On Wealth and Politics
    Category: Column By : Taufik Darusman Read : 1069 Date : Sunday, April 06, 2014 - 10:59:27

    “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.”
    F. Scott Fitzgerald
     
    Since this nation’s birth in 1945, the rich have always been at the periphery of power. During the era of Sukarno, the likes of AgusMusidDasaad, HasyimNing and TeukuMarkam occupied center government stage by maintaining close relations with the nation’s first president. However, a change of power betrayed their lack of political savviness in ways that prevented them from developing their business. None of them, in fact, left a meaningful legacy except for Markam: the Acehnese businessman had donated 28 kg of gold that covers the flame atop Jakarta’s landmark National Monument (Monas).
     
    A new breed of wealthy businessmen emerged after Suharto came to power in the late 1960s, when the nation was on the verge of bankruptcy. With a cash-strapped government in place to manage an economy in the doldrums, Suharto allowed businessmen to play a bigger role in the nation’s development. Perhaps no one epitomized better the close ties between state and business during the Suharto era than LiemSioeLiong, who knew the Army general back in the early 1960s when he was in charge of the Central Java military command.
     
    One illustration of how Suharto took advantage of wealthy businessmen—he saw them merely as beneficiaries of his economic policies—was recounted by JusufWanandi in his book “Shades of Gray: A Political Memoir of Modern Indonesia 1965-1998.” As Wanandi recalled, Suharto used to gather top businessmen at his ranch in Tapos, West Java, before general elections. He would then remind them: “To sustain economic development, it was best for Golkar [Suharto’s party] to win. I will ask LiemSioeLiong to collect your contributions.” Liem, Wanandi wrote, would determine each businessman’s contribution according to his estimate of their wealth, collect and deliver the funds to Suharto.
     
    Several top businessmen were able to ingratiate themselves with Suharto’s successors: B.J. Habibie, Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati Sukarnoputri. None, however, managed to realize their full potential due perhaps to their short presidential terms. The Bank Bali scandal, however, did make some Golkar officials, with Habibie as its patron, several times richer. A few businessmen also reportedly made a killing in the purchase of six Sukhoi jet fighters during Megawati’s tenure.
     
    Ten years of SusiloBambangYudhoyono as president saw 19 Indonesian businessmen make it into Forbes’ 2014 list of billionaires. Business acumen, hard work and consistency seemed to be the strong points that brought them to where they are today. As Budi Hartono of Djarum Group, by far the richest Indonesian ($7.6 billion), pointed out: “My hobby is work.”
     
    Media mogul HaryTanoesoedibjo of MNC Group and Lion Air owner RusdiKirana have decided there is more to life than making heaps of money. They have recently gone to the next level: politics. The former is a vice presidential candidate of the People’s Conscience Party (Hanura) while the latter is deputy chairman of the National Awakening Party (PKB). Time will tell whether their wealth and goodwill will have an impact on the nation’s political landscape, and whether F. Scott Fitzgerald is right after all about the very rich.


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