Monday, February 4, 2008

Jan 30, 2008
Time to move on
By Evan A. Laksmana, For The Straits Times

THE death of Indonesia's father of development, former president Suharto, on Sunday has led to a debate about whether the people should remember him for his achievements and forgive his misconduct, or continue with a civil suit against him.
The government had been seeking US$1.4 billion (S$2 billion) in damages and assets allegedly acquired illegally through a charitable foundation Mr Suharto chaired while in power.

If a recent poll by Kompas - an Indonesian-language daily - is any indication, the public is split. Around 66 per cent of respondents felt Mr Suharto should be forgiven because of his achievements in ensuring domestic stability and alleviating poverty while developing the economy.

But when asked whether the civil suit should continue, 61 per cent said it should.

The poll also revealed a generation gap. Respondents aged above 35, particularly those with less education, seemed to be more sympathetic towards the former president while those between 17 and 30 wanted to see the legal proceedings continue.

But perhaps it is best for now to set these achievements and misconduct aside, allow history to record them for what they are, and let future generations judge Mr Suharto's contributions.

Perhaps it is best for now to set (Mr Suharto's) achievements and misconduct aside, allow history to record them for what they are, and let future generations judge his contributions.

The more pressing issue for Indonesia, now that his era has officially ended, is to move beyond this debate. It should not be allowed to distract any more attention from the bigger problems.

One could argue that going ahead with the legal proceedings is in fact one such distraction. Many have seen it as an exercise in futility, especially in view of the fact that even during the height of the reform movement, the case had been shelved.

Indonesia needs to move on and deal with more pressing issues affecting millions of citizens.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, from March 2006 until March 2007, the poverty rate fell just 0.17 per cent, leaving Indonesia with around 39 million impoverished people.

Recent food price hikes have made things worse. Those in the lower and middle classes cannot even afford to eat the traditional tempeh (a sort of soya bean cake often used as a meat substitute) due to higher soya bean prices.

Meanwhile, unpaid teachers all over the country continue to organise protests even as they are told to upgrade their own education levels to ensure re-certification. And the government cannot even fulfil the constitutional requirement of setting aside 20 per cent of the national budget for education.

The military also remains underfunded, despite the recent increase in the defence budget to around US$3.6 billion. Basic reforms, including the territorial command structure, military business regulations, laws on military tribunals and even doctrinal issues remain unresolved.

And the nation's political elite continues its manoeuvring ahead of next year's legislative and presidential elections. Everything has become politicised. Even worse, parliament has approved an extra 39 million rupiah (S$5,900) in cash incentives for each Member of Parliament, despite opposition from several factions.

These issues form just a fraction of the challenges facing Indonesia today. Education, poverty alleviation, judicial reform - the list goes on. Meanwhile, the gap between the political elite and common people continues to grow. This perhaps is one of the most basic failures of Indonesian democracy over the past decade.

The government should be more decisive. The lingering, perhaps indecisive, stance of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his Cabinet over Mr Suharto, for example, has allowed the national debate regarding his legacy to continue to some extent.

Nevertheless, as Indonesians, there is a lesson we can draw from our childhood. In primary school, we are all taught that the best way to honour our national heroes is to keep the flame alive and to build the country.

Today, with more people living below the poverty line even as prices continue to rise, there is no better time to do this. This year is a critical one for Indonesian politics. The general election is just around the corner.

We should not simply let it be another year of waiting for the administration to fulfil its campaign promises such as alleviating poverty. This year should be a year of action and not simply a year of political manoeuvring.

We should honour our fallen president by moving to solve the real issues affecting the majority of Indonesians. Nothing more and nothing less will do.

The writer is a research analyst at the Indonesia Programme, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

UP IN THE AIR: An Indonesian waving goodbye during Mr Suharto's funeral on Monday. Whether the former president's death will bring to a close an acrimonious chapter in Indonesia's history remains to be seen. -- PHOTO: AP

Death of Suharto - 29 Jan 2008

The end of an Asean era
By Yang Razali Kassim, For The Straits Times

THE worsening medical condition of his predecessor Suharto forced Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to cut short his talks in Malaysia with Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi earlier in January.
Not long after, Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew flew to Jakarta to visit the ailing Mr Suharto, whom Mr Lee holds in high esteem and fondly remembers as a close friend.

Within a day, another ageing Asean stalwart, former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad, did likewise. He even offered prayers for the man many Indonesians refer to respectfully as 'Pak Harto', using the honorific reference to 'father' or 'uncle'.

Mr Lee, 84, and Tun Dr Mahathir, 82, were paying what they knew would be their final respects to a former comrade-inpower fighting for his life. As a moment of poignant grief, it was pregnant with symbolism. The curtain was drawing on a key actor on the regional stage. Mr Suharto, 86, finally succumbed to his illness and died on Sunday.

Mr Suharto's final hours were as divisive as his last years in office, which ended in his downfall in 1998. Indonesians who respected him for developing their country were sad. Those who suffered under his strong-arm rule and accused him of plunder as well as power and human rights abuse were disappointed that they had failed to bring him to trial.

But there is no doubt that Mr Lee and Tun Dr Mahathir respected Mr Suharto for his achievements under trying circumstances. The three former heads of government dominated the regional stage for so long that they not only laid the groundwork for Asean's economic transformation, but also played a major part in shaping its political ethos.

The younger generation of Asean citizens must maintain a sense of balance and be guided by their Asian values: They should honour those who have done good, even as they do not forget the painful scars of repression. Pak Harto clearly deserves this.

It should come as no surprise that the three leaders developed a certain bond. The manner in which Mr Suharto was treated by his people since his exit must have saddened, if not hurt, the other two regional figures.

Notice Mr Lee's moist eyes as he spoke to the Singapore media later about the fate of Mr Suharto. Just as touching was the quiet moment between Tun Dr Mahathir and Mr Suharto during the period when the former Indonesian president was conscious. According to a daughter of Mr Suharto, Tun Dr Mahathir and her father shed tears together.

Yes, strong men do cry. Even those who were once in power, and feared because of it.

What can we make of this moment of pathos? Tun Dr Mahathir disclosed nothing of his inner thoughts. If there could be any clue, it came in clear and no uncertain terms from Mr Lee in his pre-departure session with the media. In his usual straight-talking style, he said Mr Suharto had not been given the due recognition he deserved.

His contribution to Indonesia was too enormous to be forgotten, or to be trifled with. Mr Lee left hints of his deep regret that the younger generation of Indonesians has been too harsh, if not ungrateful, to the man who, on balance, brought far more good than harm to his country.

Mr Lee's comparison of Mr Suharto and Ne Win of Burma in the early 1960s was stark but drove home his point. Had Mr Suharto followed Ne Win's road to socialism and style of governance, Indonesia would be like Myanmar today, Asean would not have come into existence, and South-east Asia might have ended up a mess, if not a war zone.

Until his death, Mr Suharto and Mr Lee were the two surviving founding leaders of Asean. Mr Lee is now the only one left from that generation. Tun Dr Mahathir came to the scene later.

But Mr Suharto, Mr Lee and Tun Dr Mahathir shared several common characteristics: All three lasted very long in office as chief executive - from Tun Dr Mahathir's 22 years (1981-2003) to Mr Suharto's 32 (1966-1998) and Mr Lee's 39 (1959-1990). They are of a similar age and from a generation whose formative experiences were during the Japanese occupation and the post-war quest for independence.

It is widely accepted that these three leaders' dominant characteristic was strong leadership. Their single-minded drive to bring food to the table of their respective peoples came at the expense of civil liberties of the Western model, which they argued was a necessary sacrifice.

The repression of the Suharto years, and the enduring corruption, proved to be politically fatal for the retired general who came to power through an anti-communist coup and uprising in 1966.

He was ousted in 1998 under similar circumstances - the result of an uprising that was long waiting to happen, though triggered by the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Mr Suharto's downfall was as earth-shaking as the financial crisis that swept the region.

A little-known fact is how the financial crisis also brought Tun Dr Mahathir and Mr Suharto closer together. It also caused a rift between Tun Dr Mahathir, in his final years as prime minister, and his pro-IMF deputy Anwar Ibrahim. Suspicious that Datuk Seri Anwar was trying to play out the Indonesian scenario in Malaysia to oust him, Tun Dr Mahathir shocked the world with his counter-strike when he expelled his deputy and anointed successor.

The sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar, who once called Mr Suharto ayahanda, the most reverential form for 'father' in the Malay language, led to the rise of Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi as Tun Dr Mahathir's alternative successor.

The emergence of Datuk Seri Abdullah in Malaysia coincided with the rise in Indonesia of a series of post-Suharto leaders, peaking with the election of Dr Yudhoyono in 2004. They form a new generation of leaders after Mr Suharto, Mr Lee and Tun Dr Mahathir.

This new cohort of leaders, which includes Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, carries the burden of continuing the legacies of their towering predecessors. But the new leaders face a different generation of citizens who will not unquestioningly accept the old style of leadership - benevolent or otherwise.

This new generation wants more freedom and space to do what they regard to be within their rights as citizens. This transition to a new Asean is now a major agenda of the region. We see this in the Asean Charter, which reflects the changing values of the regional bloc that was first put in place in 1967 by the founding leaders, led by Mr Suharto.

The Suharto generation of leaders is passing from the scene. As mere mortals, they have their strengths and their weaknesses. It is understandable to heap praise for the good that they have done, and to feel aggrieved by the impact of their foibles.

But the younger generation of Asean citizens must maintain a sense of balance and be guided by their Asian values: They should honour those who have done good, even as they do not forget the painful scars of repression. Pak Harto clearly deserves this.

The writer is a senior fellow with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. He is also author of Transition Politics: Dynamics Of Leadership Change And Succession In Indonesia And Malaysia. He was previously regional editor of The Business Times and, prior to that, the Jakarta correspondent for The Straits Times in the 1980s.

PRIME MOVERS: Tun Dr Mahathir (right) visiting Mr Suharto in Jakarta in 2006 before the ex-Indonesian president fell seriously ill late last year. The two leaders, with Singapore's MM Lee, helped shape Asean. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

Rise and Fall of an Autocrat - ST

Jan 28, 2008
SUHARTO: 1921-2008
Rise and fall of an autocrat
By Michael Vatikiotis, For The Straits Times

FAMILY CAME FIRST: Mr Suharto (front) with sons Sigit Harjodjudanto (left) and Bambang Trihatmodjo (back), as well as his bodyguard (right) in a 1998 file photo. His three sons and three daughters were given carte blanche to build corporate empires, leading to much public resentment. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

FORMER president Suharto of Indonesia will be remembered as one of the more complex and contradictory autocrats of the last century.
He ruled Indonesia for more than 30 years - from 1967 until his downfall in 1998 - but hardly with an iron fist: There were no legions of jailed dissidents or disappearances in the night, and there was a considerable improvement in the livelihood and welfare of the average Indonesian.

Mr Suharto brought prosperity and development to Indonesia; his principal failing was that he did not see the wisdom of gradual political reform or the danger posed by his family's business empire.

His ignominious resignation in May 1998 as students occupied his rubber-stamp Parliament and looters burned Jakarta's business district suggested another people's power revolution. The reality was less idealistic or elegant.

In a later interview, Mr Suharto himself pinpointed the withdrawal of economic support by the United States and the International Monetary Fund as a trigger for rampant inflation and punishing price increases - ironically more or less the same economic circumstances that led to the ousting of his predecessor, Mr Sukarno, in 1966.

Once weakened, Mr Suharto became vulnerable to the machinations of Indonesian elite politics; his Cabinet abandoned him, and the army quarrelled over who would take over.

Mr Suharto squandered his own legacy...As the 'father of development', he never allowed anyone else to take credit for Indonesia's progress, a style that stunted the country's institutional and bureaucratic development.

Ordinary people died in the crossfire, and the students were manipulated and then let down by a selfish elite unwilling to surrender their wealth and privileges.

Ten years on, many of Mr Suharto's associates from the business and political world remain in influential positions, and the power of his patronage lives on in the form of charitable foundations that he set up.

Mr Suharto squandered his own legacy. He should have seen the sense of letting more light into a political system that he controlled with the skill and determination of a latter-day Javanese sultan. He made sure that everyone reported directly to him; he even made sure that village-level funds came directly from him.

As the 'father of development', he never allowed anyone else to take credit for Indonesia's progress, a style that stunted the country's institutional and bureaucratic development, and left it wholly unprepared for democracy when it came.

Here was a president who liked nothing better than to tell farmers what to do - he would get animated about new techniques for bovine artificial insemination as national television broadcast wide- eyed looks of wonderment on the faces of poor farmers ushered before him to hear these pearls of agronomic wisdom.

He carefully cultivated an image of humility that masked his family's fabulous wealth, wearing the same drab safari suit and keeping punctual office hours. He shunned the grand stuccoed presidential palace for a dowdy single- storey house filled with cheap glass kitsch. He had no weakness for fast cars or women. He preferred to go fishing.

But he did have a weakness for his family. Suharto's three sons and three daughters were given carte blanche to build corporate empires, which in turn foreign investors were required to do business with.

Using licensing and monopolistic practices the army had fashioned after Dutch colonial rule to fund its operation, Mr Suharto simply allocated his family enterprises choice areas of economic growth, and then ordered state- run banks to lend them money.

He used an arcane foundation law, which once provided a loophole for the independence movement to acquire funds under Dutch rule, to stash away billions of dollars and forced poorly paid civil servants to make donations.

It is perhaps most telling that when the late Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX of Yogyakarta was told about Mr Suharto's rise to power in 1966, he responded: 'Is he still in the habit of stealing?'

Major-General Suharto crept into power on the back of a failed army-led putsch that has never been fully explained. It took this former rural credit clerk who joined the army, like so many of his generation during the Japanese Occupation, more than three years to assume full power after the coup, and another decade to overcome factional rivalry within the military.

The army later felt abandoned and weakened under his rule - and there were several attempts by senior officers to cross him.

Mr Suharto had blood on his hands. He allowed perhaps at least half a million Indonesians to die at the hands of anti-communist vigilantes in 1966; he jailed many thousands of suspected communists on a remote island the Dutch had used as a prison - although he later ordered their release.

He oversaw the occupation and brutal suppression of then- East Timor in 1975, and sanctioned a brutal crackdown on organised crime in the mid-1980s.

All the same, many, perhaps most, Indonesians will choose to remember the good times Mr Suharto ushered in. He was supported by the middle class in the 1960s, who were fed up with Mr Sukarno's bombastic confrontation with the West and neighbouring countries.

Mr Suharto delivered economic stability, encouraged foreign investment, prudently spread the wealth and fostered development that fed and educated people, giving poorer Indonesians the best standard of living they had ever had.

By the mid-1980s, Indonesia was growing at more than 6 per cent a year, and had a per capita income of more than US$500.

In the 1990s Indonesia was riding high, the darling of the World Bank's East Asian miracle. An Indonesian entrepreneur bought the Italian sports car company, Lamborghini.

Although crippled by strokes, Mr Suharto lived on after his fall from power to see the real legacy of his rule, which was a chaotic scramble to shake off years of paternalistic rule and forge a workable representative democracy.

In the wake of his fall, four presidents have struggled to eliminate rampant corruption in the public sector and build strong institutions that adhere to the rule of law rather than personal fealty and patronage.

If only Mr Suharto had seen the need for more openness and started the process of change a lot earlier, the country's transition would have been less costly and less painful.

The writer is the Asia regional director for the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue and author of Indonesian Politics Under Suharto (Routledge, 2nd edition, June 1994)

FAMILY CAME FIRST: Mr Suharto (front) with sons Sigit Harjodjudanto (left) and Bambang Trihatmodjo (back), as well as his bodyguard (right) in a 1998 file photo. His three sons and three daughters were given carte blanche to build corporate empires, leading to much public resentment. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

ST - Suharto dies

Suharto dies
Indonesia 'has lost one of the nation's best sons'
By Azhar Ghani, Indonesia Bureau Chief

JAKARTA - INDONESIA yesterday lost former president Suharto - a man its current leader described as 'one of the nation's best sons'.

At 1.10pm local time, 86-year-old Suharto died at the Pertamina Hospital, where he had been warded since Jan 4 with heart, kidney and lung problems.

On the day he was admitted, Mr Suharto could, with some support, still walk a few steps from his car to a wheelchair. But his condition fluctuated daily, before worsening dramatically on Jan 11, when he was connected to a ventilator to stay alive.

Despite showing signs of rallying in recent days, his condition took a sudden and eventually fatal turn at about 1am yesterday.
By about 7am, he was unconscious, and he lapsed into a deep coma at around 11am.

News of his death ended days of suspense as the country held its collective breath and wondered if its former leader would live or die.

It came four months shy of May 21, which would have marked a full decade after Mr Suharto resigned following a pro-democracy uprising, protests and violent riots prompted by an economic crisis.

Mr Suharto's three sons and three daughters were by his bed when he died, and his teary-eyed eldest daughter Siti Hardianti Rukmana told reporters: 'Father has returned to God.

'We ask that if he had any faults, please forgive them...may he be absolved of all his mistakes.'

Addressing the country at a press conference yesterday, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expressed his sorrow, and asked people to pray for the late strongman.

He said: 'I would like to call on the people of Indonesia to show the highest respect to one of the nation's best sons, a great leader of the nation who has contributed so much service and dedication to the nation and the state.'

Dr Yudhoyono also declared seven days of mourning, until Feb 2, and ordered all flags to fly at half-mast.

Together with Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, he later visited the Suharto family residence in the leafy suburb of Menteng, where the body of the former president was taken for the night.

The body is scheduled to be flown to central Java this morning, where Mr Suharto will be buried at the family mausoleum near Solo in a ceremony to be led by Dr Yudhoyono later today.

A spokesman for Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who said the Republic was saddened by news of the passing, disclosed that Deputy Prime Minister S. Jayakumar would be attending the burial ceremony in Solo.

Yesterday, Mr Suharto's central Jakarta home saw a stream of visitors paying their last respects, including Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who arrived at about 8.15pm local time.

Mr Lee said: 'Pak Suharto was a patriot who loved his country deeply. Under his leadership, Indonesia made tremendous progress. In regional affairs, Pak Suharto's leadership, vision and statesmanship enabled all Asean countries to grow and prosper in peace, and made Asean a respected player in the Asia-Pacific.'

Besides the Prime Minister, several other Singapore leaders, including President SR Nathan and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, yesterday sent condolence messages to President Yudhoyono as well as to Ms Siti Hardianti.

Tributes to the former president also flooded in from across the region and beyond.

Among them, Philippine President Gloria Arroyo pointed to his central role in establishing Asean, while Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi praised his efforts in establishing good bilateral relations.

Back in Indonesia, television stations suspended some of their regular programmes and began telecasts of events related to Mr Suharto's death as well as retrospectives of his life.

Mr Suharto is credited with maintaining stability and the healthy economic growth of the country in the 1980s and early 1990s.

But with residual grievances still strong against the former president for the rampant corruption and human rights abuses he was accused of presiding over, the grief of Indonesians was restrained.

A conciliatory tone crept into the nation's consciousness after Mr Suharto was admitted to hospital, when even those who had suffered human rights abuses under his rule had talked of forgiveness, but the demands for justice never went away.

Mr Budiman Sudjatmiko, a former pro-democracy student activist who had been jailed before Mr Suharto stepped down in 1998, summed up the mood.

He said it would be 'hard' for Indonesia to move on since Mr Suharto had not been prosecuted for corruption.

A book of condolence will be opened at Indonesia's Singapore Embassy in Chatsworth Road between 10am and 4pm from today until Wednesday.