By Stephen Fitzpatrick in Jakarta
January 19, 2008 01:00am
INDONESIA is in the grip of a mystical fever as it struggles to
explain the extraordinary staying power of its one-time leader
Suharto, gravely ill in hospital yet defying medical wisdom with his
prolonged near-death experience.
The former dictator, 86, yesterday appeared to be on the mend
despite total organ failure and heart seizure a week ago.
The solid money was on his improved condition being a result of the
same magical Javanese force that kept him in power for 32 years.
Suharto was the great political survivor, building around himself an
edifice founded on crony capitalism that finally gave way in 1998
amid riots and evidence of vast corruption and human rights abuse.
He retreated to a quiet inner-city bungalow life, surviving several
strokes and a range of serious medical complications including major
bowel disease, in the process parlaying his poor health into an
escape ticket from criminal charges.
There is now little talk of his excesses, and no chance for a
reopening of court action, although there has been a euphemistic
exchange in recent days over the possibility of offering a blanket
pardon for his wrongs.
Now, at the end of it all, it is about the power of his ajimat, an
invisible talisman inside his body keeping the five-star general's
system ticking, and the fearful hold of Ratu Lorokidul, the Queen of
the South Sea who rules Java's coastline.
It's all part of a highly evolved and ancient system of Javanese
mysticism known as Kejawen.
Under Suharto it was a legal requirement that citizens subscribe to
one of five mainstream religions - but, recognising the depth of
Indonesia's peculiar version of the Mohammedan faith, Suharto
himself relied for years on the advice and guidance of Kejawen
dukuns, or traditional Javanese mystics.
Now all the dukuns he trusted have long gone, preceding him on his
journey into death and leaving him to face his critics alone,
although new ones have emerged offering sure cures for the old man's
His ajimat must be withdrawn totally from the feeble body before
Suharto can be allowed to die -- the mystical force that kept him at
the top is now refusing to let him go, some say.
Others say he has hung on because of unfinished business --
including his failure to pardon his own predecessor, Sukarno, who
died under house arrest and friendless in 1970.
Whatever the truth, if he does not soon join his late wife, Siti
Hartinah, Suharto will have performed in many Indonesians' eyes his
greatest magic trick yet.