The death of Indonesia's former President Suharto, almost ten years after he was overthrown, has provoked a divisive debate about his 32 years of authoritarian rule, says Richard Lloyd Parry in The Times.
As the incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono praised Suharto for "service to the nation", former political opponents lamented that he was never brought to justice for his crimes. In 1965, after a coup attempt against President Sukarno, allegedly by the Indonesian Communist Party, General Suharto took control and gave his tacit approval to the massacre of an estimated 500,000 people with alleged communist affiliations.
Within two years he had succeeded Sukarno as President. His "grip on the potentially chaotic country" and "staunch anti-communism" met with approval from the West, which sold him arms and ignored his human rights abuses, including the invasion of East Timor in 1976, which resulted in the deaths of almost a third of its citizens. Suharto has also been rated the "largest embezzler in history", says Martin Hutchinson on Breakingviews. Campaigners Transparency International claim he took $15bn-$35bn during his time in power.
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But his "record was not all bad". Indonesia was one of the world's poorest countries when he took office. In the 1980s, economic growth ran at 7% a year and by 1995, the typical Indonesian was 96% richer than the average Chinese. He opened Indonesia to foreign investment, passed pro-business labour laws, improved property rights and left a country that remains "politically stable and economically solid".
Yet he was still "worse than his people deserved", says the FT. Corruption and the absence of an effective justice system remain the "scourge" of the economy and growth still depends largely on "unsustainable exploitation" of Indonesia's natural resources. It will be easier to fix these problems if Suharto's crimes are not "swept under the carpet" in a "misguided attempt to burnish his legacy".
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