Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Mixed Feelings Left by Suharto's Legacy ; 15 Years after His Ouster, Some Indonesians See His Rule as 'Good Old Days'

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Mixed Feelings Left by Suharto's Legacy ; 15 Years after His Ouster, Some Indonesians See His Rule as 'Good Old Days'

Article excerpt

In the Jakarta area where the former dictator made his home, some residents and workers express ambivalence about the country's halting and protest-filled advance toward democracy.

The tree-lined street in an upscale neighborhood in central Jakarta has not changed much in recent decades, save for the demolition of a few Dutch colonial homes in favor of modernist villas. Yet the former tenant who once took up the entire middle of the block initiated dramatic changes in his country, and 15 years after he disappeared from Indonesia's political scene, debate still rages about whether it was for better or worse.

In Indonesia, the street, Cendana, is synonymous with Suharto, the general-turned-president who ruled the country for 32 years while residing in Nos. 6, 8 and 10, which were renovated and connected from the inside. After his death in 2008, an Indonesian Web portal dedicated to paranormal activity published an account by an elderly servant who said that Mr. Suharto's ghost was still there and occasionally pinched and poked him.

Perhaps. But more certain is that Mr. Suharto's spirit continues to loom over modern-day Indonesia.

He brought the country back from the brink of political, social and economic calamity in the mid-1960s, greatly reduced poverty and by the early 1990s had turned Indonesia into one of the Asian tiger economies. But he also governed with an iron fist, sending his military into separatist-minded regions with jackboots, jailing and exiling his political enemies, quashing democratic institutions and the news media, and presiding over what some claim is one of the most corrupt governments in modern history.

Monday is the 15th anniversary of Mr. Suharto's resignation as president. He stepped down amid huge democracy protests in Jakarta, rioting and deadly attacks on ethnic Chinese in several cities, and economic calamity brought on by the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

Since then, Indonesia has undergone a dramatic transformation toward democracy and today has open elections. It is ranked one of the top 16 economies in the world. Yet corruption remains endemic, crime is higher than during Mr. Suharto's "New Order" regime and Jakarta and other large cities have chronic traffic problems.

Whether the country's 240 million people, more than a quarter of whom were born after Mr. Suharto resigned, will pause to reflect on the anniversary remains to be seen.

"Even right now, a lot of people look at his time as the 'good old days,"' said Saprudin, a 33-year-old security guard who has worked at Mr. Suharto's compound since 2001 and who, like many here, goes by one name. "I think as time goes by, more people will feel that way."

His rosy view extended to the man many called a dictator.

"Mr. Suharto was good -- it was his cronies who acted badly, with all the corruption that created a lot of the problems," Mr. …

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