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The Sultan's Popularity is Growin

No. 30/VIII/March 25-31, 2008

From the Sultan’s Court

The popularity of Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X is growing. He is loyal to Javanese culture, hoping to be nominated for public office, but reluctant to garner political support. He is getting some publicity with the release of his new book.

THE auditorium of the Postgraduate School of the University of Gadjah Mada (UGM), Yogyakarta, was decorated in various colors on Saturday two weeks ago. There were a number of public figures there, such as film directors, politicians, singers, and researchers. But at that time the star of the show was Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X, who was launching the release of a book of collected speeches, Merajut Kembali Keindonesiaan Kita (Reviving Our Indonesian-ness).

Some of those in attendance included cinema figures Garin Nugroho and Mira Lesmana, singer Franky Sahilatua, intellectual Komaruddin Hidayat, businessman Fransiscus Welirang, UGM Senate Chairman Soetaryo, Minister (of Women’s Empowerment) Meutia Hatta, and head of the Golkar Party’s Board of Advisors, Surya Paloh. “The presence of those figures indicates that the spectrum of the Sultan’s socializing is getting broader,” said Moeslim Abdurrahman, a Muhammadiyah organization figure who has joined the National Awakening Party (PKB).

The Sultan’s book is a collection of 18 speeches delivered on various occasions. He speaks about culture, leadership, economic strategy and the development of the Indonesian Military (TNI). However, the launching of this book indicates a new style for the Sultan, one which is more open to the public. His supporters consider him to be an alternative candidate for next year’s presidential election. “He is very much a reformist and visionary, a national leader for the future,” said Idham Samawi, Regent of Bantul, who is known to be close to the Sultan.

The Sultan has enough political clout to be in the running for the presidency. According to the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) his popularity has grown over the past three years. In the last survey, made in January, he placed third, after Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Megawati Sukarnoputri. However, he only received 7 percent. Even so, this makes him more popular than Jusuf Kalla, the current Vice President and leader of the largest political party.

According to LSI, this 7 percent figure for the Sultan is about the same as Yudhoyono’s popularity was a year before the 2004 presidential election. For this reason, according to the institute, the Sultan has a chance to win in 2009. There still needs to be “a political momentum which benefits the Sultan, and a perceived failure to spur economic growth on Yudhoyono’s part.”

This upward trend has convinced the Sultan and his followers. Moreover, according to those close to the Sultan, a number of public figures have asked him to step forward. Most of them went to see him at the Yogyakarta Keraton (traditional Javanese palace). Among them, according to a source, was General (ret) Ryamizard Ryacudu, a former Army Chief of Staff who came a few weeks ago.

Some figures have been actively promoting the Sultan in various circles. Among them are businessman Sugeng Sarjadi, researcher Sukardi Rinakit, and Moeslim Abdurrahman. Speaking to Tempo, Sukardi denied being a member of the Sultan’s campaign team. “My idea is only to create an alternative candidate. This way there will be more choices for the people,” he said. Moeslim even joked: “I’m with the PKB. My candidate is Gus Dur.”

Actually, the Sultan has been seeking support, even though he has not done so publicly. In the middle of last year, for instance, he met with a number of public figures at the home of businessman Arifin Panigoro in Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta. There, the Sultan, whose name is Bandoro Raden Mas Herdjuno Darpito, conveyed his thoughts about national leadership.

Last year, the Sultan also went on a number of outings. Together with Saifullah Yusuf, Chairman of the Ansor Youth Movement, for instance, he took part in a walking event together with thousands at the Lirboyo Islamic Boarding School in Kediri, East Java. On this occasion he spoke about the need to give independent candidates a chance to run in the presidential election. Near the end of the year, Sultan and Saifullah plus Soetrisno Bachir, Chairman of the National Mandate Party (PAN), took part in a similar event in Jember. A few weeks before that, PAN had called upon the Sultan to become an alternative candidate.

Even so, the Sultan has never openly stated his desire to become a presidential candidate. To those close to him, according to one source, the Sultan said he would be ready to run only if many people nominated him. “It is not possible that he would be willing to nominate himself as a presidential candidate,” said someone close with the Palace in Yogyakarta.

Sukardi Rinakit agrees with this strategy to wait for support to come. He says that at first he also thought that the Sultan should emphatically declare his desire to become a presidential candidate. Now he believes that the Sultan does not need to do so publicly. “If he declares it, it will eliminate him, as the Javanese will think that the Sultan does not possess the proper cultural etiquette. By not declaring it, the Sultan will be different from the others,” said Sukardi.

Moeslim Abdurrahman agreed that the Sultan will have a chance to win the election if he can present his leadership vision as it appears in his book. With this concept, said Moeslim, the Sultan will always consider the cultural aspects of leadership. “The people are fed up and need an alternative. The Sultan of Yogyakarta could become the Sultan of the [Indonesian] Archipelago through this concept,” said Moeslim.

However, the Sultan played down the suspicion that the launching of this book was the first step to campaign more publicly. “This is an ordinary book launching. I mean, it is only a collection of speeches,” said the 62-year-old. Regarding his nomination, he always says, “Don’t ask me, ask the people.”

Budi Setyarso, Bernarda Rurit, L.N. Idayanie (Yogyakarta)

If the presidential election were held today, who would you choose?
SBY 34%
Megawati 24%
HB X 7%
Wiranto 4%
Amien Rais 3%
Jusuf Kalla 2%
Sutiyoso 2%

Source: LSI