Sudomo returns to Islam but will he get back to politics?

RETIRED Admiral Sudomo, a close ally of President Suharto, has reconverted to Islam after being a Christian for 35 years, prompting some political pundits to suggest that he could be in the running for high political office after next year’s presidential election.

Analysts familiar with Adm Sudomo’s career agreed that the move could see him get back into mainstream politics in Indonesia, but said it was unlikely he would be in the running for a key position such as that of vice-president.

Mr Umar Juoro of the Centre for Development and Information Studies said: “He is following the trend set by many public figures who have converted to Islam. It is one way for him to get back into mainstream politics and remain close to President Suharto.”

Some observers had suggested the move might have been linked to the vice-presidency as Adm Sudomo, 71, who currently serves as chairman of the Presidential Advisory Council, is a long-standing and trusted aide to Mr Suharto.

But as Mr Fachry Ali, a noted columnist of the current-affairs weekly magazine Gatra, saw it, “there is little chance of him holding such a position because he is up against stronger candidates like Hartono and Habibie.”

This was a reference to Information Minister General R. Hartono – the recently-retired chief of the army – and Research and Technology Minister B. J. Habibie, both of whom have been regularly cited as potential vice-presidential candidates.

Newspaper coverage of Adm Sudomo’s conversion ceremony made no reference to any political backdrop. The event took place at the Sabilil Huda Mosque in his birthplace, Malang, East Java, last Friday.

According to the Republika daily yesterday, the ceremony was attended by Religious Affairs Minister Tarmizi Taher and East Java Governor Basofi Sudirman.

Mr Achmadi Sutarmadi, head of the East Java religious affairs office, who performed the rites, said that Adm Sudomo declared his intention to become a Muslim quietly “a long time ago. But he wants to clearly show his identity as a Muslim today”.

Dressed in a grey suit and wearing a black kopiah, or praying cap, Adm Sudomo recited a declaration and was later embraced by Mr Tarmizi.

Mr Tarmizi was quoted as saying that Adm Sudomo converted for personal reasons: “His return to Islam is a reflection of a long spiritual process he has gone through.”

Adm Sudomo himself told reporters later that he converted not for any political motive. “As a Javanese, I was advised by my parents to abide by them and my teachers. So I converted to Islam,” he said.

He became a Christian in 1961 after marrying his first wife Fransisca Piay. But in the early 80s, it ended in divorce, as did asecond marriage.

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