Proposal to name former Indonesia president Suharto as national hero sparks anger

Former Indonesian president Suharto. PHOTO: ST FILE

JAKARTA (AFP) - A proposal to transform Indonesia's former leader Suharto, one of the 20th century's most brutal dictators, into a national hero sparked anger on Tuesday (May 31) from rights activists and netizens.

The name of Suharto, who died in 2008, has been nominated as a potential candidate to a government committee tasked with naming the country's national heroes, said Mr Jimly Asshiddiqie, the body's deputy head.

The Golkar party, which was Mr Suharto's political vehicle during his time in power, put him forward.

But prominent human rights group Imparsial condemned the move.

"I don't think this is right because Suharto is accused of having violated human rights during his regime," said its executive director Al Araf.

Netizens were also angered, with Twitter user Yunantyo saying: "What's the purpose of having the 1998 May reform movement, if Suharto is going to be awarded the title national hero?"

General Suharto led Indonesia with an iron fist for 32 years and his military-dominated rule was marked by severe repression and corruption.

But in recent years there has been growing disillusionment in Indonesia with democracy, which was introduced following Suharto's 1998 downfall, leading some to look back on his regime with nostalgia.

Indonesia is currently governed by the Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) alongside President Joko Widodo, but critics point to weak decision-making and a new breed of corrupt politicians.

At least 500,000 people were killed in anti-communist massacres in the run-up to Suharto's rule.

Many activists also went missing during Suharto's regime.

Indonesia appoints national heroes every November. Suharto's name has been suggested before, although he has never been picked.

Those wanting to rehabilitate the reputation of the former leader praise him for bringing stability and overseeing an economic boom after Indonesia's painful birth pangs that followed Dutch colonial rule.

The government committee will next month decide whose names should be sent to the president, who has the final say.

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