Jakarta. Family members of long-serving President Soeharto held a religious event at a Jakarta mosque on Tuesday to commemorate his centennial birthday and used the occasion to speak highly about his “outstanding services” to the country.
Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, once was Soeharto’s son-in-law, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan and People’s Consultative Assembly Speaker Bambang Soesatyo were the only top state officials to be present at At-Tin mosque in East Jakarta where the event was held.
The late president, dubbed as dictator by many foreign analysts, has ruled the country for 32 years until nationwide protests against his military regime ousted him in May 1998.
“History tells that God has allowed our father to follow the nation’s long journey and get involved in its crucial stages from the struggle (against colonialism) to the fight to defend independence and to the development era,” eldest daughter Siti Hardijanti Rukmana, better known as Tutut, spoke on behalf of the family.
She went further by saying that Soeharto had joined armed resistance against occupying forces since he was a teenager and was instrumental in foiling the 1965 coup attempt by the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).
Soeharto was “destined to lead the nation and initiate the development era for more than 30 years afterward”, she said.
Tutut added 60 percent of the population lived under the poverty line in 1966 and within the first 10 years of his father’s presidency the number fell to 11 percent.
“During the development era, or what we all know as the Orde Baru (New Order) era, our economy managed to grow by over 7 percent annually,” she said, adding that Soeharto has transformed the poor nation into a newly industrial country.
Born in Kemusuk in the southern Java province of Yogyakarta a century ago, Soeharto was a dedicated army soldier who during his 32-year reign brought military men to civilian roles known as dwifungsi or dual function of the military.
During his tenure, most governors and district heads were active military officers and the National Police were the fourth force of the Indonesian Military (TNI).
Most Indonesians were afraid of the stigma attached to being linked to the PKI and communism due to a lack of clarity about the reason behind the persecution, arrests and murders of members and sympathizers of the now-defunct political party by the military and ideological opponents between 1965 and 1966.
Until now, due to the sensitivity of the matter, there is no certainty about the exact number of people killed in the massacres that marked the beginning of Soharto's 32-year reign.
An international tribunal in The Hague declared in 2016 that the 1965 mass killings were crimes against humanity, and that it resulted in the deaths of an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 people. It also ruled that the United States, Britain and Australia were involved, according to a CNN report.
In a 2012 report, the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) declared the 1965 mass killings a gross human rights violation and held the military responsible, but there has yet to be a legal inquiry.
His leadership came to a real test in the wake of the 1997-8 financial crises that led students to take to the street amid high inflation, falling exchange rate of the rupiah and high unemployment rate.
The so-called “reformasi” movement managed to topple Soeharto in May 1998 following deadly unrests in major cities, opening door to a new government and parliament who later amended the constitution to limit presidential terms to 10 years, introduce direct presidential election, dismiss military membership in the legislature bodies and separate the police from the TNI.
Soeharto died from illness on January 27, 2008 at the age of 86.