September 12th 2015

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Arab world must help fix Syria and Libya crises

FAMILY AND SOCIETY They don't want diversity but to impose conformity

CANBERRA OBSERVED Young Nats jump aboard generational juggernaut

TRADE UNIONS Why royal commissioner declined to step down

RESEARCH Spin on the contraceptive pill a bit hard to swallow

LIFE ISSUES Singer escapes Fisher's net in euthanasia debate

HISTORY OF INDONESIA Suharto's "New Order" a period of stability

CULTURE Academic centres turn on Western civilisation

FAMILY LIFE A father's presence in the home: part II

OBITUARY Historian Robert Conquest documented the horrors of Stalinism

PUBLIC HEALTH UN knows: harm reduction does not reduce harm

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Witness to Marriage Day, August 1

CINEMA On the rough road away from loneliness: Last Cab to Darwin

BOOK REVIEW Good science, specious argumentation


The coup against Tony Abbott

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Suharto's "New Order" a period of stability

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, September 12, 2015

Major-General Suharto had been saved from assassination by sheer chance.

Suharto at the height

of his power.

His three-year-old son Tommy was at the Jakarta Army Hospital being treated for a scalding accident. But for that, Suharto would have almost certainly ended up in the Crocodile Hole with the six high-ranking victims of the October 1, 1965, massacre. Suharto, commanding the strategic reserve, then rallied the troops loyal to the army hierarchy.

The massacre ushered in blood­letting on a monumental scale. Vigilante groups, aided by the Army, killed in excess of half a million communists and their sympathisers. Exactly how many people perished will never be known. The Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) had some 3 million members, making it the largest non-ruling communist party in the world. The two major Muslim organisations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiya, were allied to the Army.

Much has been written about the victims of the revenge attacks. Some scholars have speculated that one group targeted by the vigilantes was the abangan, those Javanese holding syncretic religious beliefs, a mix of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and animism. Syncretism is a term referring to hold the ability to hold opposing, or even contradictory beliefs.

The Chinese were also victims. China was embroiled in the Cultural Revolution and was seeking to export revolution. The Indonesian Chinese, even though many had been in the East Indies for centuries, were widely distrusted. Many Indonesians did not trust their loyalty to the new nation of Indonesia. Yet Chinese businessmen were to become crucial to the maintenance of the “New Order” ushered in by Suharto.

Businesslike approach

Like Gough Whitlam, his doppelganger Sukarno was not interested in economics. In fact, he regarded economists with scorn. Sukarno was above trivial issues such as getting enough to eat. Suharto’s New Order was intended to rise above the chaos of the Sukarno years – the Old Order – and promote prosperity. For this he needed businessmen.

Siti Hartinan: Madame Ten Per Cent.

The businessmen would rev up the economy. But if they rose too high, they could threaten the dalang. In the Indonesian shadow play, the dalang is the puppet master, and Suharto was the dalang. It was therefore logical that Suharto, who had had dealings with Chinese businessmen as an Army commander, should turn to the Chinese for their business skills. One provision was made: the Chinese would not interfere in politics.

The Chinese had suffered from discrimination going back to colonial times. They constitute only around 2 per cent of the population of Indonesia, but control around 70 per cent of economic activity. But besides this Chinese community, another 5 or 6 per cent of the population is of Chinese-Indonesian mixed heritage. These, however, were encouraged to repress their heritage. The so-called peranakan were Indonesians of Chinese heritage who had been assimilated into Indonesian society.

The term orang Cina (Chinese man) is quite insulting, more so if the term Cina is used alone. (Note, in Bahasa Indonesia, “c” is pronounced “ch”.) The Chinese way of doing business is such that dense business networks are constructed by way of guanxi, or “connections” or “relationships”. For the outsider, it is almost impossible to gain access to these guanxi networks.

Authority by order

When Suharto was consolidating power, he had a clear idea of what he should do.

He realised that, as father of the nation, Sukarno had a great deal of moral authority. Sukarno was under house arrest in the Bogor Presidential Palace. He was in theory President for Life. Bogor is in West Java, some 60 kilometres from Jakarta. The Botanic Gardens are rightly famous, and the weather is warm with lots of rain. Bogor is a pleasant city to visit if you don’t mind rain.

Sukarno was induced to sign Presidential Order Supersemar on March 11, 1966, probably under duress. The signing of Supersemar was a key element in the transition of executive power from Sukarno to Suharto.

Supersemar has certain mystical elements. Semar is a character in the wayang, the Javanese shadow play. Semar is a mystical figure, leader of the panakawan, or clowns. Semar is also said to be the deity and guardian of Java. Supersemar was therefore an assertion that Suharto was now the guardian of Java, and by extension, of all Indonesia. Nothing could be clearer than that Suharto was now in control.

Indeed, under Suharto, the Indo­nesian economy made remarkable progress. The people were finally getting enough to eat. Yet even while the new Green Revolution rice varieties increased rice output, they were not universally popular. The Javanese are very picky about their rice. Taste, texture and aroma are far more important than mere consumption.

Trade too was developing. Clove cigarettes, known as kretek,became one of the average man’s pleasures. Nothing can take a traveller in a foreign land back to Indonesia more rapidly than the scent of cloves.

The Suharto government was spreading its wings to foreign shores. The foundation of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) on August 8, 1967, brought together Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand. ASEAN was not a military pact, but was intended to foster national resilience.

Indonesia became primus inter pares among the ASEAN member states. Five members was a lucky number, but it was intended that ASEAN should expand beyond that to take in all of South-East Asia, but no more, as Sri Lanka found when its overtures for membership were deftly repulsed.

In Vietnam the Tet offensive of 1968 showed the ability of the North Vietnamese Communists to promote a major military offensive against the Saigon government and their allies, in particular the United States. Clearly, the United States eventually lost the will to prosecute the war.

With the withdrawal of the U.S. from South-East Asia, the “domino effect” would be put to the test. This fear did not warrant the left’s mockery, and without the bloody regime of the Khmer Rouge turning Cambodia into “Vietnam’s Vietnam”, it could well have proved justified. ASEAN was to buy the member states time for “self-strengthening”.

Suharto remained in power at least partially because of the loyalty of the Armed Forces. The role of the Army was described as dwifungsi (dual function): it played a role in government as well as fulfilling its role as a fighting force. The Army had reserved seats in Parliament, the bureaucracy and so on. Dwifungsi under Suharto was a continuation and expansion of the Army’s traditional role, as the Army saw it.

As a traditional Javanese, Suharto had mystical tendencies. He was an adherent of the kebatinan, the mystical tradition of Java. He was influenced by a dukun putih, a “good” shaman who was schooled in the mystical arts.

Some dispute exists over Suharto’s adherence to Islam. Suharto did undertake the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that all believing Muslims must undertake at least once if they are able. He did not, however, add the term “Haji” to his name, as would most devout Muslims, nor did he change his name, although he did on occasion attach the name “Mohammad”, “the Prophet of Allah”, to his name. Suharto was too Javanese to do that.

He did wear the peci, the circular black cap often associated with Muslim believers in South-East Asia. But this association is not necessarily the case in Indonesia, where it is rather associated with the secular nationalist movement.

Suharto married Siti Hartinan in 1947; reputedly not a love match, but they grew to love each other devotedly.

The role of an officer’s wife was to look after the family’s finances. The couple had six children. Mrs Suharto was almost universally known as “Ibu Tien” or “Mother Tien,” or, out of hearing, “Madame Ten Per Cent,” that being her cut in any business deal. At the time of Suharto’s passing, the family fortune was said to be $US16 billion, an immense amount for a family that had never been in business.

The unravelling

The Asian currency crisis of 1997 hit Indonesia harder than it did any other South-East Asian nation. Anti-Chinese riots broke out across the archipe­lago. Many wealthy families, not only Chinese, fled to Singapore, the United States and Australia.

The “official” parties, intended to be safe alternatives to Golkar, the government party, were becoming restive. Demonstrations pitted various Army factions against each other, the “red and white” (nationalists) against the “green” (Muslims). After six months of unrest, Suharto resigned.

Suharto had in his three decades in power created a nation out of a group of islands that were frequently at odds. He was a consummate dalang of Indonesian politics.

Almost 40 years ago, I was driving through Central Java near Solo. My companion pointed out a magnificent structure, distant in the afternoon rain.

“See that?” my companion said. “That’s Astana Giribangun; Suharto’s mausoleum.”

Suharto did not occupy his tomb until 2008, 12 years after Ibu Tien was laid to rest there.

His claimed royal descent is disputed, but Indonesia made great progress under his guidance. The economy, which under Sukarno had limped from tragedy to farce, stabilised. The people of Indonesia were getting enough to eat. Indonesia was a country that worked.

When I first visited Indonesia, I was employed by Senator Peter Sim (Liberal, WA), chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence.

Sitting in pride of place on his desk were several photographs showing Senator Sim being greeted by a variety world leaders, among them Indonesia’s President Suharto.

In the picture, Suharto had the air of a man in command of himself. He knew what he wanted, and he almost always got it. If his family enriched itself at the expense of the people, the people would have expected little different.

All you need to know about
the wider impact of transgenderism on society.
TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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