Jakarta – Indonesia's new national parliament, its members including 10 relatives of President Suharto and a number of his business associates, was sworn in for a new five-year term on Wednesday.
The 1,000-member People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) is charged with drawing up the broad guidelines of state policy for the next five years and selecting a president next March – most likely Suharto, who has ruled Indonesia for 30 years.
Suharto watched as the head of the supreme court administered the oath of office to the new members in the cavernous parliament building, erected in the 1960s. Those taking the oath included four of his six children, two of their spouses, two brothers-in-law, his half-brother and a cousin.
Also in the assembly are his close business associate and golfing friend Mohamad "Bob" Hasan, and Anthony Salim, the son of another long-time Suharto confidante Liem Sioe Liong. Liem is the head of the vast Salim Group conglomerate and is reputedly the wealthiest man in Indonesia.
"We are not just in business, we have socio-political roles as well," Suharto's youngest son Hutomo Mandala Putra, also known as Tommy Suharto, told Reuters as he made a quick exit following his swearing in at the ceremony.
Businessman Isfan Fajar Satryo, son of vice-president Try Sutrisno and appointed to the MPR as a representative of the ruling Golkar party for Bali, also defended the appointment of the family of senior officials.
"There is no law against it," he told reporters.
The new MPR appointees are dominated by cabinet members, governors of the country's 27 provinces, top military officers, leading business people and political leaders, all of whom hold office at Suharto's bequest.
A notable omission from the new assembly is Abdurrahman Wahid, the influential leader of the Nahdlatul Ulama, a Moslem grouping which claims 30 million members. Another is Amien Rais, a Moslem scholar and a severe Suharto critic who heads the rival Muhammadiyah group with more than 20 million followers.
Local critics also pointed to more than a dozen relatives of senior officials in the nation's supreme representative body, including the wife of armed forces chief General Feisal Tanjung and the wives of several ministers and other senior military officers.
Most of the relatives were among the 500 nominated members of the assembly. The other half consists of the 425 legislators elected to the House of Representatives (DPR) at the general election in May and the 75 seats given to the military in the DPR.
"To address future challenges and opportunities, we need a strong government and also solid people's representative institutions," Suharto said in a speech during the ceremony. Scholar, Golkar research head and MPR member of West Nusa Tenggara, Din Syamsuddin, said charges of nepotism were a classic issue always raised at the start of the five-yearly MPR sessions.
"In our political system and political culture it is not unusual," Syamsuddin told Reuters.
"Every citizen, regardless of their social or family origin and background has a right to be a member of parliament as well as to be a member of the MPR as long as they are qualified and meet the criteria," he said.
"Sociologically, the children of senior officials...have lived in the atmosphere (of government), they have the best education because of their family status and so they are qualified," he added.
The MPR's first task on Thursday is to elect a new leader, expected to be Golkar chief and former Information Minister Harmoko.
Next March it is expected to endorse Suharto for a seventh straight five-year term as president.