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Suharto still haunted by Sukarno memory

Reuters - April 2, 1997

Jakarta – The ghost of Indonesia's founding president Sukarno still haunts his successor, Suharto, who is intent on stressing the legitimacy of his rise to power 30 years ago, observers say.

The president has approved an official seminar this month on Sukarno's last major speech, in which he denied prior knowledge of a 1965 coup attempt blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).

Mr Suharto, 75, took over from Sukarno in March 1966 amid rising discontent following the coup bid. He was elected provisional president a year later and president in 1968.

The seminar is officially aimed at giving "accurate" information to Indonesians, particularly the country's youth, on Sukarno's January 1967 speech to the Provisional People's Consultative Assembly (MPRS), when he delivered the denial. The coup bid had sparked nation-wide bloodshed.

The seminar issue led the president to stress publicly last week that he had not come to power through a coup. "In old age, perhaps, a lot of things haunt you from the past," said Indonesian historian Onghokham. The MPRS, which had been appointed by the then General Suharto, stripped Sukarno of his titles, including president for life, in March 1967 and elected Mr Suharto acting president.

Historians give little weight to Sukarno's speech as by then he had been effectively pushed aside after signing a letter the previous March transferring executive power to Mr Suharto.

Mr Suharto, then chief of the army's strategic reserve command, was one of the few senior generals not killed in the 1965 coup bid led by Sukarno's palace guard and the air force.

Mr Suharto quickly re-asserted army control and later organised the crushing of the now-banned PKI in a series of bloody army-backed pogroms. Sukarno's links to the coup attempt have never been clear.

Political analysts said it was not clear why Suharto wanted to revisit the subject, but they speculated it could be linked to his decision last year to back the removal of Sukarno's daughter, Megawati Sukarnoputri, as head of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI).

They said Ms Megawati's rising popularity was seen as a possible threat to President Suharto at next March's presidential election when he is expected to run for a seventh five-year term. Ms Megawati was ousted at a government-funded congress last June and has been excluded from next month's general election.

"Perhaps he wants to blacken a bit his historical rival and his daughter as he was troubled by the growing popularity of Sukarnoism," a Jakarta-based diplomat said.

Mr Suharto's 30-year rule has brought stability and high economic growth. But Sukarno remains a popular figure among the young and his speeches are still sold on cassettes at street corners.