INDONESIA: PKS puts Soeharto on ads as 'teacher of the nation'

TV ads including the former controversial president sparks criticism

The Jakarta Post
Tuesday, November 11, 2008

By Erwida Maulia

The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), whose controversial TV ads on the commemoration of National Heroes Day featured a picture of the late former president Soeharto, insists he deserves recognition as the "teacher of the nation".

In its most recent TV ads, aired in conjunction with Heroes Day commemorations on Nov. 10, the PKS showed photographs of prominent national figures dubbed "teachers of the nation and heroes", including Soeharto.

Other featured figures were Indonesia's first president Sukarno, Nahdlatul Ulama founder Hasyim Asyari, Muhammadiyah founder Ahmad Dahlan, former prime minister Mohammad Natsir, former vice president Muhammad Hatta, former Army general Sudirman, and former freedom fighter Sutomo, popularly known as Bung Tomo.

The ads closed with a voice saying, "Thank you, teachers of the nation, thank you heroes, we will go on with the PKS."

While all the other figures have been named national heroes, the government has yet to respond to a Golkar Party proposal for the same honor for Soeharto.

The ads sparked immediate criticism.

"Granting (Soeharto) hero status is the government's prerogative, but dubbing him a teacher of the nation can be done by all who have felt his contributions (to the nation)," PKS deputy secretary-general Fachri Hamzah told The Jakarta Post here Monday.

"He might have made a lot of mistakes, but everyone has a good and bad side. We can't deny his major contributions to the development of the nation... in the first 10 or even 20 years of his presidency."

Fachri argued even Sukarno made mistakes, including declaring himself lifelong president, and so had other national heroes.

"But a big nation is one that can appreciate the dedication of those contributing a lot to its development. We shall not repeat his mistakes, but we can follow the good things he's done."

Fachri slammed criticism of the PKS as an "opportunistic" party for using Soeharto's picture in the ads. Critics accuse the Islamic-based party of trying to woo Soeharto's supporters.

"What's wrong with our idea of anti-political wings? Why should it be confronted? Now whoever wants to negate the contributions of Pak Harto or Bung Karno will have to face the PKS," he said.

Earlier this year, Golkar pushed forward proposals for Soeharto to be named a hero because of his achievements.

University of Indonesia historian Asvi Marwan Adam played down Fachri's statements, saying none of Indonesia's heroes had committed human rights abuses that had claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, as Soeharto allegedly did.

Asvi added that although some of the heroes, such as Sukarno, led extravagant lifestyles while still alive, none had enriched themselves and their families using state money as Soeharto did -- again allegedly.

"Soeharto may have been Indonesia's biggest developer, which in evident in the country's infrastructure development during 30 years of his presidency," Asvi said, "but he was also the biggest destroyer. Large-scale deforestation occurred when he led the country, and so did the swelling of foreign debt."