Jakarta – As Jakarta Governor Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's popularity has grown for his impromptu visits, locally known as blusukan, the family of former president Soeharto is saying that the country's second president carried out such visits first.
Soeharto's visits with the people is the subject of a book that was launched on Wednesday in an attempt to repair his tarnished image. The pictorial book illustrates his blusukan's during the glory days of the New Order era.
"My father made incognito visits to learn about what people really needed so that he could prepare effective national development programs," Soeharto's eldest daughter, Siti Hardiyanti "Tutut" Rukmana, said at the book launch in Jakarta.
Soeharto, known as the smiling general, reigned over the country after the fall of president Sukarno in 1967 and resigned in May 1998 following days of demonstrations that claimed the lives of four university students.
Tutut told reporters that she expected the book to present Soeharto in a more positive light and would show the public who he really was.
The book, entitled "Incognito Pak Harto', was published by Yayasan Harapan Kita, a foundation established by Soeharto. The book contains stories and pictures detailing the former president's 13-day visits to villages, pesantren (religious schools), his birth place, orphanages and development projects in Java and Bali in 1970.
A former finance minister during the New Order era, JB Sumarlin, had nothing but praise for his former boss. He said that Soeharto was the only president who had a long-term vision and managed the country with five-year development plans.
Before formulating the plans, he visited people in remote areas, said Sumarlin. He explained that during Soeharto's rule, economic growth was mostly contributed by government spending, whereas growth was now mostly stimulated by the private sector.
The book is not the first move Soeharto's family has made to remind the public of his legacy. Soeharto's half brother, Probosutedjo, through the latter's Mercu Buana University, published in April a book entitled "34 Palace Journalists Talk About Pak Harto", which presents stories from palace-based reporters.
The family also inaugurated in early March a monument on a 1,000-square-meter plot of land in his birth place, Kemusuk Lor village in Bantul district, Yogyakarta.
Political communications expert Efendi Ghazali, who is also a former student activist who fought against Soeharto's dictatorship, said the book was a good public relations campaign, through which the family was claiming that Soeharto carried out blusukan before the current Jakarta governor.
"I think if Soeharto had continued doing impromptu visits up to end of his term, he would have seen how hard life was for villagers then," he said.
Meanwhile, historian Hilmar Farid said that the book launch, along with other previous moves by Soeharto's family, was probably aimed at mending the bad image of the former corrupt and authoritarian president, as well as to restore the confidence of his supporters, who might be aiming to regain political power.
"I don't think the book will influence our generation," he said. "But it will probably remind them about the glory days of low-middle-class people who benefited from the former president's development programs," he added.
For about 32 years, Soeharto brought political stability and economic prosperity to the nation. However, he is also responsible for the current corrupt political culture as well as the deaths and torture of thousands of people. He was named the most corrupt leader in the world by Transparency International with total illicit assets worth between US$15 billion and $35 billion. (koi)