Perhaps the smiles were bravado. Or perhaps Tommy knows something the rest of us don't about the eventual verdict, which isn't expected for some months. In the meantime, his current quarters are comfortable enough to explain some of his apparent good cheer. His cell, one of three reserved for political prisoners, is cut off from the other 2,383 inmates at the Cipinang prisonthe better for the five-hour conjugal visits with his wife that have received heavy coverage in the Jakarta press. He also enjoys such amenities as a private bathroom, a 21-inch television and air-conditioning. "The air conditioning was the most important," Osmon, Tommy's aide who was in charge of the installation, told the newsweekly Tempo. "It's hot there."
Tommy's trial is one of several designed to take some political heat off President Megawati Sukarnoputri. Dogged at home and abroad by the reputation that she is more interested in cutting ribbons than crafting policy, the daughter of the man who founded Indonesia could badly use a bit of Dad's populist charm in dealing with Indonesia's myriad woes: economic stagnation, religious violence, allegations of terrorist networks, not to mention several secessionist movements. The high profile trials of Tommy Suharto, House Speaker Akbar Tandjung, 18 military officers accused of human rights abuses during East Timor's transition to independence, as well as a handful of ordinary corruption cases have served as symbolic reminders that she stands foror used to, anywayreform and clean governance, long the rallying cry for populist Indonesian politicians. The defendants themselves seem to have been chosen as much for what they representTommy Suharto=Suharto-ism, House Speaker Akbar= Corruptionas for the real charges against them. Megawati had trumpeted the opening of the trials to reavow her administration's commitment to those noble causes. "Some people in our community have lost their pride and have no shame," she told her party supporters last month in Makassar. "They don't want to admit their mistakes."
But the special treatment lavished upon Tommy and other high-profile defendants has reinforced skepticism about those very issues. For too many Indonesians, the trials seem stage-managed, designed to give the appearance of jurisprudence without meting out any real punishment. "I don't see any political will to uphold the law," says National Law Commission member Frans Winarta. "The trials are just moves to dampen public hostility and demands for justice."
Politics as usual? Try justice as unusual politics. House Speaker Akbar, who also heads the former ruling Golkar party, for example makes for a particularly tempting political target. Currently in detention, he faces 20 years in prison for his alleged role in the misuse of $4 million in state money. Critics say Akbar's trial is not part of a crusade against graft but something much shabbier: a maneuver by the President to remove a strong political rival from the scene. With AkbarMegawati's opponent in the 1999 presidential racein prison and preoccupied with a lengthy trial, he is almost certain to be replaced as head of Golkar. And with the party collapsing from internal dissension and other problems, Akbar's successor is likely to spend more time on damage control and less causing headaches for Megawati in parliament.
It's sadly symbolic of the state of Indonesian justice that even if he is convicted and sentenced, Akbar may never actually go to jailnot if the case of Central Bank Governor Syahril Sabirin is any precedent. Syahril was sentenced on March 13 to three years in prison for his role in a banking slush fund scandal, but remains a free man pending an appeal. Absurdly, convicted felon Syahril still goes to work every day at the central bank. Like Akbar, he has refused to step down from his post.
Critics like Bara Hasibuan, a political columnist for Kompas, the nation's largest daily newspaper, say it is the cases the attorney general's office has declined to pursue that expose the current trials as little more than a sop to public opinion. For instance, the $3 billion extended by the central bank to Suharto crony Syamsul Nursalim's troubled business empire in the wake of the 1997 financial crisis remains unexplained, let alone investigated. The Nursalim family has long been closely associated with the President's businessman husband, Taufik Kiemas. Taufik is emerging as the country's second most powerful figure, meeting regularly with senior ministers and even representing Indonesia on trips overseas. His business dealsand his close ties to families like the Nursalimsare drawing increasing fire from the President's critics.
Or take the most famous case of all, the decision not to pursue prosecution of Tommy's father, the ailing ex-dictator who ruled Indonesia for almost three decades before resigning amid bloody street riots in 1998. Megawati's government has chosen not to prosecute a $570 million corruption case against the former autocrat citing his ill health and suggesting that all former leaders should be treated "humanely."
If many Indonesians are skeptical about the chances that the likes of Akbar and Tommy will get impartial trials, there is even deeper cynicism over the likelihood that top military and police bosses will be brought to justice for some of the atrocities they are alleged to have overseen. Even the opening on March 14 of the first in a series of trials against 18 soldiers, civilian officials and militiamen accused of human-rights abuses during East Timor's vote for independence has done little to change that perception. Most of those charged are expendable junior officers, not the generals some have accused of directing the operation. In fact, Megawati has signally failed to prosecute any senior military officersnot those behind the carnage in the East Timor, and not those who ordered snipers to shoot dozens of demonstrating students just before and after the downfall of Suharto in 1998.
"In the past six months there has been no progress on the human-rights front," says Munir, head of the Commission on Missing Persons and Victims of Violence. "With respect to the military the situation has actually gone in reverse." He cites the establishment of military commands in the country's new provinces and a recently passed defense bill that allows the military to dispatch troops without presidential consent as signs of growing military influence. Some see this as Megawati's way of repaying favors to the generals who enabled her smooth transition to power after they grew fed up with the erratic rule of Abdurrahman Wahid. "The military has nothing to fear under Megawati," says Kivlan Zen, a retired general. "She owes them."
And the Indonesian people? Surely, she owes them more than a few show trials.