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The youngest son of former Indonesian president Suharto, Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra, reacts during Berkarya party congress at a hotel in Bogor, Indonesia, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta(reuters_tickers)
By Gayatri Suroyo and John Chalmers
SENTUL, Indonesia (Reuters) - The youngest son of former Indonesian President Suharto, Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra, said on Monday he is leading a party into elections next year because two decades of reform have failed to move the country on from corruption, collusion and nepotism.
"The Berkarya Party is here because, after 20 years of 'Reformasi', the truth is: it is not going in a better direction, there is no real plan for when Indonesia will become a developed nation," he said.
"That's why we are here to correct that," he told Reuters in a hotel outside Jakarta that he owns, adjacent to a motor racing circuit he promoted in the 1990s.
In response, Widodo's economic adviser, Ahmad Erani Yustika, told Reuters the administration had made some fundamental improvements in the economy, such as building new infrastructure and increasing food production for self-sufficiency.
President Suharto, who ruled Indonesia with an iron fist for 32 years, was forced from office in 1998 as the world's fourth most populous nation descended into economic and social chaos.
Much of the blame for that crisis focused on the nepotism and corruption that became the hallmark of Suharto's later years in power and which saw family members and close associates amass fortunes and come to dominate Indonesia's economy.
Tommy Suharto, a former racing driver with a playboy reputation who is now 56, was found guilty in 2000 of graft relating to a land deal in a verdict that was later overturned.
He was sentenced in 2002 to 15 years in jail for paying a hitman to gun down and kill the supreme court judge who had convicted him in the corruption case. His term was later reduced on appeal and by remissions, and he was released in 2007.
With no suggestion of irony, Suharto said graft had remained a national scourge under President Joko Widodo, who is expected to seek a second term in next April's general election.
"At the start of 'Reformasi', people said we have to be free of corruption, collusion and nepotism, but now public officials are still caught red handed," he said.
Asked if he had any ambition to become president or vice-president himself, Suharto said his only aim was to secure as many of parliament's 575 seats as possible for his Berkarya (Working) Party, and he had set a target of 80. He himself plans to contest in the impoverished eastern province of Papua.
Suharto family members have made repeated attempts in the past to get into politics, often seeking to tap into nostalgia about the unity and security under Suharto's government, which was backed by a military that crushed any sign of revolt.
Tommy Suharto said he would campaign on social media to change young voters' perceptions about his family.
"This negative perception is not correct because President Suharto was never pronounced corrupt," he said, speaking on the sidelines of a party conference and, like all the delegates, dressed in Berkarya's signature colour, bright yellow.
"They said he was like Marcos and there are billions of dollars in Europe, etcetera. But after all the checks, there is no such money," he added, referring to former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Suharto said he had served a sentence for his conviction and now had the same right as any other citizen to enter politics.
He declined to put a figure on his net worth, repeatedly saying that the question should be put to the tax authorities.
Suharto, whose party has promised to make Indonesia self-sufficient in food, said there is not enough control over its farm industry.
He also criticised Widodo's government for "opening up its arms too widely" to Chinese investment without involving local contractors and workers.
(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)