|Subject: AAP: RI-Australia Roller-coaster
- AAP: Aust, Indon share roller-coaster ride though Suharto years
- BBC: The Lasting Legacy of Suharto
Aust, Indon share roller-coaster ride though Suharto years
By Sandra O'Malley, Diplomatic Correspondent
CANBERRA, Jan 27 AAP - In death, as in life, few will agree on the legacy left behind by the former Indonesian dictator Suharto, who died today aged 86.
He ruled Indonesia for more than three decades and over that time his nation went from being viewed as a threat to Australia, to an ally.
The relationship between the two countries, however, was rarely easy, whether it was seen as friend or foe.
Suharto, a member of the Indonesian army before becoming leader, rose to power through 1965 and 1966, and during this time hundreds of thousands of opponents were killed.
He ruled the nation with an iron fist during more than 32 years in power.
Suharto was eventually forced to resign in May 1998 following mounting calls for democratic reforms and growing unrest triggered by the country's worst economic crisis in decades.
Critics say hundreds of thousands of people died during those intervening years - in East Timor, Aceh and Papua - at the hands of a military working under Suharto's authority.
Allegations of corruption and cronyism, which dogged him for years, came to a head when he was charged with embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars of state funds after leaving office.
The government later dropped the case due to his poor health. His family reportedly reached agreement to settle a civil case worth more than a billion dollars while he was on his death bed.
Relations with Australia reached their zenith under former prime minister Paul Keating.
As leader Mr Keating visited Indonesia six times in just over four years and in 1995 the two countries signed an historic defence pact - which came largely undone after Australia supported East Timor's quest for independence in 1999.
Mr Keating was criticised for his close personal friendship with Suharto, whom he believed did much to improve ordinary life for Indonesians, as well as maintaining the stability and security of the populous country - crucial for the region.
He wasn't the only Australian politician to see Suharto as a positive force.
Former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer once went as far as to suggest Suharto's contribution to the world was so great he should be recognised as "the man of the world of the second half of this century".
Others argue Canberra shamefully overlooked human rights abuses in East Timor, Papua and Aceh, wary of upsetting the delicate balance of the relationship and jeopardising lucrative trade and economic opportunities.
In 1999, Jose Ramos-Horta - then a leader of East Timor's independence movement and now the tiny nation's president - accused Mr Keating "and his like" of being "an accomplice of the Suharto regime".
While Mr Keating may have been the most visible, Indonesian expert Greg Fealy, from the Australian National University, says successive Australian leaders were supportive of the Suharto regime.
"The 32-year period of Suharto's presidency was a constant roller-coaster of fluctuations in the bilateral relations," he told AAP.
"For the most part, successive Australian governments were very pleased that Suharto was president of Indonesia.
"He had, for the most part, a pro-Western stance and ... put a great deal of emphasis on Indonesia's internal stability and that saved Australia a lot of headaches.
"And also he put a lot of emphasis on development and opening up the Indonesian economy and that gave a lot of opportunities to Australian companies.
"When all was said and done Australian governments were generally supportive of Suharto."
But critics suggest the regional stability and economic benefits came at a cost - Australia's inability to hold Indonesia to account for gross human rights abuses.
Joseph Nevins, in his book A Not-So-Distant Horror: Mass Violence in East Timor, accuses Australia and other Western nations of effectively sacrificing the East Timorese for a "far more beneficial relationship with Indonesia".
Dr Fealy suggests the Australian military establishment of the 1970s had real fears East Timorese independence could be problematic for the region.
"The common catchcry at the time by conservative military people was the fear that East Timor might become the Cuba of South-East Asia, if not for Communist regimes, then regimes which had an interest in destabilising the region," he said.
The troubling chapter began with Indonesia's invasion of East Timor in 1975 which had the tacit approval of Australia, according to government documents released less than a decade ago.
The Whitlam government - embroiled in its own political problems at the time - adopted what some described as a policy of studied detachment, mindful of Australia's recent history in Vietnam.
Cables and reports from the time show that Canberra was fully briefed about the takeover but did nothing, which Jakarta chose to take as a green light.
From the death of five Australian-based journalists, known as the Balibo Five, in East Timor in 1975 to the Santa Cruz Massacre in 1991 - when 200 unarmed protesters were killed at a Dili cemetery - Australia's reluctance to take a stand against the violence prompted a strong and unpopular domestic response.
Despite the claims by some of appeasement, Canberra still fell foul of Suharto and his regime.
One notable episode - a controversial 1986 article by David Jenkins in The Sydney Morning Herald comparing Suharto's financial dealings to the corrupt Philippines leader Ferdinand Marcos - prompted a period of chilly relations.
"As a result of that, there was a chill in relations and quite a few journalists were kicked out of Indonesia and a number of other bilateral issues were put on hold," Dr Fealy said.
"The problem was eventually overcome and things got back to normal but there was a succession of issues like that that created these spats and that's why I mention it was something of a roller-coaster."
In the end, these tensions were tolerated because of the wider strategic importance Indonesia held for Australia.
"(Canberra) felt strategically it needed Indonesia ... for the broader security outlook of Australia," Dr Fealy said.
"Any attack would have to come through the Indonesian archipelago, boat people, drug deliveries, all those kind of things would come through those string of islands.
"There was a sense that it was in Australia's broader interest, not just economic, but strategic and diplomatic interests to maintain a good relationship with Indonesia."
Like Suharto, history will be left to judge whether the strategy was worth the cost.
BBC News Sunday, January 27, 2008
The Lasting Legacy of Suharto
By Jonathan Head BBC News, Bangkok
photo: Former Indonesian President Suharto at celebrations for his 86th birthday (08/06/2007). Suharto gave himself the title Father of Development
If Suharto had the kind of pumped-up ego we usually associate with powerful politicians, he never let it show.
In fact he rarely betrayed any emotion.
In stark contrast to his fiery and extrovert predecessor Sukarno, Indonesia's first president, Suharto exuded a sense of calm detachment, his face an enigmatic mask that gave away little.
He kept himself aloof from foreigners and Indonesians alike, almost never granting interviews, only addressing the public sparingly in set-piece speeches which he delivered in a monotone mumble with all the charisma of a junior civil servant.
He left no statues of himself, no parks or roads were named after him, and only on special occasions did you see his face up on billboards, although in the last years of his rule it did appear on the largest-denomination banknote.
Indonesians often found it difficult to pin down what they felt about the man who had towered over their lives for so long.
For most he remained an opaque, distant figure.
They certainly feared him.
He preferred indirect methods to disable his opponents, but was prepared at times to unleash terrifying violence to defend his so-called New Order regime.
The bloodshed which accompanied his rise to power, after a mysterious coup attempt in 1965 which he blamed on Indonesia's then-powerful Communist Party, was on a scale matched only in Cambodia in this region.
Within the space of a few months at least half a million people were slaughtered in anti-communist pogroms that, at the very least, Suharto and the military tacitly encouraged.
The trauma of that period scars Indonesia to this day, and was a key tool in Suharto's armoury.
The spectre of a communist revival was used time and again, right up to the end of his rule, to discredit dissidents, even though the party was completely destroyed in the 1960s.
In the wake of those killings, 200,000 people were detained, half of who remained in prison for more than a decade, most without trial.
They included some of Indonesia's best-known artists and intellectuals.
But it was his ability to manipulate the fear left over from the 1960s which was Suharto's key talent.
He created a network of intelligence agencies whose job it was to sniff out any dissent before it could gain momentum.
Two million people were officially tainted with left wing associations right through to the 1990s - that might just mean having had a grandparent connected in some way with the old Communist Party.
Such a taint could bar you from a government job, or a place at university.
His intelligence agencies proved adept at provoking incidents that gave them a pretext to crush incipient opposition, or at persuading opponents to switch sides.
The student movement was crushed in the 1970s, Islamic activists were either co-opted or jailed in a series of show trials in the 1980s, and independent media outlets were crippled in the mid-1990s.
Suharto had an unrivalled political cunning, an unerring instinct for wrong-footing possible rivals.
But he also carried with him the mindset formed by his small-town upbringing, and believed the mass of the rural poor should be disconnected from politics, and focus only on improving their lives.
His preferred title was revealing - Bapak Pembangunan, meaning "father of development".
His approach to ruling the country was as a stern but benevolent father, who enjoyed dispensing folksy advice and assistance to awe-struck farmers, but would brook no criticism.
It was an approach that delivered impressive stability and development, but at a price.
photo: Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra, the youngest son of Suharto, during a press conference in Jakarta (November 1998). Suharto's son Tommy was jailed for ordering the killing of a judge
When he took over in 1966 the economy was in ruins, inflation out of control, and abject poverty was everywhere.
For the next three decades he steered Indonesia through a period of almost unbroken economic growth, improving its infrastructure, its agricultural and industrial output, and the living standards of most Indonesians.
But the oppressive political climate stifled intellectual development, and smothered attempts to address Indonesia's many ethnic and religious disputes, which then erupted after Suharto's downfall with great loss of life.
Suharto was also lucky. His accession to power coincided with the escalation of the Vietnam War, when the United States was desperate for reliable allies in the region and willing to turn a blind eye to his human rights record.
It also coincided with the first oil boom, which poured riches into the government's coffers.
This only fuelled the culture of patronage and corruption which was endemic in Suharto's paternalistic style of government.
It was one of his great blind spots, a corrosive drag on his economic achievements he never seemed to recognise.
He was notably weak in confronting the conflicts of interest surrounding his six children, who became spectacularly rich during the boom years of the 1980s and 90s.
Suharto himself lived modestly, but he surrounded himself with people who did not, and who flagrantly abused their access to him to become even richer.
Was he a great Asian leader? The many thousands of victims of his brutal purges would surely say no, and yet most Indonesians probably accepted his rule as largely beneficial right up to his last few years in power.
He enjoyed great respect in the rest of the region as a leader who had led Indonesia away from chaos and confrontation with its neighbours.
Had he felt able to step down a few years earlier, his reputation in his country would have been assured.
photo: Student protesters celebrate Suharto's announcement of his retirement (21/05/1998). Suharto's retirement was a cause for celebration for many
As his New Order began to show its age in the 1990s, there was much fevered speculation over how violent Suharto's departure would be, whether it would be as bad as Indonesia's only other experience of a power transfer in the mid-1960s.
Many saw Indonesia as another Yugoslavia, an unwieldy sprawl of islands and ethnic groups that was doomed to fall apart once Suharto's vice-like hold on power was loosened.
Yet, when finally confronted with overwhelming opposition in May 1998, he did not, as many feared, use the military to defend his regime, but instead accepted his defeat, and stepped back into obscure retirement.
After a shaky few years, Indonesia has developed into one of Asia's most lively democracies, and is enjoying strong economic growth again.
One look at nearby Burma, a country with some striking similarities, is enough to know how bad things could have been in Indonesia under different leadership.
BOX: RISE AND FALL OF SUHARTO Born in Java, June 1921 Comes to power in 1965 after alleged Communist coup attempt Formally replaces Sukarno as president in March 1967 Modernisation programmes in the 70s and 80s raise living standards East Timor invaded in late 1975 Asian economic crisis of the 1990s hits Indonesian economy Spiralling prices and discontent force him to resign in May 1998 Judges rule he is unfit to stand trial for corruption in 2000 Transparency International says he tops the world all-time corruption table in March 2004
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