12.1.08

Desperately protecting Soeharto

Opinion and Editorial - January 12, 2008

Ahmad Junaidi, Jakarta

The Golkar Party has shown its teeth. During a closing speech at the
party's national meeting in November last year, Golkar leader Jusuf
Kalla said democracy could be compromised for the sake of people's
welfare.

Of course, when complaining that the path of democracy the nation is
taking is too expensive, Kalla, who is Vice President, does not want
to mention the wealth he gained during the authoritarian regime of
president Soeharto.

As a businessman-turned-politician, Kalla is the opposite of Nobel
laureate economist Amrtya Sen, who often says, including in his book
Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation, that
many countries can not solve poverty-related problems due to the
absence of democracy.

Democracy, known for its dictum "from the people, by the people and
for the people", will not satisfy those who only think about
short-term profits.

To secure the long-term benefits of democracy, the country needs to
apply its key elements, such as rule of law, mutual respect and
protection of people's rights, including those of the minorities,
regardless of their ethnicity, race, religion, gender or sexual
orientation.

The recent Golkar push for impunity for the ailing Soeharto, who was
listed in a report sponsored by the World Bank as the world's richest
kleptocrat, is of course against the principle of rule of law, and
therefore democracy.

Golkar, Soeharto's political machine until he stepped down in May
1998, has an obligation to protect Soeharto, but it cannot defy the
principle of equality before the law.

If this were a soccer game, Soeharto could not just quit after
bringing down another player from behind. The referee should give him
a red card before sending him off.

On the morning on May 21, 1998, following days of rioting that killed
hundreds of people in Jakarta, Soeharto declared that he was resigning
the presidency.

Now, Soeharto loyalists may say, "If God is forgiving, why can't we
forgive our former leader since he contributed so much to the nation,
despite his mistakes."

God, as described by respected poet Goenawan Mohamad in his recently
launched book Tuhan dan Hal-Hal yang Tak Selesai (God and Unfinished
Things), is easily manipulated by certain people to serve their own
interests.

The same God is used by terrorists to justify their crimes. In the
name of God, the Indonesian Ulema Council released fatwas (edicts) on
heretical sects which later prompted radicals to perpetrate violence
against followers of the sects.

The People's Consultative Assembly has never revoked a 1998 decree
which orders the investigation into alleged corruption, collusion and
nepotism involving Soeharto. The government's failure to uphold the
decree, as evident by the attorney general's decision to close the
graft investigation against Soeharto, only shows the poor law
enforcement in the country.

Soeharto is currently being sued in a civil case over alleged misuse
of state funds worth US$240 million and Rp 185.9 billion by his
foundations.

The current government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono wants to
avoid the public perception that his administration upholds impunity,
which would set a bad precedent for the country's efforts to uphold
justice.

In a press conference at the State Palace after visiting Soeharto last
week, Yudhoyono said the government would provide medical help for all
former presidents.

But, Yudhoyono stopped short of explaining the government's stance on
the legal process against Soeharto. The President is testing the water.

The Assembly decree and the World Bank-sponsored report are probably
not enough for Yudhoyono to take action against Soeharto.

The democratically elected President needs to listen to voices other
than from those who benefit the most from Soeharto.

Human rights victims during Soeharto's regime, the poor and champions
of democracy should dare to speak out.

The writer is a journalist at The Jakarta Post. He can be reached at
junaidi@thejakartapost.com or alexjunaidi@gmail.com
 

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