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Hero status? Gus Dur, yes, Soeharto, no

Jakarta Post - January 4, 2010

Adianto P. Simamora, Jakarta – In the wake of mounting calls for the government to award the title of national hero to the late former president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid, the Golkar Party has asked the administration to provide the same status to late former president Soeharto.

However, Golkar's demand immediately drew criticisms from a number of experts. Political expert Arbi Sanit and historian Asvi Marwan Adam said Golkar's demand was excessive, saying it was irrational to compare Soeharto with Gus Dur.

"This demonstrates Golkar's childish attitude," he told The Jakarta Post on Sunday. "Don't compare Soeharto and Gus Dur in terms of title for national hero because it is like comparing the earth with the sky, or water with oil."

Gus Dur passed away at the age of 69 at Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital on Wednesday.

Arbi said Soeharto's track record on democracy and human rights was very poor. "Granting the status of national hero has nothing to do with economic achievement or nationalism. It is a matter of how the leader behaves with respect to democracy and human rights," he said.

He said by nominating Soeharto as a national hero, Golkar had gone back on claims it had reformed itself into a modern party. "Golkar still deifies Soeharto and his New Order regime," he said.

The People's Conscience Party (Hanura) led by former Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Wiranto also echoed Golkar's proposal to name Soeharto a national hero.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is scheduled to discuss the proposal to make Gus Dur, his predecessor, a national hero on Monday.

"We have received input from the people about [Gus Dur's] nomination. The President will hear opinions from several people and related institutions [about the proposals]," presidential spokesman Julian Aldrin Pasha said Sunday.

Earlier, Yudhoyono referred to Gus Dur as the "father of multiculturalism and pluralism" who had raised awareness and institutionalized respect for diversity of ideas, identity, religion and ethnicity.

In a statement signed by chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) said Gus Dur, the country's fourth president, should receive national hero status.

Megawati said Gus Dur played a crucial role in upholding pluralism, democracy, ensuring the world that Islam was a religion that promoted peace, and respecting freedom of other religions in Indonesia.

Islamic-based parties including the National Awakening Party (PKB), which was established by Gus Dur in 1999, and the United Development Party (PPP) also backed the proposed hero status.

University of Indonesia historian Asvi Marwan Adam said Gus Dur had transformed the country into a democratic nation which respected pluralism.

"I agree that Gus Dur be awarded the title of national hero this year. But it is not the right time to award Soeharto the same status, as he remains a controversial figure."

The government has awarded the title of national hero to Gus Dur's father, Wahid Hasyim, and his grandfather, Hasyim Asy'ari, who was also the first president of Nahdlatul Ulama, the country's largest Muslim organization.

Youth from interfaith groups also supported the proposed nomination. Secretary-general of the Christian Youth Movement of Indonesia (GAMKI), Albert Siagian, said Gus Dur was a role model not only for Muslims but for the whole nation.