You know he couldn’t make it when the leader(s) or former leader(s) from neighbouring countries took turn to give him probably the last visit. First it was Singapore’s founding father and first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, 84; then Mahathir Mohamad, the 82-year-old former prime minister of Malaysia and former richest man on earth Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, 61 from Brunei. On Sunday, 27th Jan 2008, the former dictator Suharto who ruled Indonesia with iron-fist for 32-years has died from multiple organ failure at the age of 86.
Suharto was regarded as one of the 20th century’s most brutal and corrupt politicians has lived comfortably in downtown Jakarta for the past decade since being toppled by a pro-democracy uprising during the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis. Just how cruel he was? Reports had it that up to 800,000 alleged communist sympathizers were killed during his rise to power from 1965 to 1968. Suharto was said to be responsible for sending troops to kill another 300,000 in military operations against independence movements in Papua, Aceh and East Timor.
No doubt neighbouring former leaders such as Mahathir and Lee Kuan Yew appreciated Suharto’s effort in ending Sukarno’s “Confrontation” against Malaysia but on equal notes critics say Suharto squandered Indonesia’s vast natural resources of oil, timber and gold – siphoning the nation’s wealth at an estimated “US$35 billion” to benefit his cronies and family like a mafia Godfather (remember Al Capone?). Due to the excuse that his health was deteriorating (what else do you expect?) Suharto was never charge to the fullest but instead was let off the hook to live a comfortable life till he dies on Sunday.
With the court system paralyzed by corruption, his former elite politicians help by consistently called for charges against Suharto to be dropped on humanitarian grounds. Does this means it’s all right to be corrupt as long as you let off the throne at old age (at which you would probably have health problems) so that you can live on your ill-earned fortunes – all in the name of humanitarian grounds? At least I bet Malaysia former premier Mahathir would thinks so. Who says it’s a no-no for a nation to have iron-fisted, brutal, cold-blooded and corrupted dictator leader?
To the youngsters, his brutalities could be traced as early as May 1998 riots – thousands of women, aged between 10 – 50 years old and mostly of ethnic-Chinese were systematically gang raped in front of their families. Some of these victims were later died or committed suicide. Indonesians are pretending to be soldiers “putting red, green and blue crosses on houses” – red to encourage burning the house, green to encourage rape against the females, and blue to encourage stealing. People are offering as low as US$ 6 to rape a Chinese Indonesian.
The government and military are accused of participating in a cover-up by suggesting that it was the urban poor who incited the violence against their neighbors when in fact it was retaliation by Suharto for being forced to resign. Former defense minister and armed forces commander General Wiranto, as well as several police chiefs were claimed to be in cohort with Suharto for the riots. There’s a similarity between the riots and Malaysia though – ethnic Chinese were made scapegoats in times of conflict or hardship.
Indonesian economy plunged after the riots mainly because most of the ethnic Chinese businesses and wealth were relocated elsewhere, particularly Singapore. Thereafter the Indonesian government realized the dependency on stability and investment for its survival. Changes were made and now ethnic Chinese are allowed to use their Chinese name, so much so that even lion dances are annual events during the Chinese Lunar New Year in Indonesia. Suharto might have stopped Sukarno from his ambitious plan to reunite Indonesia and Malaysia but the former launched the coup for his own personal interest nevertheless. Furthermore there’re simply too many lives, not to mention nation’s wealth being wiped out for the selfishness of dictatorship in this context.
The interesting question is who will inherit Suharto’s huge fortune (if indeed there’s $35 billion hidden somewhere) unofficially? Most probably his flamboyant youngest playboy son Tommy Suharto and his eldest daughter Siti Hardijanti ”Tutu” Rukmana would share Suharto’s 32-year of wealth accumulation.