Thursday, January 31, 2008

ASEAN Architect Suharto Passes On

Last Sunday was a sad and a historic day in Southeast Asia as General Suharto, a key architect of ASEAN, left this world at age 86. It seemed like any other day in Indonesia and the world. There was a state funeral but few world leaders mourned his passing. However, the General's close friends and co-architects of ASEAN, Singapore's Lee Kwan Yu and Malaysia's Mahathir Muhammad, reportedly made a visit to his deathbed and wept.

"Lee, 84, and Mahathir, 82, paid what they knew would be their final respects to a former comrade-in-power, in a moment pregnant with symbolism as the curtain was drawing on a key regional actor. The death of Suharto, the most senior of the three ASEAN octogenarians, marks the beginning of the end of a defining generation of regional leaders", said Yang Razali Kassi of Pacific CSIS.

General Suharto leaves a mixed legacy for Indonesia and the entire region. He ruled with a firm hand over a diverse and sprawling country. Many will remember him for the rapid progress made by Indonesia and the ASEAN region that transformed both from agrarian and natural resource based economies to modern industrial economies. Others will recall the deaths of millions of Indonesians in the Communist purge, the human rights abuses in Indonesia and the horrors in East Timor and Aceh that took place on his watch.

Lee Kwan Yu and Mahathir Muhammad, the other two important architects of ASEAN, share many things in common with General Suharto. It was, therefore, quite natural for them to weep at the General's deathbed and think about their own legacies.

The questions that will continue to be asked are: Could the ASEAN economic transformation have been achieved without such leaders? Are other leaders elsewhere in the world inspired or horrified by such legacies? Would countries such as Pakistan be transformed economically in the same way? Are there better days ahead for them?

Here's a video clip on Suharto Legacy:


Riaz Haq said...

Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur), intellectual and former president of Indonesia, died on December 30th, aged 69. Here are some excerpts from his obituary carried by the Economist:

WHATEVER the time or place, Abdurrahman Wahid—Gus Dur, as everyone fondly called him—had a joke to tell. About his predecessors as Indonesia’s president: “Sukarno was mad about sex, Suharto was mad about money, Habibie was mad about technology, but me? I’m just mad!” About his removal from the presidency in 2001, when he was almost blind: “I need help to step up, let alone step down.” About losing power: “It’s nothing. I regret more that I lost 27 recordings of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.”

Visiting Tokyo, he was delighted when the prime minister congratulated him on his “erection”. For a Muslim ulama, or priest-scholar, his appetite for smut was remarkable. He had naughty jokes on his website, and was once reported to the police by conservative clerics for emphasising the raunchier bits of the Koran.

Joking was essential, he said, for a healthy mind. Villagers in Jombang in East Java remembered him, as a boy, tied to the flagpole in the front yard for some jest that had gone too far. Visitors to the house would find their shoelaces surreptitiously knotted together. Later on, it was sometimes hard to tell whether he was larking round or serious: as a narcoleptic, he would often lull journalists into a snooze and then snap to, razor-sharp, with the answer to their questions. Joking got him through the rigours of pesantren, rural Muslim boarding school, and certainly through the turmoil of his 21 months as president from 1999 to 2001. At the end, when his aides tried to restrain him, “It has affected me,” he complained. “Starting tomorrow, I will start telling jokes again.”
The drunken master

His eccentricity could be infuriating. But it usually hid a serious purpose. In sprawling Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, cramped under authoritarian rule for most of its existence, Mr Wahid was committed to pluralism, liberalism, democracy and tolerance. He promoted these principles in his columns in Prisma, Tempo and Kompas. More remarkably, he believed that they were also fundamental to his religion. “All too many Muslims”, he wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 2005, “fail to grasp Islam.” “Right Islam” was not fanatical. It was tolerant, open and fair.

To some of his co-religionists, he went too far. But Mr Wahid had imbibed the gentle, Hindu-flavoured Islam of Java and the café-table cut-and-thrust of Baghdad’s student circles, as well as the doctrinaire rote-learning of al-Azhar University in Cairo, and had plumped for free expression every time. He had also been brought up in a house that was both devout and cosmopolitan: encouraged to read European magazines, to devour Dickens and Dostoyevsky, to listen to Mozart and Janis Joplin, as well as to get involved in Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the world’s largest Muslim organisation, heavily rural and steeped in animist Javanese tradition, which his grandfather had founded and his father had run.

In time the NU, with its 40m members, became his own power base. He reformed it, as well as removing it, in 1984, from party politics, in order to focus its energies on raising the pesantren to the level of secular schools. Though a deep believer in mysticism and the spirit world, secularism never offended him. Selamat pagi, “Good morning”, did as well for him as the believer’s assalamu alaykum; both, as he pointed out, meant “Peace be to you”. He accepted the constitution’s doctrine of pancasila—national unity and social justice with freedom of religion—as a useful creed for fissiparous Indonesia. More surprisingly, he kept on cordial terms with Suharto, despite pushing against the strongman both as the hugely popular head of the NU and, from 1998, as leader of his own non-sectarian National Awakening party.

Mayraj said...

So 20 years after Independence it was like Pakistan and then policies changed. It appears like if what Pakistan in 1960s should have been continued, instead of that Bhutto nationalized industry and banks! Forget China, even Malaysia makes Pakistan look like it has been the victim of poor leadership.

"In 1970, Malaysia was predominantly a rural agricultural society with sharp spatial and
ethnic disparities in income and social well-being. It set for itself an ambitious
development goal of eradicating poverty. In just about 15 years from 1970, when half
of all households were poor, Malaysia more than halved the incidence of absolute poverty.
In another 15 years from the mid-1980s, Malaysia again more than halved the level of
absolute poverty. By the early years of the new millennium (2002), just 5.1 per cent of
households were poor.
With this track record, Malaysia can be classified as a success story in attacking
absolute poverty, enabling it to reach the MDG target of halving poverty well before 2015.
Malaysia is now close to having eradicated extreme poverty. How was this rapid progress
achieved? What were the policies and programmes? How were constraints overcome?
What are the lessons that can be learnt? This chapter presents Malaysia’s record of
achievements in overcoming poverty and the challenges remaining for the future.
Malaysia’s experience in poverty reduction is of particular interest because it has
been achieved in a multi-ethnic and culturally diverse setting. Furthermore, its economic
growth strategy has integrated commitments to poverty elimination and restructuring of
society as central objectives in its development vision.
Malaysia’s impressive poverty reduction has been, in large part, due to sustained,
albeit variable, economic growth––average annual growth rate of real GDP was 7 per cent
over the last three and a half decades (Table 1.1). International evidence suggests that the
rate of economic growth is a powerful influence on poverty reduction. "

Riaz Haq said...

Mayraj:"Forget China, even Malaysia makes Pakistan look like it has been the victim of poor leadership."

ASEAN model of development has been similar to East Asia's (South Korea, Taiwan) and a complete contradiction of the Washington Consensus. Plus all ASEAN nations have a huge Chinese minority who are very entrepreneurial. Most of what we see in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia has been built by their Chinese minority.