Monday, January 28, 2008
ndonesia's second president ruled the country for 32 years under a system he called "guided democracy." This meant that every five years, a grand "festival of democracy" (election) would be held and Suharto would be "re-elected" in a guided fashion, by margins only rivalled by Saddam Hussein's amazing "electoral victories."
After 23 days in hospital, during which period the headlines alternated daily between his health's "dramatic improvement" to "serious deterioration," he died on Sunday at 1:10 pm Jakarta time. The last bulletins prior to the announcement of his death indicated that his doctors were almost ready to discharge him, so miraculous was his recovery from multiple organ failure.
The "smiling general," as western journalists loved to call him, was rarely seen in public during the 10 years since his resignation at the height of mass rioting in his capital city (and many other cities, including Solo, which his body passed through today) in May 1998. Numerous criminal cases were put on hold in 2000, due to a decision that he was too ill to stand trial. Indonesia needs the full and true story of those 32 years to be revealed -- a process which will be much more difficult now, but no less necessary. Had justice persevered eight years ago, it would have been better for all concerned, including Suharto himself.
I captured some video from MetroTV this morning, expecting some spectacular scenes as the burial convoy passed through Solo and up to the elaborate hilltop mausoleum in Karanganyar district, known as Astana Giribangun. Even the reporter in the first scene of the video says that he was expecting "chaos and anarchy" along the way, but emotions were not on display at all (apart from Suharto's daughter in the burial service). People came out to line the roads, mostly just wanting to be part of an important event in their country's history.
The foreign media are all saying he was "buried in his hometown." Not true. His late wife was from the Solo area, while Suharto came from a village in the Yogyakarta region.