Arientha Primanita – The common refrain of "things were better under Suharto" has been given credence in a new survey that shows the former strongman's rule is widely preferred to the current civilian administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
The results of the poll, released on Sunday by Indo Barometer, showed that 40.9 percent of the 1,200 people surveyed believed that conditions were better under Suharto's New Order regime, while only 22.8 percent believed otherwise.
Muhammad Qodari, executive director of the polling firm, said the preference was more marked among urban residents than rural ones, with 47.7 of city dwellers holding the New Order in high regard compared with 35.7 percent people in the countryside.
Most respondents also believed that politics, the economy, security and social welfare were better during Suharto's time, but conceded that the legal sector had improved since his downfall in 1998.
In all, 55.5 percent of respondents, polled between April 25 and May 4, were dissatisfied with the reform era. "It's ironic to see that the regime that people wanted changed is now considered to have been better," Qodari said at a discussion of the poll results.
"It's also a blow to everyone who thought that the onset of reform would lead to sweeping improvements."
The poll also showed Suharto was the most popular president, with 36.5 percent of respondents putting him on top. Yudhoyono came second, with 20.9 percent, followed by founding father Sukarno at 9.8 percent.
Ray Rangkuti, director of the Indonesian Civic Network (LIMA), said the results of the survey should not be seen as a desire to bring back authoritarian rule.
"The respondents don't necessarily admire Suharto," he said. "This is just criticism of the pace of reforms being conducted by the current batch of politicians and government officials."
He added the House of Representatives saw the biggest transformation of the reform era, hence its lag in heeding criticism on a range of issues, which has served to undermine perceptions about improvements after Suharto's rule.
Ray said it was important for all stakeholders to return to the spirit of reform, and urged House legislators and government officials to improve their act.
"Don't flaunt your wealth, and follow the people's words," he said. "The House has showcased only its vanity and power, while the executive branch has dealt in lies and broken promises with no real [achievements]."
He added that bureaucratic reform was "the most important element of the reform era."