Flogging a(n almost) dead horse

As we all know, former Indonesian president Suharto’s health is under great duress.

Bed-ridden with failing organs, pneumonia and the looming threat of sepsis (read blood infection), everyone-his doctors especially-has been surprised at his will to live.

Even controversy follows the sick man to his deathbed. I guess MM Lee Kwan Yew best sums up the sentiment that some people have. “Yes, there was corruption. Yes, he gave favours to his family and his friends. But there was real growth and real progress,” Classic karmatic philosophy. And yet, those who have lost loved ones under his regime, the voiceless new nation of East Timor and perhaps those who help bring him down in 1998 might have another view of this matter. In their eyes, they would not even want to dignify his memory with pity-let alone forgiveness.

And then there is the grouchy West who ever insist on having the last say on Suharto’s legacy.

The idea of pursuing old, sick men is unattractive, but the basic deterrence function of such prosecutions largely outweighs’ the drawbacks, Mr Tanter countered. ‘For the ghosts of all the slaughtered and tortured, I’d like to see justice.’

The tragedy of post-colonial South East Asia is that the practicalities of empire demands cruelty. Suharto, in leading one of the most heterogeneous countries in the world, simply sacrificed conscience for “the greater good”. It is easy to look at the Indonesian economic transformation (actually nothing more than rational economic policies that have been fine tuned and honed over the stretch of Western history applied regionally) and demand the accompanying democratic values at the same time. One look at Singapore will contradict this expectation.

Unlike Americans, which Bill Clinton declared confidently to Larry King in an interview on Larry King Live-“are basically fair.”-we who live here, know that the majority are not. Ever susceptible to populism, lesser politicians have exploited it for personal gain. There has been little of ‘real’ nobility in South East Asian politics, Suharto is just another example.

Immediate historical judgments are often biased, but time is a great revealer of truth. We will see how Indonesians themselves choose to remember him.


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About me

moogleBorn and bred in KL, Malaysia. Now studying for his Phd in Singapore. Learning to walk one fall at a time.
January 2008
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