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Tuesday, Nov 4, 2014

Asia

Indonesia's first family blaze a modest trail in SE Asia

AFP | Tuesday, Nov 4, 2014

JAKARTA - With a wife who eschews designer outfits and a daughter happy to queue at public health clinics, Indonesian President Joko Widodo's family are setting a modest example in a region where leaders' relatives are better known for greed and corruption.

Southeast Asia's ruling families have not generally espoused austerity - from the controversial children of late Indonesian dictator Suharto to the wife of Malaysia's premier, who is criticised as a spendthrift, and the excesses of Brunei's royals.

In contrast, the wife, daughter and two sons of Widodo, known as Jokowi, appear humble and down to earth, more representative of the country's rapidly emerging middle class than an aloof elite.

"Even now Jokowi has been elected president, they still want to live like other ordinary people," Anggit Noegroho, a friend of Widodo's who helped him during numerous political campaigns and has known the family for a decade, told AFP.

They present the same image as 53-year-old Widodo himself, Indonesia's first president from outside the political and military elites, who rose from a modest background and has pledged clean governance in one of the world's most corrupt countries.

However observers caution that it could be tough going for a family unused to intense public scrutiny - and point out it is not hard for them to look good, given what went before.

The children of Widodo's predecessor, ex-general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, sometimes courted controversy, with one of his sons having to fend off accusations of corruption, but it was the offspring of Suharto who provoke the most anger in Indonesia.

His six children allegedly amassed fortunes by enjoying privileged access to lucrative business deals during his three-decade rule, which was marked by massive corruption. He was toppled in 1998 by the Asian financial crisis.

The most controversial is youngest son Hutomo Mandala Putra, popularly known as Tommy.

A playboy with a taste for flashy cars, he served four years of a 15-year prison term for hiring hitmen to murder a judge who had sentenced him to jail for corruption. He was released in 2006.

Rejects fancy handbags

When it comes to Widodo's family, his wife Iriana, 51, has forgone the designer clothes and fancy handbags beloved of many first ladies, normally opting for plain shirts and trousers.

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