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Socialist Pays Social Visit to a Crumbling Palace

by Susi, 5 July 2008

Sukmawati Soekarnoputri, daughter of Indonesia’s founding president Soekarno, is touring Bali this week. She is the chairman of PNI Marhaenisme, one of the political parties now vying for recognition in anticipation of Indonesia’s April 2009 presidential election. Sukmawati is a strikingly elegant and gracious lady, who during her tour of Bali has charmed people from all walks of life, journalists not excepted. The Bali Post has followed her movements closely, and run flattering photographs of her daily. Yesterday they reported her visit to the palace of the last ruling dynasty of Bali, Puri Dalem Gelgel, along with members of the Dalem Gelgel family and Balinese Hindu high priests.

The Gelgel dynasty fell to the Dutch in the puputan of 1908 when they ceded power by committing mass suicide, and their original palace is sacred to Balinese Hindus. The Gelgel family temple inside the palace is now a place of pilgrimage and prayer. It seems Sukmawati was dismayed by the run-down condition of the place. “I was unaware until now that the condition of the oldest royal kingdom of Bali was so poor. Are the leaders of Bali not ashamed to neglect the heritage of their ancestors like this?”  

Sukmawati, who upholds the socialist philosophies of her late father, cited one of his maxims. “Bung Karno said that a great society is one that does not forget the history of its ancestors.” When asked if she was seeking support from the royal Dalem Gelgel dynasty, she replied, “I came here today not for political aims, but to ask for the blessings of the powers that dwell in this historic place, because PNI Marhaenisme is going into the 2009 election. No matter how hard mankind struggles, without the blessings of God and the ancestors, their struggle will not succeed.”

Interesting. Her ancestry is one quarter Balinese. Her immediate ancestor was an heroic supporter of socialism. And Puri Dalem Gelgel is the ancestral seat of a feudal dynasty with implicit vestigial power over the people. Is there a contradiction there? There could be, but I don’t think there is, in fact. In Bali today the real despots are the corrupt and self-interested members of the democratically elected government. Contrarily, the palace families of Bali tend to be centres of struggle against the Jakarta hegemony in favour of the people of Bali, who are both burdened economically, and marginalised by it.  

Hmmm . . . Sukmawati was in the papers the day before visiting two noble families in a palace in Tabanan.

In case your memory is short, Sukmawati’s sister Megawati was president of Indonesia a few years back. It wasn’t an altogether successful presidency. But Sukmawati’s political views, education and background are distinctly different from her sister’s, so no need to worry about watching a re-run.

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