DURING the thirty-two years when General Suharto ruled Indonesia, a debate raged about the respective advantages of iron-fist rule and controlled economic development on the one hand and transparent but unruly democracy on the other. Suharto, who has died at the age of 86, came to power in 1965 and thereafter presided over a regime of extreme brutality in which existing or potential opponents were killed in the tens of thousands. Protests from the West about these tactics were met by the argument that the communist threat had to be contained. Periodic elections were a sham and the degree of corruption practised by Suharto, his family and his close associates was extraordinary. Throughout his years in charge he hardly changed his style of government but extended it to the hundreds of scattered islands that were part of Indonesia and to some that he took by force; East Timor was one of these, a former Portuguese colony which Suharto invaded and subjected in 1975. Without question, the enforced stability and administrative unity that Suharto imposed in his huge country led to foreign investment which made possible improvements in its infrastructure and the development of manufacturing industries. When Suharto was finally deposed in 1997 it was expected that corruption charges would be brought against him, but they never were. For a few years after his departure Indonesia faltered economically but the foundations he laid have proved to be sound.


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