By Bill Guerin
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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."
ample evidence of struggle for leadership within the
ruling "Struggle" Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI-P),
amid differences of views between the Islamic and
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
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.
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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