Indonesia Will ‘Split Down the Middle’ If We Name Suharto a Hero: Historian
Dessy Sagita | October 17, 2010

Jakarta. Naming former President Suharto a national hero would spark controversy across the country, as the jury is still out on his role as Indonesia’s “Father of Development,” a noted historian said on Sunday.

The Ministry of Social Affairs has drawn up a list of 10 candidates to join the ranks of the country’s national heroes. The list includes former presidents Suharto and Abdurrahman Wahid, as well as Ali Sadikin, the late Jakarta governor.

The Council on Titles, Decorations and Honors, which oversees the process for proposing national heroes, will now verify the candidates before their names are proposed to the president for final approval.

“The timing is just not right. If we make Suharto a national hero, a lot people will be offended and there will be a lot of controversy,” said Asvi Warman Adam, a historian from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).

Suharto’s supporters believe that the former president was person most responsible for the country’s impressive economic growth and stability during his 30-year rule, Asvi said, while his critics maintain that Suharto and his cronies siphoned off the country’s wealth to enrich themselves while overseeing a host of human rights violations.

“Naming Suharto a national hero would split Indonesia down the middle and trigger an unnecessary fight between his supporters and opponents,” he said.

Since a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that has been set up to look into rights abuses during Suharto’s rule has not yet issued any findings on the former president’s alleged involvement, Asvi said, it would be best to put off any decisions on naming him a national hero.

“The commission has not started its work. This is not the best time to name Suharto as one of the country’s heroes,” he said. He added that the country’s founding president, Sukarno, was dead for 16 years before being declared a national hero.

Suharto, also known as the “Smiling General,” died after a long illness in January 2008. He was brought down from power in 1998 by massive student-led protests after ruling the country for 32 years, during which time Indonesia was celebrated for its economic development. But dissent was muffled during his reign and many people disappeared when his family’s wealth and iron-fisted rule was questioned.

“People who have been kidnapped or those who had family members murdered during Suharto’s era — can you imagine how they would feel about this proposal to name him a national hero?” Asvi said.

With more questions being asked about the proposal, the Ministry of Social Affairs has said the idea came from the public, not from the ministry.

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