Albert W Nonto
Studying politics and law at university set Charles Honoris, 33, on course as a political activist with the dream of helping people have a better life. Now he is a member of the House of Representatives (DPR) for the dominant Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) representing Jakarta. By
Charles Honoris began his political carrier as a member of Taruna Merah Putih (TMP) or Red and White Youth Scouts, a youth wing of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). Today he heads the TMP’s Jakarta chapter.
He credits a senior figure in the PDI-P, Maruarar Sirait, for introducing him to party leader and former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, providing an entry to the inner circle of the leading politician. This turning point allowed Charles to open a new chapter of his life, in which he has made politics his career. Maruarar, commonly known as Ara, is the son of Sabam Sirait, one of the party’s founding fathers who continues to be a close advisor to Megawati.
When he joined the party, Charles was given the assignment of supporting Joko Widodo’s candidacy as Jakarta governor in 2012, a mission that he successfully accomplished, putting ‘Jokowi’ in the running for the presidential race in 2014. “I gathered loads of supporters for a mass campaign near Monas (the National Monument),” recalls Charles. But he was not able to repeat that success when he supported Basuki Tjahaya Purnama or Ahok in his bid for re-election as Jakarta governor.
With only the minimum of experience in politics behind him, Charles proved that modern political campaign measures – including social media - would win supporters. Another key to his victory was the mobilization of TMP members to garner support from the younger generation.
The understanding of the dynamics of the election served him well: In the last election for the House of Representatives (DPR) he won 92,000 voters in Jakarta, more than his senior in the party, Effendy Simbolon, and the House speaker at the time, Marzuki Ali of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party.
He was just 30 in 2014 when he won election to the DPR. He had absorbed the teaching of his mentors that to be successful in politics it was important to be close to lower-class people.
As a DPR member, Charles sits on Commission I, which has oversight of defense and security, foreign affairs, intelligence and information technology. In that role, he has been critical of policies adopted by Indonesia’s military, arguing that it is at risk of losing its grip on its task of defending the national interest.
Charles attended the Pelita Harapan school (a unit of Lippo Group, owner of this magazine) and then studied at Christian University Japan, where he was introduced to student activism. On his return to Indonesia, he practiced as a lawyer with Ponggawa & Associates before deciding to devote himself to a political career.
Charles learned his political values from many different people and leaders. As a member of the ethnic Chinese community, he was impressed by the activist Soe Hok Gie, who died at a very young age after making his mark with a strong sense of nationalism and patriotism in the student movement in the early years of the New Order following the overthrow of President Sukarno.
He believes only politicians can produce change and urges all leaders to work to realize the promises made during their election campaigns.
He admires former National Police chief Hoegeng and former Attorney General Baharuddin Lopa for their strong integrity. He respects President Joko Widodo for his simple lifestyle and hard work, while from President Sukarno he learned the spirit of nationalism and love of country.
Charles says he is driven by the desire to improve Indonesia; it was that dream that took him into the world of politics, since he believes only politicians can produce change. He urges all leaders to work to realize the promises made during their election campaigns, yet recognizes that not all dreams can be turned to reality.
Charles was born into a business family on July 23, 1984. The Honoris family was already well-established in manufacturing, property and investment under the Modern Group, which was started by the late Otje Honoris and Linda Sahaja.
Their children Samadikun Hartono, 63, Luntungan Honoris, 62, Sungkono Honoris, 61, and Siewi Honoris, 58, carried on the business.
Samadikun was caught up in the collapse of the family’s Bank Modern and fled the country in 2003 after he was convicted of embezzlement in the Bank Indonesia Liquidity Assistance (BLBI) scandal. He was brought back to Jakarta in April 2016 after being caught in Shanghai.
Apart from that glitch, the family has demonstrated a high degree of adaptability to business trends. Formerly popular with its photo lab houses, it closed many of its Fuji Image outlets and went into the min-mart business with the 7-Eleven franchise. Earlier this year it sold that business to a unit of Thailand’s Charoen Pokphand.
In total the group has more than 25 subsidiaries throughout Indonesia. Charles’ father Luntungan runs Modernland, the family property business, which has made its mark with projects such as Kota Modern, Modern Hill, Modern Park and Modern Cikande Industrial Park in Tangerang. It has many new projects in the pipeline including the attractive Jakarta Garden City development in North Jakarta. His eldest son William now plays a major role in the property business.
In the hospitality business, the group owns the Novotel Hotel in Jakarta and Modern Padang Golf in Tangerang and is building Swisshotel properties at its industrial estates. The family also controls shares in Honoris Hospital in Tangerang. Sungkono Honoris managed the Seven-11 business before the sale and his son Henry is also active in the retail sector.
Siewi Honoris is in charge of development of the industrial product business, PT Honoris Industry. Initially the company produced Japanese products such as cameras and optical products under license from Hitachi, Fujitec, Konka TV and Pioneer audio system. It then developed new products such as LED lights with its HORI brand, along with other electricity products which are supplied to state utility PT PLN. The family also produces consumer goods in cooperation with Japan’s Pigeon.