The news here is that Soeharto is apparently on his death bed, suffering from kidney failure and heart failure. They say they’re going to put him on dialysis and then give him a second pacemaker, but I saw pictures on MetroTV this morning, and he didn’t look well at all. He’s 86 years old, after all. They’re not saying "impending death" yet, but I’d be shocked if he lasted more than a couple more months.
This would put Indonesia into a truly new world, marking the peaceful end of one of the world’s most enigmatic, violent, yet durable dictators. Soeharto ruled Indonesia for 32 years, making him the second longest reigning modern dictator (after Castro). He killed somewhere between half a million and 2 million people when coming to power; but he took one of the poorest countries in the world and turned it into a firmly middle-income country. He embraced the power of international capital, but did so while constructing one of the world’s most corrupt economies and lavishing tremendous favors on his military allies, business cronies, and children. The World Bank ranks him as the most corrupt dictator in modern history. The country which he ran is today a vibrant and nearly consolidated democracy, but one in which the legacies of authoritarianism (especially corruption) are still wholly evident. He was a dictator who spent considerable effort to convince all Indonesians that he was a democrat. He was a Muslim leader who took his inspiration from the Javanese sultans of old in crafting his public persona. If Soeharto dies, few tears will be shed, but he will be still remembered by probably close to two hundred million Indonesians as the Father of Development. Soeharto should have faced charges for the crimes he committed, and it is a shame that he never will. I hope I’m here to see him go, and I say this not with malice, but with curiosity in seeing the country’s reaction.
But rather than waiting around to see if he dies, I’m going to go to try to buy a Javanese mask (topeng) as a souvenir for JM.