Suharto pardon ‘likely to get parliament’s approval’

But the pardon will most likely be on the condition that he returns the wealth he allegedly embezzled, says Amien Rais

National Assembly chairman Amien Rais, one of the fiercest critics of former president Suharto, said yesterday that parliament was likely to support a presidential motion to drop charges against the ailing 80-year-old.

Such political backing, he said, would come with this caveat: that Suharto return the US$571 million (S$1 billion) he allegedly embezzled during his 32 years in power and that the government continues moves to prosecute his children and cronies.

The feisty leader of Indonesia’s highest legislative body told The Straits Times in an interview, a day after President Megawati Sukarnoputri announced plans to drop corruption charges against Mr Suharto, that there was no need for the former military strongman to stand trial because he had suffered enough public humiliation.

“It’s about time that the nation forgives him,” he said. “Pardoning someone is a noble thing. We have to look forward and not keep harping about the mistakes of the past.”

Dr Amien, one of the key politicians who brought about Suharto’s downfall in 1997, said the former president was not alone to blame for problems wrought on Indonesia during his reign.

He said: “It was a collective mistake and Mr Suharto can’t bear all the blame himself.

“What about the legislators who voted for him every election and others who benefited enormously from the New Order? They too are just as guilty.”

From a practical viewpoint, he said that Mr Suharto was also too ill to stand trial.

In September last year, the South Jakarta District Court aborted the only attempt so far to try the disgraced former president after doctors testified that he had suffered brain damage from an earlier stroke.

Mr Suharto has spent most of the past week in hospital fighting off a bout of pneumonia, during which his lawyers renewed pressure for the charges to be dropped.

Their position was backed by the Supreme Court last week when Chief Justice Bagir Manan issued a legal opinion declaring that the case should be closed, citing a report by Mr Suharto’s medical team that deemed his health “beyond recovery”.

Mr Amien said that parliament would factor Mr Suharto’s health seriously when it meets early next month to deliberate on Ms Megawati’s call to abolish the charges.

Under Indonesia’s Constitution, the President can intervene in a case if parliament grants its approval first. He noted that while certain legislators might try to “politicise this issue to score points”, most of them would back her.

This included members from two of the largest parliamentary factions – the Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P) and Golkar.

But he said many would want Suharto and his family to return the money they allegedly stole from the state.

Legal experts said that this was a good idea in theory and that the past two administrations had tried to work out a settlement along these lines. But it failed mainly because of resistance from Mr Suharto’s children.

That was why legislators would continue to insist that all his six children, not just his youngest son Tommy, be investigated and prosecuted on corruption charges.

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