Subject: Suharto: Indonesia's Smiling, Ruthless General [+IHT]

also: IHT: Jakarta drops case against Suharto

Suharto: Indonesia's Smiling, Ruthless General

JAKARTA, May 12 (AFP) -- As a smiling and ruthless army general, Indonesia's Suharto led the nation to remarkable economic success but the former dictator has lived largely out of public view since his career ended ignominiously.

Once hailed as the nation's "father of development", Suharto stepped down in 1998 after 32 years in power as mounting public pressure backed by widespread protests and unrest left him with no other choice.

He has spent the years since his downfall living largely as a recluse at his luxury residence in Jakarta, usually accepting visitors only on major holidays and entering hospital repeatedly for various ailments.

His decades of achievement in steering the Indonesian nation from a tattered Asian backwater to economic self-sufficiency have been overshadowed by the uglier side of his legacy -- authoritarianism, human rights violations and corruption.

A man of few words, Suharto managed to maintain his grip on power despite being seen as neither a skilled nor an inspirational orator, though he always appears cheerful -- leading to him being dubbed "the smiling general".

Since his downfall, Suharto has become the target of accusations ranging from masterminding outbreaks of deadly communal unrest to illegally amassing billions of dollars.

But his health has prevented him going on trial for corruption, despite an indictment hanging over him since 2000, with lawyers offering medical evidence that he could no longer hold or follow a normal conversation.

Born to a family of farmers in densely-populated central Java on June 8, 1921, Suharto joined the then-Japanese Indonesian army during World War II.

After independence, he joined the fledgling Indonesian armed forces, and in a career briefly marred by a corruption scandal, was posted to Dutch New Guinea before it became a part of Indonesia as Irian Jaya.

Suharto seized power in the aftermath of a botched and bloody coup blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party. Launching his iron-grip rule, he presided over a massive blood letting which left at least half a million communists and their supporters killed and millions jailed.

He banned the communist party and its teachings, assumed the presidency in 1967, and set about bringing the country out of its economic doldrums.

The communist purge was just the first of many bloody incidents as Suharto ruthlessly intimidated or eliminated any opposition to his dictatorship across the sprawling archipelago.

Hundreds of political prisoners were thrown behind bars, and more than 100,000 people are estimated to have died in occupied East Timor as a result of Indonesia's policies.

Meanwhile separatist uprisings in Papua, a former Dutch colony, and Aceh, on the north-western tip of Indonesia, were both violently put down with tens of thousands estimated killed during long-running military operations.

In his early days in power, Suharto was easily accessible but he increasingly became isolated from the people he led, trapped in a cocoon of strict protocol and security measures.

Many Indonesians tolerated Suharto's autocratic rule and rampant rights abuses as he brought economic stability to the once impoverished nation.

Under his rule, Indonesia became self-sufficient in rice and the economy became less dependent on oil and gas export earnings as manufactured products were shipped abroad.

However the cruder business tactics of his children and cronies, whose tentacles reached into every sector of the economy, began to create widespread resentment during the 1990s.

By the time he ran for a seventh five-year term in March of 1998 -- as usual the sole candidate -- student dissent was crushed only by abduction and torture, and the economy was sliding downhill amid the Asian financial crisis.

What had started as a monetary problem in late 1997 quickly spiralled into a full-scale crisis of confidence.

Students were on the streets, ministers declined to join a new crisis cabinet and finally even the armed forces told him it was time to go.

Suharto steadfastly rejected allegations he and his family were sitting on a fortune worth at least 15 billion dollars.

Despite the ground swell of opposition he faced and his humiliating departure, the governments that have followed him have been criticised for only half-heartedly probing his family's massive wealth.

But Suharto has had to watch the sprawling business empire of his six children being dismantled piece by piece under public pressure and his favorite youngest son Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra being jailed for graft.

His wife and close confidante for 48 years, Siti Suhartinah, died of a heart attack in April 1996.


International Herald Tribune Friday, May 12, 2006

Jakarta drops case against Suharto

By Peter Gelling

JAKARTA Charges of corruption and graft against Suharto, the former Indonesian president, were dropped Friday.

The 84-year-old Suharto, who had been facing legal proceedings since 2000 for amassing more than $600 million during his 32-year rule, underwent colon surgery in the past week and remains hospitalized.

"The graft case against the defendant, Suharto, has been closed," Attorney General Abdul Rahman Saleh said. He added that an independent team of doctors had conferred with Suharto's own doctors and determined that his health was "not good."

However, he said the case could be reopened if there were "new developments," suggesting Suharto could still be tried if his health improves, The Associated Press reported.

Suharto's lawyers have long argued that he is mentally unfit to stand trial after suffering a series of strokes. Since the charges were filed six years ago, Suharto has never appeared in court.

The announcement relieves President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of having to decide whether to drop the charges, a decision he had been struggling with over the past week. Earlier Friday, he had said that he would delay making any decision on Suharto's fate because the issue was too divisive and might spark demonstrations or riots.

State Secretary Yusril Ihza Mahendra, who was told by the president to investigate the possibility of dropping charges, said Thursday that the government was likely to halt any prosecution and that it would even work to rehabilitate the ex-leader's name.

Suharto is largely blamed for cultivating the corrupted interplay between politics and business that the Indonesian government is now desperately trying to root out.

Rahman, the attorney general, said prosecutors were still investigating a total of 3.4 trillion rupiah, or $392.5 million, that was allegedly collected by seven fund-raising foundations controlled by Suharto.

The former general came to power in the aftermath of an alleged communist coup and remained in power for more than three decades. His reign came to an end in 1998 after the Asian financial crisis led to mass protests and student riots that eventually forced his resignation. Many analysts believe that institutionalized corruption under Suharto prolonged Indonesia's recovery from the crisis.

Suharto, however, also presided over a time of economic stability in Indonesia, and is still supported by many Indonesians.

------------ Joyo Indonesia News Service

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