Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Stalled reforms boost nostalgia for Suharto era

May 17, 2011

Poll findings show Jakarta's struggle to tackle graft a source of disappointment
By Lynn Lee

JAKARTA: In a recent survey of 1,200 Indonesians, more than three in 10 named former dictator Suharto as their 'favourite' president. And four in 10 said that life under the late authoritarian leader's regime was better than it is now.

It is somewhat ironic, given that Suharto was forced to step down in 1998, amid a wave of pro-democracy, student-led protests.

Over its 30 years in power, his iron-fisted government may have boosted agriculture, and grown industry and private business, among other things, but it was also mired in corruption and had little regard for human and political rights.

However, the findings of pollster Indo Barometer's survey, which were released on Sunday, do not mean that Indonesians want to return to a Suharto-era system, said analysts.

Rather, they reflect growing disillusionment with Indonesia's efforts to deal with old problems such as widespread graft and poverty.

'They are simply criticising the current situation and how reform hasn't brought changes for them,' said the director of Indo Barometer, political commentator M. Qodari.

Detailed results from the survey bear this out. When Indonesians were asked to evaluate the progress of reform promises, more than half said that not enough was being done to help small businesses thrive, nor to reduce the growing income disparity between the haves and the have-nots.

A similar percentage of those surveyed also believed that little progress has been achieved in the investigation and prosecution of past and present graft cases.

Indeed, well over a decade after Suharto was ousted, Indonesia is still struggling to contain - let alone stamp out - graft within government and business circles.

This has perhaps been the biggest source of disappointment among Indonesians today - even more so than the challenges that successive democratic governments have faced in boosting infrastructure, creating jobs and improving education.

To be sure, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's administration has tried to crack down on graft. It has jailed several senior officials, including former Central Bank official Aulia Pohan, who is the father-in-law of Dr Yudhoyono's son.

He was released on parole last year after a remission of his four-year sentence.

The President has also set up a task force to eradicate collusion and kickbacks in the judiciary, and ordered that investigations into widespread fraud at the tax office be speeded up.

But efforts to correct the institutionalised flaws of the Suharto era have not worked, mostly because their perpetrators are still alive and well and within the system, said legal expert Zainal Arifin Mochtar.

'It's as if we are running on a treadmill. We're doing work and sweating a lot but we're not really moving,' said Mr Zainal, the head of the anti-corruption research centre at Gadjah Mada University.

Recent reports of corruption show just how hard it has been for the government to stamp out graft.

Earlier this month, two senior politicians of Dr Yudhoyono's Democratic Party were accused of benefiting from the 197 billion rupiah (S$28.6 million) development of the South-east Asian games facility in Palembang, South Sumatra.

And just yesterday, the Indonesian-language daily Kompas carried a front-page report on how major political parties are sourcing for kickbacks to fund their participation in the 2014 election.

Hence the recent wave of nostalgia for the past - even if it included Suharto.

Meanwhile, some younger Indonesians have channelled their disenchantment into parody.

Since last year, current affairs talkshow Provocative Proactive, which airs every Thursday, has been running a tongue-in-cheek segment called Who Wants To Be A Corruptor?

Based on the popular TV game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, it puts contestants through a quiz featuring a series of multiple-choice questions - on graft, of course.

Last Thursday, when one contestant was asked what he would do if he was a top official caught for graft, he chose the response 'Marry my child off to the child of the President'.

He was pronounced a winner.


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