16 January 2008
JAKARTA - Hovering near death after two weeks lying gravely ill in hospital, the resilience of Suharto, the former iron-fisted leader of Indonesia, is providing fertile ground for wild theories.
Explanations exchanged at roadside coffee stalls and in posh dining rooms alike vary from the logical to the absurd in a superstitious country where many people readily believe in the paranormal.
So how do people think the 86-year-old is cheating death?
Most often heard is that Suharto, who like many from Indonesia's main island of Java is a believer in mystical powers, cannot release his "jimat," the charm inserted in his body that gave him the power to rule for 32 years.
According to local lore, such "jimat," which can take various forms, must leave the body before the soul can flee.
"He must have sought or have been given by his spiritual mentors charms that would protect him from danger and his enemies," Permadi, a noted mystic, told AFP.
But Permadi, also a legislator from the party led by a daughter of Indonesia's founding president Sukarno whom Suharto unseated in 1966 -- also said Suharto was paying for the way he treated his predecessor.
"He is serving his own karma, after the way he treated Sukarno," he said.
Sukarno died after a long illness in 1970 under house arrest and in official though not popular disgrace, with neither a specialist doctor nor sophisticated piece of medical machinery in sight.
Suharto, surrounded by Indonesia's finest doctors, has suffered multiple organ failure and on Tuesday was put on the maximum drugs dosage as his condition took another turn for the worse.
Permadi said another mystic was contacted by Sukarno while meditating by his grave in East Java on January 4, a few hours before Suharto was admitted to hospital.
"Suharto will soon fall ill, suffering from the same things I suffered before I died," Sukarno's spirit whispered, according to Permadi.
Ki Gendeng Pamungkas, a well-known witch doctor, told AFP he had had a direct hand in Suharto's lingering illness.
"I have received 2,863 letters signed and carrying names, demanding I cast a spell on him because Pak Harto is guilty of a lot of sins during his rule," he said.
"I have also received 1,417 demands in writing from people asking that Suharto not be made to die, but also not to live," he said.
"As a professional, I have accepted these demands and cast him the Sekar Geni Bumi (Flower of the Earth's Fire) spell. That is why he is now suffering neither alive nor dead," Pamungkas explained.
The witch doctor made headlines in 2006 when he publicly performed a ritual involving the blood of animals to cast a hex on visiting US President George W. Bush.
He told people to be patient when Bush left the country unharmed.
Another noted witch doctor, Limbad or Mbah Lim, performed a fire ritual for Suharto's well-being in front of the former ruler's residence at the stroke of midnight on Sunday.
"There is still something that is preoccupying the mind of Pak Harto. And that is why his life now is still on hold," he said, preferring not to elaborate.
Pamungkas said Suharto's family could ease the ex-dictator's plight by begging Indonesians for forgiveness for the human rights abuses that cost hundreds of thousands of lives during his rule.
"One of the ways out (for him) would be for his family, especially his children, to come to the realisation and publicly ask for a pardon from the Indonesian people, especially from those who were directly or indirectly victims of their father's tyranny," he said.
Permadi had a more direct suggestion.
"It is all those machines hooked to him and all the drugs he is given that are keeping him alive. Take all of those away, and he will go," he said.