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Measuring the public's sympathy for Suharto – Kompas survey

Kompas - January 14, 2008

Sultani – Each time Suharto falls ill and is taken to hospital, the public is inevitably faced with the choice of forgiving him for his mistakes or continuing legal proceedings against him. Now that the former president of the Republic of Indonesia is lying ill at the Pertamina Central Hospital, the public is again faced with the same two choices.

Agreement and opposition over the issue of completing the corruption case against former President Suharto surfaced again after the former strong man of Indonesia was taken to hospital last week. The public is equally divided on the question of forgiving Suharto for his mistakes or continuing legal proceedings against him.

Out of 815 respondents to a survey on how to deal with the Suharto case, the majority (66.1 percent) agree that the ruler of the New Order regime should be forgiven for his mistakes. Their reasons were clear: Suharto has given a service to the Indonesian nation. The majority (84.7 percent) of respondents said that while Suharto was in power he succeeded in improving Indonesia’s economy and turning the country into an economic region that was to be reckoned with in the region as well as internationally. This success also resulted in almost half (48.2 percent) of respondents valuing this as Suharto’s greatest service to the country.

Aside from developing the economy, respondents also said that Suharto succeeded in the political field. Two out of three respondents said that during the 32 years that Suharto was in power he succeeded in creating political stability. A similar assessment was expressed by a majority (76.6 percent) of respondents with regard to Suharto’s achievements in maintaining social harmony and safeguarding Indonesia’s territorial unity.

Conversely, 61 percent of respondents said that legal proceedings against Suharto should be continued. Their reason being that Suharto must take responsibility for all of the mistakes that were made while he was in power. Suharto’s greatest mistake in the eyes of respondents was in allowing the continued practice of corruption, collusion and nepotism (KKN). This view was held by at least 45.2 percent of respondents. Usually, in order to blur the practices of KKN, Suharto frequently resorted to issuing polices that tended to benefit the interests of himself personally, is family and cronies.

In the political field, Suharto is considered to have failed to develop political freedom in society. His tendency of issuing orders in an authoritarian style made the ruler of the New Order regime “allergic” to the various kinds of difference that were emerging in society. One of the legacies of his dictatorship in the political field is the application of sole guiding principle (the state ideology of Pancasila) for all political parties.

If investigated further in terms of age and education, the respondents that were sympathetic to forgiving Suharto turn out to be dominated by those from the mature age group (31-50 years), while in terms of education level, the majority of these respondents had a low level of education. Conversely, respondents that want legal proceedings against Suharto to be continued were dominated by those in younger age group (17-30 years) with a high level of education. (Kompas Research and Development)

[Translated by James Balowski.]

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