was totally improper for a legislator, let alone the husband of the president, to lead a ministerial delegation slammed the move at the time. They warned that the appointment of Kiemas as a "government envoy" would undermine the credibility of Megawati at home and abroad.

This particular bird came home to roost only last week with the announcement that Australia had won the contract to supply China's Guangdong province with LNG for the next quarter of a century.

Golkar Party legislator Priyo Budi Santoso said that the government made a major miscalculation when it appointed Kiemas to lead the official team that visited China and that Taufik's involvement was seen as undiplomatic by the Chinese. Sector analysts, however, suggest that Australia won the bid because of a more competitive price, the freedom from risk of supply being disrupted by political turmoil and the Indonesian government's poor lobbying performance.

Golkar, though, has already chosen the scapegoat. "The loss of the contract is a big mistake and I assumed the failure was also caused by Taufik Kiemas' involvement," Santoso thundered.

Local media predict that Kiemas may now find himself blacklisted from further involvement in government business affairs even if Golkar does not use the failed bid to gain political leverage against the ruling PDI-P.

In any event, Taufik's mission must have done some good, as China diplomatically awarded a consolation prize, albeit only one-eighth the size of the Guangdong contract, to supply a second Chinese LNG terminal to be constructed in southeastern province of Fujian when it starts importing gas in 2006-07.

Taufik has also been accused, though without any tangible proof or charges being laid against him, of involvement in a wide range of projects tainted with corruption. He is reported to have made deals in the $2.3 billion Jakarta Outer Ring Road (JORR) project; the $2.4 billion double-track railway project from Merak on the tip of West Java to Banyuwangi on the tip of East Java; the $23 billion trans-Kalimantan highway; and the $1.7 billion trans-Papua highway.

The JORR project allegation is perhaps the most serious, given the political sensitivity of anything to do with Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso, who was the Jakarta military commander when troops and state-sponsored thugs attacked the PDI headquarters on July 27, 1996, after the ouster of Megawati, sparking deadly riots.

On the other hand, there has never been even a whiff of scandal around Megawati and, on becoming president, she announced sternly that her relatives and family members had been told not to engage in any forms of corruption, collusion and nepotism, locally refered to as KKN.

Taufik is noted for his quip "I only own a few gas stations, that's all". These gasoline stations (12 of them) were given to Megawati and her husband in the early 1980s by state-owned oil and gas company Pertamina in what was said to be an effort by Suharto to dissuade the couple from getting involved in politics.

However, the profits were a major source of finance for the party and, together with Megawati's inheritance have made the pair among the richest of the political elite, at least in the rankings of declared wealth. In a mandatory declaration of wealth to the Audit Commission on State Officials' Wealth in April 2001, Megawati and her husband claimed Rp 59.8 billion ($5.98 million) worth of personal assets.

Taufik's political plays cover a wide spectrum and he has a high standing in the party, but there have been some strange bedfellows in the recent past. Last year he welcomed Habib Husein Al-Habsyi, the blind Muslim cleric who was jailed for 12 years for the 1985 bombing of the Central Java Borobudur Buddhist temple, to a series of gatherings at the vice presidential residence.

Given that Muslim extremists had been vehemently opposed to Megawati's presidential bid in 1999, Taufik's befriending of such a Muslim radical raises questions over where he and senior party figures stand on the Islam-nationalist front.

A recent informal meeting between Taufik and Wahid could have been just damage control in the face of sharp criticism of Megawati for her visit to East Timor and the alleged misuse of the BANPRES (Presidential Assistance Fund) for military housing.

On the other hand, while highlighting Taufik's ability to build coalitions with potentially hostile political factions that have been critical of Megawati's presidency, it raised the question of whether the secular, nationalist PDI-P is being pushed by Taufik and other party leaders into some new marriage of convenience with the main players in a fast-growing Islamic political movement.

Characteristically, Wahid played down the idea of any such ploy. "We just made jokes," he said, though adding: "I see this meeting as part of an on-going major process, namely the play between the contending forces of the Islamic and nationalist groups."

There is ample evidence of struggle for leadership within the ruling "Struggle" Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI-P), amid differences of views between the Islamic and nationalist camps.

Taufik and Megawati shared a passion for the massive tome, Di Bawah Bendera Revolusi (Under the Flag of the Revolution) that is a collection of the writings and speeches of her father. Sukarno's idealism integrated "Nationalism, Islamism, Marxism" as the basis of Indonesian unity and integrity.

Taufik has frequently said he idolized Sukarno, as, of course, does his wife.

Last month Hasyim Muzadichairman of the vast Nahdlatul Ulama, a Muslim organization once led by Wahid, strongly denied that the NU received a handout of Rp 3 billion from Taufik for its national conference.

The so-called Poros Tenggah (Center Axis) was dreamed up by Wahid and Amien Rais in 1999 to bridge the gap between the Muslims and nationalists, but Wahid remains embittered with his onetime deputy and represents a threat to the political standing of PDI-P.

In fact, during Megawati's 13-month reign, Taufik has been associated with, or in some instances only met with, leaders of the militant Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI), retired former military commander General Wiranto, former intelligence official General Hendropriyono (now State Intelligence Body chief), and the notorious Yapto Suryosumarno, the ex-Pemuda Pancasila chairman often dubbed the undisputed godfather of the nation's gangsters and a close friend of the Suharto children.

The future for Mr Megawati? Taufik Kiemas is a consummate survivor. He was thrown in jail twice after Suharto's overthrow of Megawati's father, and remembers thinking every night that he would be killed. His detractors and enemies portray him as a carpetbagger, but Taufik says he is only a democrat who has paid the price for his beliefs.

These beliefs are not worn on his sleeve. Megawati is Javanese and shy but Taufiq is from Sumatra, where issues are usually dealt with bluntly, and whatever happens the next two years is likely to see the rise and rise of Taufik Kiemas, the politician.

More and more Taufik gives the impression of not wanting to play second fiddle to his wife, but he will need to exercise great caution now that the knives are out over the China deal and Golkar has a cause to espouse yet again.

Despite some similarities between Megawati and former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, both daughters of populist leaders ousted by the military and both of whom rose to power on nationalist pro-democracy platforms as champions of the poor, the fate of their husbands is likely to remain strikingly different.

Benazir's husband, Asif Ali Zadari, was alleged to have made millions of dollars from corrupt deals and kickbacks during her two terms in office, before she was ousted from power in 1996.

Megawati's grip on power, on the other hand, appears rock-solid, with the military underwriting her leadership until the 2004 general election, the recent MPR annual session safely in the bag without any serious problems for the president.

Megawati's opponents may still try to use Taufik's high-profile political and business dealings as a way to weaken the standing of the president and of the PDI-P, but they are unlikely to generate much interest among a public angered and wholly bemused by the failure of all politicians to make good on their promises to the people.

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Aug 17, 2002


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