Sunday, January 27, 2008

Suharto dies with chequered legacy

Former Indonesian President Suharto has finally succumbed to his illnesses, according to AP and BBC. According to an AP report, he died at 2.10pm (Singapore and Malaysia time) today. He was 86.

JAKARTA (Indonesia)
: Former Indonesian president Suharto, an army general who crushed Indonesia's communist movement and pushed aside the country's founding father to usher in 32 years of tough rule that saw up to a million political opponents killed, died Sunday. He was 86.

"He has died,'' Dr Christian Johannes told The Associated Press, adding that he died at 1.10pm (2.10pm Malaysian time).

Dozens of doctors on Suharto's medical team had been rushed to the Pertamina Hospital in the capital, Jakarta, after his blood pressure fell suddenly Saturday night. Suharto had slipped out of consciousness for the first time in more than three weeks of treatment, doctors said.

Suharto, had been in intensive care with lung, heart and kidney failure since he was admitted to the hospital on Jan 4. Over the past week his physicians had spoken of a recovery, but by Sunday that had changed dramatically. - AP

Suharto's downfall was triggered by the turmoil during the Asian financial crisis in 1997/1998. Indonesia fell like a house of cards, and he agreed to a bail-out package by the International Monetary Fund.

The strict IMF-mandated fuel price hikes led to riots and deaths in Jakarta, and culminated in the political end of the Indonesian strongman, who ruled Indonesia with an iron fist for three decades.

Former IMF managing director Michel Camdessus acknowledged that IMF was the root cause for the fall of Suharto in an interview with New York Times when he resigned in Nov 1999.

"We created the conditions that obliged President Suharto to leave his job," Mr Camdessus said. "That was not our intention."

Whether the change in the political scene in Indonesia was by chance or design, nobody will forget the chaos in the country.

And nobody will forget the famous picture of Mr Camdessus, with his arms crossed in what was seen as an arrogant gesture, overseeing Suharto signing the agreement for an IMF bailout package worth nearly US$50 billion. The picture was widely used to personify Asia's loss of its independence.

Suharto's funeral will probably be well attended as part of international diplomatic and state protocol.

But in reality, he had few friends left during his dying days. Among them were the former PMs of Malaysia and Singapore -- Mahathir Mohamad and Lee Kuan Yew respectively -- and the Sultan of Brunei.

His few friends will always remember the man who ended Konfrontasi, which was a euphemism for the war started by former Indonesian president Sukarno against the creation of an enlarged Malaysia during the 1960s.

But Suharto will not be remembered fondly by the new generation of Indonesians and Asians who despise his regime of corruption, cronyism and nepotism, despite the obvious national economic development during his rule.

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