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Government failures drive Suharto nostalgia

Jakarta Globe - May 17, 2011

Camelia Pasandaran – The government's failure to deliver on promised reforms has led many people to yearn for the days of former President Suharto, analysts said.

Constitutional Court justice Akil Mochtar said on Tuesday that the results of a recent poll by research company Indo Barometer were not surprising.

The survey showed 40.9 percent of 1,200 respondents believed conditions were better under Suharto's New Order regime, while only 22.8 percent believed otherwise. Most respondents also said that politics, the economy, security and social welfare were better under the former strongman's rule, but they conceded that the legal sector had improved since his downfall in 1998.

"It is normal as the government has not been able to meet people's expectation of big change following reforms, and because the government has been too busy with its election victory and has forgotten the people's needs," Akil said.

Suharto was the most popular president among those surveyed, with 36.5 percent support. Current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was second, with 20.9 percent, followed by founding father Sukarno at 9.8 percent.

Akil pointed to continuing high unemployment, a disregard for the poor, the high cost of education and health care, rising prices of essential items and security issues such as terrorism as creating the rosy picture of Suharto's autocratic rule.

"People compare things to that of the old regime and they come to the conclusion that life was better with the old regime," he said. "The government should take urgent action and find solutions to improve the welfare of the poor, who constitute the majority of the nation, if it doesn't want to lose its legitimacy."

Isbodroini Suyanto, a political expert from the University of Indonesia, said the survey reflected people's disappointment with Yudhoyono.

"They long for a return to the Suharto era, even though he was authoritarian," she said. "Most Indonesians don't know what authoritarian means. They only know they could fill their bellies when Suharto was in charge."

Moreover, Isbodroini said Yudhoyono's Democratic Party should brace itself for a possible voter backlash in the 2014 election if the poor's economic situation continued to worsen.

"It could affect the party negatively as there's also negative news coverage about its members being involved in the athletes' village corruption case in Palembang," she said.

Roy Valiant Salomo, a public policy expert from the University of Indonesia, said the government's decentralization program was also widely viewed as a failure. "It failed because the central government gave too much authority to the regions, which has led to bureaucracies becoming very sick," he said.

Roy said the reform program should be followed up by improvements in public services and pro-people programs.

"People have been frustrated that decentralization has led to them being worse off," he said. "People aren't seeing what they expected to come from the reform era, such as legal certainty, better welfare, corruption eradication and firm leadership."

Bima Arya, chairman of political consulting firm Charta Politika, said the survey showed many people had forgotten the New Order also had weaknesses.

"People tend to appreciate the old era while ignoring the negatives of the past," he said. "People should not forget that in Suharto's time our rights were abused, the military was all-powerful and there were also wide gaps in the economy. "The survey reflects the low political education of the Indonesian people."