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Monday, January 28, 2008

Death List 2008 UPDATE

Scratch number 4: Suharto

1. Ariel Sharon
2. Fidel Castro
3. Robert Mugabe
4. Suharto
5. Billy Graham
6. Abdelaziz Bouteflika
7. Karl Frenzel
8. Khieu Samphan
9. Dick Cheney
10. NZ Telecom ad creative

I was in Jakarta in May 1998 when he was forced to step down. It was an amazing time. The normal taxis said it was too dangerous to get to my hotel because of the rioting and looting. I had to fork out US dollars to a guy to take me there. The motorway was completely empty - the toll booths abandoned. Very eerie feeling being on an abandoned elevated six lane motorway with smoke plumes from rioters' fires all over the place. Very post-apocolyptic vibe. For mile after mile all the way to Glodok's Chinatown was burnt out buildings, smashed windows and graffiti. Hundreds had died. My hotel had bribed an army motorcycle detachment to stay in the forecourt, but despite only being one block of the Presidential Palace the front of the hotel had been smashed up by rioters.

Revolution was in the air and if he hadn't resigned there would have been (more) bloodshed. Before being ejected by the security forces (who initially mistook me for a diplomat) who ringed the area around my hotel I saw his motorcade pull into the Presidential Palace the afternoon beforehand - something was up. In the week leading to this point the media had become more critical - by the day - and most of the self-censorship had disappeared. I had previously been at parliament where the students had taken the place over and it was obvious that either he had to go or the army would have to use force to keep Suharto in power.

The best decision he ever made was probably to go with some form of dignity. The following morning, about 9am, with his military boss, Warranto, standing behind him he addressed the nation from the Palace and announced he was quitting. The scenes at Parliament in the hours following was a sight of jubilation the likes of which I had never seen before. There could of been 100,000 people in the compound Which was in marked contrast to the tense scenes of sinking terror on the first day of the very small student protest when the military lines suddenly racked their sub machine guns and we thought for a minute it might be all over for us.

After coming back from the compound the street vendors around the hotel had hidden away all their Suharto portraits that had so proudly been displayed the day before. The National Monument had put a sheet over the last part of the history tour that featured Suharto. How quickly they erase history to conform to the new political reality.

Indonesians will feel very ambivalent about his passing - as they did about his resignation and his rule as President. The interesting aspect of his stature in Indonesia was the idea that even middle class people held that Suharto possessed supernatural powers that kept him in power. This revelation was a complete shock and a cultural insight I had never expected.


At 28/1/08 7:17 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tim. Do me a favour and read this:


You might want to reconsider Castro

At 29/1/08 10:26 am, Anonymous TJ said...

I thought Sharon was dead already? I'd also be tempted to Add Teodoro Obiang Nguegma who I think has terminal cancer...

At 29/1/08 2:36 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

He has supernatural powers that will keep him alive...ARIEL WILL RETURN!!!

At 29/1/08 3:33 pm, Anonymous TJ said...

My bad, he still in Coma.


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