(1/27/2008 6:09:05 PM)

Late Suharto remembered as strong leader despite 'less than desirable' human rights record

JAKARTA (AP):sia-Pacific leaders recalled former Indonesian president Suharto's strengths, praising him after his death Sunday for modernizing his country and for promoting regional unity - despite a "less than desirable" human rights record.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said Suharto played a critical role in building the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, the 10-country bloc that has increased the region's influence in global politics.

"As one of the founding fathers of ASEAN, President Suharto was among those who had the pioneering vision of establishing a more peaceful, progressive and prosperous Southeast Asian region founded on respect and understanding," Arroyo said in a statement from Dubai, where she was traveling.

Arroyo also said Suharto helped negotiate a peace pact between the Philippine government and the Moro National Liberation Front, a Muslim rebel group in the Philippines' volatile southern area of Mindanao.

"The Filipino people join me in offering deepest sympathies and condolences on the demise of former President Suharto," Arroyo said.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd also said Suharto was influential in ASEAN's successful development, as well as that of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, or APEC, a major international body that promotes world trade.

Suharto "presided over the government of what is the world's fourth most populous country and its largest Islamic nation," Rudd said in a statement.

"Until the catastrophic Asian financial crisis of 1997, he oversaw a period of significant economic growth and modernization at a time when Indonesia faced fundamental political, social and economic challenges," he said.

Former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer said that, despite a "less than desirable" human rights record, Suharto had worked to build strong ties between the two nations, which are neighbors.

"He was always very civil in my dealings with him and very responsive to building a relationship between Australia and Indonesia," Downer said.

A procession of regional leaders, including several of Suharto's contemporaries, came to visit him after he was hospitalized on Jan. 4 with multiple organ failure. (***)

(1/27/2008 3:04:17 PM)

Soeharto: Demise of a master

JAKARTA (JP):The father of development is dead.

Venerated for much of his 32-year tenure as the liberator he appeared to be after more than two decades of authoritarian rule under his predecessor, Sukarno, and vilified near its end for his authoritarian rule and for the corruption he appeared to condone in his later years in office, Indonesia's second president, Soeharto died quietly Sunday aged 86 at Pertamina Hospital.

A complication of illnesses had sapped the former military strongman of his vitality during the last years of his life. He leaves behind the partially grown seeds of an ambitious industrial modernization plan and a legacy of sectarian strife and unbridled corruption.

Soeharto's rise to the peak of executive power began in 1968, in the wake of the abortive communist coup three years earlier. The ascension of the unassuming, quietly smiling general, the polar opposite of the charismatic and hugely popular foundingpresident Sukarno, took many of his countrymen by surprise, many of whom believed Sukarno had a unassailable hold over the nation.

And yet, given the country's political makeup and power constellation of the day, Soeharto quickly established he was more than enough equipped for the post he was to assume, despite humble beginnings and earlier frustrations.

Some confusion regarding his origins aside, the official accounts record that Soeharto was born on June 8, 1921, to a poor but not unimportant farmer's family in Kemusuk, about 15 kilometers northwest of Yogyakarta. His father, Kertosudiro, was a village irrigation official in charge of overseeing the allocation of water to irrigate the different fields in the village. His mother, Sukirah, was a village woman from a neighboring hamlet.

The marriage broke down just a few weeks after Soeharto's birth and the child was entrusted to the care of his paternal great aunt, from where he returned to live with his mother only after she remarried. And although schooling began when he was only four years old -- a most unusually early age, especially forIndonesian village children of that time -- his formal education was disrupted several times because the young child's frequent shuttling between relatives in his extended family.

From this troubled, itinerant youth, Soeharto was later to remember with special fondness and gratitude the time he spent with the family of one of his paternal aunts, the wife of a senior agricultural official, Mas Ngabei Prawirohardjo. It was here at Wuryantoro that Soeharto appeared to have spent his most formative period. It was here too, through his relationship with the Prawirohardjos, that he was to meet his future wife, Siti Hartinah, the daughter of the district chief of nearby Wonogiri, RM Soemoharjomo.

After completing his secondary schooling in 1939 at the age of 17, Soeharto left a troubled childhood behind and started work as a clerical assistant at a local bank in Wuryantoro. The job didn't last long. Soon after he started work, his banking career was terminated after he tore a piece of his clothing, which he said he could not afford to replace.

Desperate for work but not very successful in finding a suitable job, Soeharto enlisted with KNIL (Royal Netherlands Indies Army), where he began service on June 1, 1940, and it was there that he received his basic military training. But although he reportedly did well and was later accepted to the KNIL officer training school in Gombong, Central Java, in December of that year, his real opportunity for a solid military career came in March 1942, with the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies and the subsequent proclamation of Indonesia's independence on Aug. 17, 1945.

After the establishment of the BKR (the People's Security Body) and subsequent TKR (People's Security Army) -- both forerunners of the Indonesian National Army, or TNI -- in which he took an active role, Soeharto's military star steadily rose.

Promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1945, he distinguished himself during the Dutch military occupation of Yogyakarta, the new Republic of Indonesia's war capital. Despite some controversy over the exact role he played in the renowned March 1, 1949, daytime assault on Dutch strongholds in Yogyakarta, his leadership as commander in the field at the timeremains undisputed and the attack served its purpose ofconvincing the world that the Indonesian Republic continued to exist and had not succumbed to the superior Dutch military might.

The same tactical and strategic mastery that Soeharto had displayed during the war for independence served him well during and after the traumatic days of October 1965, following the alleged communist coup in September. And those who have ever wondered how Soeharto had managed to wrest the seemingly absolutepowers from the hands of his predecessor, Sukarno, and go on to become a near-absolute ruler himself, will have to admit that Soeharto's tactical and strategic mastery in politics was virtually unrivaled for his time.

With patience, skill and resolve -- and a philosophical world view that he conceivably acquired from his troubled childhood and his typically Javanese upbringing -- Soeharto always remained true to the Javanese saying alon-alon waton kelakon (slowly but surely) and never made a move, in war or in politics, until he was certain that the victory would be his. Given the right moment, however, he could strike swiftly and with the ruthlessness of a Javanese potentate of old. With that skill and patience, he moved to gradually unseat Sukarno from the presidency, defying protests that he was moving too slowly.

On March 11, 1966, while still only a commander of the Army Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad) leading the fight against the coup's plotters, he sent four of his generals to Bogor, Sukarno's sanctuary, to wrest from the president the authority to take whatever action he thought was necessary "to restore orderand protect the president." Mysteriously, the original document has since disappeared.

With that mandate in hand, however, Soeharto quickly moved to outlaw the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), dismiss and arrest 15 of Sukarno's cabinet ministers, and appoint a new cabinet with Soeharto himself as head of the presidium.

From that point on, history proceeded quickly.

Soeharto undid all of Sukarno's left-leaning policies. He stabilized the economy, restored good relations with Malaysia and foreign investments were welcomed. Appointed Acting President as a stand-in for the now socially and politically isolated Sukarno, Soeharto was named full president on March 27, 1968 by a People's Consultative Assembly whose members were, discreetly, handpicked by Soeharto.

Under Soeharto's New Order, old roads were repaired and new roads constructed, irrigation ditches were built, factories rose across the country and the banking industry seemed outwardly to flourish. A master in translating complicated issues into a language the common people could understand, he regularly captivated audiences of peasants in the villages. A picture ofrising wealth and growing prosperity was painted for the people to refute the increasing grumbles of hardship, earning him the designation of Indonesia's "father of development."

To govern effectively and to carry out his economic programs without disruptions, however, political stability was needed. Therefore, open dissent was suppressed. For the purpose of keeping political parties -- and the legislative bodies, the House of Representatives and the People's Consultative Assembly(MPR) -- in rein, a machinery, was created in the form of Golkar to make sure that Soeharto, the president, won the majority of votes in support of his policies every time.

Within the judiciary and throughout the entire bureaucracy, the same policy was pursued: to make sure that officials toe the government line while preserving an outward facade of democracy, all the state institutions were revamped and peopled with New Order supporters. But while in this way political stability was indeed ensured, at least for the time being, those policies provided a fertile breeding bed for corruption, which, indeed thrived and blossomed beyond imagination and, over those three decades under the New Order, quickly came to infest nearly all walks of life.

In the end, however, the 1997 Asian financial crisis burst to expose the ersatz glitter and, combined with the discontent that had been simmering domestically among the oppressed masses, proved too much for even Soeharto to handle. In May 1998, Indonesia's longest-ruling president was forced to resign amidriots and popular protests the extent and ferocity of which the nation had seen only a few times before.

The father of development is dead. But as for Indonesia, Soeharto's demise, and that of the New Order he founded, marks not only the end of the remarkable life and the loss of a great if controversial leader, but hopefully the end of an era of extended autocratic presidencies as well. (***)

(1/24/2008 7:46:04 PM)

Javanese believe ancient mysticism shielding ex-dictator Suharto from death

JAKARTA(AP): As a young soldier, former Indonesian president Suharto was visited by powerful Javanese shamen who bequeathed him mystical charms to shield him from bullets and make him invisible during battle.

Suharto is now 86 and has been languishing in a Jakarta hospital for weeks. But magical pins and metal - some said to be embedded in his body - are keeping the one-time strongman from passing to another world, according to popular Indonesian legend.

Doctors said Thursday his condition was improving after briefly deteriorating the day before. Fluid and infection in his lungs were reduced overnight and Suharto was able to whisper and take a few bites of food.

The 40-member presidential medical team struggling to stem Suharto's sepsis, pneumonia, failing kidneys, lungs and heart ascribe his resilience to tough army training and physical strength.

On the streets, however, theories about his spiritual powers prevail.

Indonesia's 235 million people are predominantly Muslim, but their faith is a complex mix of Hinduism, Buddhism and local animist traditions. The old Javanese ways touch on many aspects of daily life and Suharto, though he performed the pilgrimage to Mecca, was said to be a strong believer in local mojo.

"There are many strange objects in his body. They are making it difficult for Suharto to die," said Permadi, a member of parliament and well-known mystic. "The doctors know about this. They can see them in the X-rays. Inside the body of Suharto there are many strange objects."

Like Suharto and many Indonesians, Permadi only goes by one name.

Dr. Christian Johannes, who is treating Suharto at the Pertamina Hospital, scoffs at such suggestions. "We are dealing with Suharto's through medical science," she said.

Suharto, vilified by critics as one of the most brutal and corrupt autocrats of the 20th century, has been in critical condition for nearly three weeks after suffering multiple organ failure. His heart briefly stopped beating last week and doctors said he had been close to death.

The smallest twists and turns of his health have been followed by the national media, with specialists claiming one day he was in grave danger, then saying he was staging a "remarkable recovery" the next.

Psychics appear on television broadcasts with insights into when the self-appointed five-star general will die. Their predictions range from a few months to four years.

Ki Joko Bodo, a physic with his own show on Indonesian TV, said, "Suharto's spirit will live until he is 90 years old, but physically he has been broken by his illness."

Suharto is rumored to keep a collection of talisman and other enchanted artifacts in a special chamber of his downtown Jakarta villa, but it remains a mystery how actively he practiced mysticism.

Indonesian spiritual philosophy, or Kejawen, stems back more than 1,000 years to before the arrival of Islam. It is not an official religion with scriptures or prophets, but a belief that life is a metaphysical journey guided by supernatural powers.

Historians say Suharto oversaw the extermination of up to 800,000 communists in his rise to power from 1965-1968 and led military operations that killed another 300,000 Indonesians during his 32 years in office.

Yet he has been visited by a steady stream of political leaders who have called on the Indonesian people - and the attorneys suing him for allegedly bilking the state of hundreds of millions of dollars - to forgive him, another Javanese tradition of helping the sick pass more easily to death.

Before Suharto's soul can be released, his six children, who became fabulously wealthy during his reign, must get an apology from the victims of his reign, said Permadi. "But they are too arrogant to ask for an apology and say they have done nothing wrong," he added.

Many Indonesians believe Suharto was able to rule for so long because he drew power from sacred daggers and masks, known in the Javanese language as "pusaka." His inspiration is said to have come from consultations with spirits during meditation sessions at holy sites and his family's hilltop mausoleum, where he will be buried.

"I went there to the slope of Mount Lawu with Suharto," said Kasiman, a 74-year-old soup vendor who lives near the cemetery outside the city of Solo on the main island of Java. Long before he became president, Kasiman said, Suharto would "sit silently for days at the same spot" awaiting divine guidance.

Permadi, the mystic politician, believes the former leader's soul will be released when he has been forgiven for his sins on earth, or when doctors decide to unplug "the machines that cling to Suharto's body." (***)