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Indonesia's Suharto Left Iron-Fisted Legacy

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Indonesia's Suharto Left Iron-Fisted Legacy


Indonesia's Suharto Left Iron-Fisted Legacy

Indonesia's Suharto Left Iron-Fisted Legacy

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Former Indonesian dictator Suharto was buried Monday at a state funeral with full military honors. The former army general presided over a brutal regime. As many as 1 million political opponents died in purges.


The former Indonesian dictator Suharto was buried today with full military honors. The man who led Indonesia for more than 30 years died yesterday. During that time, he controlled almost every aspect of life in Indonesia. The five-star general has been accused of corruption offenses and human rights abuses and he has died without being held to account for any of it.

We're going to talk with Sidney Jones, a senior adviser for the nonprofit The International Crisis Group. She's in Jakarta, Indonesia's capital.

Welcome to the program.

Ms. SIDNEY JONES: Thank you.

INSKEEP: What are some of the things that Suharto allegedly did?

Ms. JONES: Well, he has a long record of completely curtailing basic freedoms of association, expression, assembly and so on, basic civil rights. He has been accused of at least encouraging and endorsing, if not actually ordering, the killings of suspected members of the Indonesian Communist Party, and there are an estimated - maybe 500,000 people who were killed in the purges that followed an attempted coup. He's accused of authorizing and indeed supporting the invasion of East Timor in 1975, which led to, by some estimates, over 100,000 deaths. And...

INSKEEP: There were massacres in East Timor going years after that invasion until the country was given its independence, right?

Ms. JONES: Yeah. The massacres were mostly in the first years following the invasion. And then there were more sporadic killings that followed up until the time of the referendum that was held in 1999 and then just lots of killing and destruction that followed that particular event.

And I think that there are a range of other kinds of human rights violations that Suharto is accused of, but I also think it's important to keep in balance that there are many people who see his period of rule as a time of stability and prosperity.

INSKEEP: Maybe that leads to our next question. How did he manage to die outside of prison?

Ms. JONES: He was seen as someone who was effectively untouchable, and it's not completely clear why, except that many of the people who took positions of power following his resignation were people who had grown up under the new order, as his tenure is called, and people who benefited from his rule. So there was a reluctance to actually see him brought to account.

INSKEEP: Are there people in Indonesia who remember him fondly the way that people in the former Soviet Union remember Soviet times fondly now?

Ms. JONES: Yes, there are many people who look on his rule with nostalgia, saw his period of time as one in which, for example, all religions were protected, and the non-Muslims in Indonesia remember him with, if not fondness, at least nostalgia. There are people who believe that their daily lives were getting better economically, that it was a period of growth.

So among ordinary people on the street there actually is a lot of remembrance of that as one of the good times, the period when they were doing well, better than the present.

INSKEEP: You mentioned non-Muslims. This is a majority Muslim country, one of the largest countries in the world. Did he leave behind a basically stable country?

Ms. JONES: Yes, he did leave behind a stable country, and nothing that his successors have had to deal with have in any way rocked the country or been a major threat to security. But he also left behind a completely emasculated political institution.

So as Indonesia struggles with democracy now, they're having to deal with that legacy on a day-to-day basis, just very weak institutions and no tradition of democratic rule.

INSKEEP: Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group. Thanks very much.

Ms. JONES: You're welcome.

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Longtime Indonesian Strongman Suharto Dies at 86

Michael Sullivan on Suharto's Mixed Legacy

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Former Indonesian President Suharto walks with his daughter Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, right, and aide during the celebrations of his 86th birthday at his home in Jakarta, Indonesia on June 8, 2007. AP/Edo hide caption

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Former Indonesian President Suharto walks with his daughter Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, right, and aide during the celebrations of his 86th birthday at his home in Jakarta, Indonesia on June 8, 2007.


Suharto, the general who emerged from obscurity to rule Indonesia with an iron fist after brutally suppressing a 1965 communist uprising, died Sunday in Jakarta at age 86.

The former president, who was forced out of office 10 years ago after three decades in power, entered the hospital Jan. 4 after his heart, kidneys and lungs weakened. Doctors prolonged his life through dialysis and a ventilator, but he stopped breathing on his own overnight before slipping into a coma Sunday.

He was declared dead at 1:10 p.m. when his heart stopped. The cause of death was multiple organ failure, Chief Presidential Dr. Marjo Subiandono said.

"My father passed away peacefully," sobbed Suharto's eldest daughter, Tutut. "May God bless him and forgive all of his mistakes."

Suharto's regime was widely regarded as one of most corrupt and brutal of the 20th century. He came to power after a group of left-wing army officers and leaders of the Indonesian Communist Party tried to seize control in Jakarta. Suharto narrowly escaped the fate of many of his fellow generals who were assassinated during the uprising. In the coming days, he rallied loyal troops and crushed the uprising, massacring hundreds of thousands in the process.

Then-President Sukarno, who had led the sprawling archipelago nation to independence from the Netherlands in 1949, was weakened by the political crisis and Suharto deftly exploited the chaos. By March 1967, Suharto outmaneuvered Sukarno and took over the presidency. Sukarno died under house arrest three years later.

During his years in office, Suharto brutally dealt with dissenters and was accused of siphoning off billions of dollars of state funds for himself, family and close associates.

Even after leaving office, Suharto steadfastly rebuffed the allegations as "empty talk." In 2004, however, he topped a "most corrupt" list put out by the nongovernmental organization, Transparency International, which said he had taken between $15 billion and $35 billion during his years in power. The Berlin-based group tracks corruption worldwide.

The former strongman had been previously charged with graft but escaped prosecution when he was deemed too ill to stand trial. The deterioration in his health in the days before his death prompted some senior politicians and one of Suharto's daughters to call for all remaining legal proceedings against him to be dropped.

During the Cold War, Suharto's anti-communist credentials made him a key U.S. ally; he enjoyed close relations with several U.S. administrations. In 2001, declassified documents confirmed a long-held suspicion that in a December 1975 meeting with President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Suharto was given the green light to invade the breakaway region of East Timor.

Suharto also forged secret agreements with Washington to share intelligence and allow U.S. nuclear submarines passage through key sea lanes around Indonesia.

By 1997, a meltdown in Asian currencies sent economic shockwaves through the region, and Indonesia's rupiah was among the hardest hit. Years of pent-up anger against Suharto's regime boiled over into the streets of Jakarta and by 1998, the capital was wracked by riots amid a collapsing economy.

Still, Suharto clung to power, running unopposed for reelection in March 1998. The sham vote sparked further protests and dissention within Suharto's own Golkar party. To avoid a potential civil war, Suharto agreed in May 1998 to step down and hand power to his deputy, B.J. Habibie.

Since stepping down as president, Suharto had lived a quiet and secluded life in a leafy Jakarta suburb, rarely venturing from his mansion.

Despite the brutality of his rise and years in power, Suharto did preside over unprecedented growth in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation. That has led many to suggest that his legacy comprise equal doses of praise and criticism.

"He brought Indonesia into modern world," said Dewi Fortuna Anwar, a professor at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.

Salim Said, a political analyst said that, as a young man, he saw first-hand the rapid economic progress spawned by Suharto's policies, but the other side of the leader "enriched himself, as well as his cronies."

"That is the black part, (the) dark part of Suharto," he said.

With additional reporting from NPR's Michael Sullivan and The Associated Press.