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Golkar seizes on Wahid national hero calls to promote Suharto

Jakarta Globe - January 3, 2010

Amid strong public demand to name the late former President Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid a national hero, the Golkar Party on Sunday called for the same honor to be bestowed on its founder and former strongman Suharto.

"It's right to name Pak Harto a hero for his contributions to developing the country over 30 years, despite of all his weaknesses," said Setya Novanto, head of Golkar's faction in the House of Representatives.

Setya said he would present the proposal to Golkar's central board for approval when it reconvened next week. "We shouldn't forget Suharto's service to the country. Many programs conducted during his tenure focused on people's welfare," he said.

He said the party was ready for negative public reactions that could lead to the same furor that occurred in 2008 when the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) released a series of television advertisements praising the former president as a hero.

The PKS move sparked public outcry and was seen by many observers as an opportunistic move to appeal to Golkar's voters. Golkar also unsuccessfully proposed to have Suharto elevated to national hero status shortly after his death in January 2008.

"I believe that there will come a time when people will recognize Suharto's services, particularly in this difficult economic situation," Setya said.

PKS faction chairman Mustafa Kamal said his party was open to suggestions from anyone to formally recognize both former presidents as heroes. "We allow any aspiration because we believe that each figure has his own strengths and weaknesses," he said.

However, Mustafa added that the proper procedures should be followed to have the former presidents made national heroes. "The final judgement will be professionally determined by relevant officials," he said.

But Achmad Rubaie, a legislator from the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), said Wahid's contributions to the country were not the same as Suharto's, and the two should not be linked.

"The two proposals should be separated," he said. "Gus Dur's services are worthy of the [hero] title based on his effort to uphold democracy and pluralism."

During last November's 45th anniversary celebrations for Golkar, the longtime political vehicle of Suharto presented a posthumous award to him to recognize his contributions to the party and the nation.

The honor was slammed by human rights activists, who said the award could not sweep away Suharto's past misdeeds, which included numerous human rights abuses and massive corruption during his 32-year reign.

According to a 2007 report by the United Nations and the World Bank, Suharto was one of the most corrupt world leaders in history, having embezzled as much as $35 billion from the state during his time in office and leaving a legacy of pervasive corruption and unresolved human rights abuses. Febriamy Hutapea