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The legacy of Suharto

Webdiarist PF Journey gives his analysis of the legacy of the former president of Indonesia.

The Legacy of Suharto

There is a debate going on about the legacy of President Suharto of Indonesia who has just passed away, eg from his long term admirer Greg Sheridan of the OZ:

INDONESIA’S Suharto was an authentic giant of Asia, a nation-builder, a dictator, a changer of history.

To his admirers, his achievements have been:

1. He stabilised Indonesia from 1968-1998 after the chaos of Sukarno years of the 60s. GS called him the "Jakarta’s man of steel". I think you get the drift where GS is coming from. Yes, he did stabilised Indonesia but it was through force, state sanctioned violence and brutality. It was like putting everything in a pressure cooker, yes it was not spilling over but as soon as the valve is removed, it was bursting out like in Aceh, Sulawesi and Maluku.

2. He oversaw the Indonesian economy to point of Indonesia was being called one of the Asian Tigers in the 90s. It was true that he did provide the stable environment for the economy and business to flourish. But it was done at a great cost to the country's people and natural resources. The wealth of the country was plundered for the benefits of the elites and the middle class he created and in turn supported him. The common people or the "Wong Cilik", as the Indonesians called them, never saw the trickling of benefits or wealth to them.

3. He was "anti communist" and his purge of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) was said to have cost at least a million of lives. His role in the "communist coup" of 1965 is still cast in heavy Javanese shadow. In fact, Suharto was the classic Javanese wayang puppet master. You never know who was pulling the string. Of course, he became the darling of the West, especially in the 60s and 70s, at the height of the cold war and the Vietnam War.

My own analysis is that he has done more harm to Indonesia than good. He did create short term stability for the country, but on the fundamental issues that are vital to the long term prosperity, democracy and survival of the country, he has come out short, very short.

1. He institutionalised state sanctioned violence. I remember very clearly  in the 70s where he was interviewed about what would he do about the oppositions. Suharto, a man few words, simply said: "I will thump them". If that is not sanctioned state violence, then I don't know what it is.

2. He institutionalised corruption by letting his family to set an example that to be corrupt is OK. He himself might not be corrupt but his wife, children and grandchildren were all corrupt. During his supreme rule, the master franchise of every major economic and business opportunity belonged to his family. To be granted the franchise, you have to pay a commission  or an upfront payment or project mark-ups or a slice of free carry equity or all the above. He set bad example, so corruption has become a way of life, a culture and a cancer to the Indonesian society

3. He institutionalised the Dual Function or "Dwi Fungsi" of the Armed Forces. In fact, it was a Triple Function as the Armed Forces had the security function to protect the Republic, the social function to ensure the social values were protected and the economic function so that Armed Forces can participate in business and generate their own incomes and be independent of the State. In other words, the elevated the role of the Armed Forces above and beyond the Civil Society. In Suharto’s years, the Armed Forces were supreme, completely dominating the Civil Society.

4. He institutionalised discrimination of the minorities, especially the Chinese. He banned the Chinese from using their own Chinese name; the speaking and teaching of Chinese language and the Chinese have to have a special code embedded in their ID card so that they can be identified easily as "Chinese".  The reason is that a lot of Indonesian Chinese have been in Indonesia for hundred of years and generations, through inter-marriages and other environmental factors, they "look" just like any other "native" Indonesians. In later years of his rule, he became "religious" via his Mecca Haj Pilgrim, and turned a blind eye on Islam vs Christian communities in places such as Maluku and Central Sulawesi.

5. He institutionalised the "Rule of Power" rather than the "Rule of Law" by basically abolishing the concept of power sharing and balance of power.  He emasculated the institutions such as the Parliament, the judiciary and the press. He even put the police forces as part of the Armed Forces (Army, Navy and Air Force) and answered directly to him or through the nation wide security and military structure he has setup. For example, in every province of Indonesia, there was a civilian Governor plus a military Governor. Guess who has more power.

6. He institutionalised the dependency of business upon the State, especially big business. To start a major project, especially natural resources projects, big business derived the franchise from his family, the capital from state banks or government-backed capital from the private or NGO banks. If the project is in trouble, the Government has to bail it out by additional capital or guarantee. This what the locals call the "triple whammy" business. Whammy one, the franchise was ripped off from the people, whammy 2 the project capital was provided by the State and whammy 3 if the project is in trouble the State again has to rescue it. The real losers are the people. Everyone else wins. Indonesia has everything and is rich in natural resources. It has people, water, very fertile volcanic soil, oil, coal, timber, spices, strategic location, unique flora and fauna etc etc. It has everything. It is also a very beautiful country. Yet about 70% of the people are poor, in 2007, estimated nominal per capita GDP is US$1,812. The wealth gap between the elites, the middle class and the poor is unimaginable. There was a great hope in the 80s and early 90s that Suharto's economic miracle was going to reduce this gap and provide a real platform to reduce the poverty of the "Wong Cilik".

The dream was dashed in the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997/1998. Alas, the so-called economic miracle was built on the sand of corruption and greed of the elites and middle class. The elites and middle class survived, but the poor became poorer: that is the legacy of Suharto.


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Keep your enemy closer.

Maybe Keating was adhering to the adage: "keep your friends close but your enemies closer."

Sadly methinks I'm being too kind to Paul, on all probabilities the reverse was true. After all did not Paul attend the funeral?  I bet fucking Suharto won't attend Paul's. Says it all really.

Power Corrupts

Power has corrupted Suharto, absolutely. Has power also corrupted Mick Keelty?

The Leadership Principle

Michael de Angelos says:

"I think Keating must have extensive business interests there hence his bizarre adoration of the man."

Yeah. Keating being such a humble, self deprecating 'man of the people' and all. He really liked Lee Kuan Yew, too.

I never considered Gough to be a friend of Suharto, though, merely an accomplice.

But Keating obviously loved the Indonesian dictator.

It plainly pisses off certain politicians in this country that we don't have a more, let us say, Presidential style of government here.

Being Prime Minister must seem so whimpy when contrasted with the Leadership Principle as it is expressed in places like Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Burma and so on.

All those fawning sycophants rushing out to fuss over you as the Presidential motorcade sweeps up the palace driveway; spit-polish honour guards of jack-booted Presidential militia snapping to attention at the airport; platoons of doe-eyed gamines performing their traditional dances, the gardens heavy with the aroma of incense and sandalwood.

"It is my honour to present you with a ceremonial lei, Mr President."


Stuff the Westminster system.

Keating at Funeral

I've never quite understood Keating's friendship with Suharto Eliot (although you are quite wrong to suggest Gough was a friend) but there is a matter of Australia showing respect to Indonesia by attending Suharto's funeral. There are certain protocols that must be maintained with the current Indonesian government and the people.

I think Keating must have extensive business interests there hence his bizarre adoration of the man.I reckon he's well on the way to becoming one of the countries richest ex-pollies (even beating Hawkie).It's one thing for Australia to have an official diplomatic representation at the man's funeral but why someone like Keating should turn up is a mystery.

You could ask him personally if you like- he's often hovering around Macleay street at the coffee shop on the corner of his street- but he's liable to tell you to p**s off.


What really amuses me about GS is that he really does not have a clue about Indonesia by calling Suharto "a nation-builder" and "a changer of history". A giant of Asia? maybe. "A dictator? Yes. But definitely not "a nation-builder" and "a changer of history".

Sukarno built the Indonesian nation out of nothing. There was no the political Indonesia as we know now. The most powerful Javanese Empire only covered as far as the southern part of Sumatra, Java and maybe Bali. The Dutch created the present political boundary and Sukarno latched on to it. Sukarno also gave Indonesia the unifying languange, the Bahasa, which is based on the Malay language from the Malay pennisula. He also gave the country the Panca Sila (btw Dolly Downer made a mess this morning trying to pronounce it), the nation founding philosophy. Suharto would not know how to build a nation. He knew how to keep the nation together by state sanctioned violence.

"A changer of history", he has never changed anything. He was an accidental and lucky general on the night of the 65 coup. He was visiting his sick daughter in the hospital on the night of the coup, otherwise he would have sufferred the same fate as the other six generals. He did not have the courage to tell Sukarno face-to-face that he (Sukarno) had to go. He sent two other generals to do the dirty work and asked Sukarno to sign the Supersemar (The letter of transfer of power). But NOBODY has actually seen that letter to this day. The Indonesian National Archive has asked for the letter to be archived there a historical document but Suharto and Family have refused so far. Sukarno never said verbally that he transferred the power to Suharto. He simply said he authorised Suharto with power to take whatever actions required to preserve the unity of Indonesia.

East Timor

Personally, I thought it was just terrific that Paul Keating could go to the funeral. I guess Gough Whitlam wasn't well enough.


Or Fraser

I've had a sour taste in my mouth since watching the aforementioned Downer interview (transcript here)


Whatever he [Suharto] may have thought, what we thought - be it the Fraser government or the Hawke or the Keating government, or for that matter, in those two years of the Howard government - we had to work with Indonesia, our next door neighbour of 200 million people. He was the boss. He was the person who had the most influence over the architecture and politics, international politics of South East Asia.....

So I have never gone out of my way to criticise the Whitlam or Fraser governments, you know, to the extent that they could have sent the Australian Army in to stop the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. I mean, I just don't think going to war with Indonesia was ever a good option for Australia, and I don't think Mr Whitlam or Mr Fraser ever thought that and I think both of them were right.

I wouldn't be suprised, Eliot, if either of those two would feel well enough to attend.

Still making excuses ...

Ah, Sheridan - I recall my supervisor, some years ago, asking me what I thought of his work. I was not complimentary. Her response was "But he does generate a lot of discussion". My reply to that was "Yes, he gets me wanting to say a few things". Which, as someone who still had a reluctance to use certain words in front of a lady, I did not detail.

And I saw a bit of Dolly Downer on the news last night making excuses and recalling how quickly he was off to Jakarta after the Howard govt took office. As was the runt, himself. Can't ever forget the deputy pm at the time, Tim Fischer, saying Suharto should be Time magazine's "man of the half century." Seems the Howard government was determined to continue the pattern and not deserving being overlooked for condemnation in that regard.

Sheridan the Antidemocrat

Michael de Angelos: "But does anyone take Greg Sheridan seriously anymore ?. Like talk back radio, the days of these type of biased partisan writers must soon be over."

Personally, I doubt it. There are still plenty of people in Australia who hero-worship dictators, and praise them for getting the trains to run on time.

Sheridan is in favour of democracy, as long as it produces the results he likes. He will cheerfully support a dictator like Suharto, who 'gets things done', albeit at enormous cost in blood and money. Sheridan is also part of the Jakarta Lobby, a bunch of right wing academics, journalists, serving and former public officials and others who promoted the Suharto regime in Australia and apologised for its excesses, like the invasion and occupation of East Timor.

Suharto came to power as a result of the failure of a 1965 military coup led by the  pro-Sukarno Colonel Untung. The Wikipedia article on this says the following:

Following the news at 7AM, [October 1, 1965] RRI [( Radio Republik Indonesia] broadcast a message from Lieutenant-Colonel Untung, commander of the Presidential guard, to the effect that the 30th September Movement, an internal army organization, had taken control with the help of other units of strategic locations in Jakarta to forestall a coup attempt by a 'General's Council' aided by the CIA. It was also stated that President Sukarno was under the movement's protection ... Further radio announcements later that day listed 45 members of the G30S Movement and stated that all army ranks above Lieutenant would be abolished.

That the Untung coup was itself a move to forestall another coup led by officers at the very top of the Army is given credence by the fact that it appears to have been very hastily planned and botched in execution. Moreover, the fact that the subsequent Suharto government was not interested in any sort of official inquiry into it speaks volumes. If the Untung coup was what Suharto and his cronies claimed it to be - a move by the Indonesian Communist Party to sieze power, then full subsequent public exposure and documentation could only have been to Suharto's advantage.

Instead, the whole business was swept under the rug as far as possible, and the communal violence in which up to a million 'communists' were killed, to the cheers of the Right in Australia, taught a whole generation of Indonesians the value of keeping silent and non-critical. Indonesia subsequently became Suharto's personal fiefdom, and Australians like Sheridan and Paul Keating did their very best to whitewash it, and explain away its ugly reality.

The Suharto family's wealth has been estimated by Transparency International as US$ 15 - 35 billion. Money like that is not simply blown on palaces and lifestyle expenses; it is used to bestow patronage. It can buy an awful lot of friends, both inside and outside Indonesia.

The Problem With Sheridan

It's a common thread that runs through the writings of all those who deify a brutal, vicious mass murderer like Suharto and his ilk. That because the economy moves forward, sometimes in leaps and bounds, that somehow the creature should be admired, or his dreadful crimes be excused or treated as an unfortunate aside. 

It ignores the fact that if Suharto hadn't been on his murderous rampage ( and bilking his own country for his personal benefit), there may have been an even better economic manager running the country-one who didn't engage on an orgy of genocide.

 The commentators who glorify the like of Suharto-for that is what they are doing, could well have done the same about Adolf Hitler. For he certainly got the German economy booming-one reason he was so admired by so many US and British industrialists who also admired his tough stance on unionists, communists etc.But without Hitler, Germany was well on the way to becoming an economic powerhouse anyway and was way ahead of the rest of Europe by introducing social benefits.

But does anyone take Greg Sheridan seriously anymore ?. Like talk back radio, the days of these type of biased partisan writers must soon be over.

The True Face Of Power

There are Suharto's in every country on the face of this planet. They are here in Australia, using different methods, short of murder thankfully, and are also considered part of the establishment.

Recently some of the "pillars" of our community were fined by the courts and exposed for the criminals that they are. Big deal, they are still here and planning the next rip-off.

Supposedly, it is the through the efforts of organised crime that Australia is awash in drugs. Think again! There are those in the upper echelons of business for whom the business of crime is just another business and to whom a criminal is just another ruthless business man speaking the same language and espousing the same business philosophies.

Recently I wrote a WD contribution that pointed out that in 2007 the amount of money moved in money laundering, in this country alone, was $12 billion and world-wide was $300 billion. That size of "criminal" endeavour requires complicity on a vast scale. You average street thug is not doing that sort of business. It requires the resources of multi-national organisations.

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