Subject: Golkar Reveals True Colors in Suharto Tribute, Activists Say

The Jakarta Globe November 2, 2009

Golkar Reveals True Colors in Suharto Tribute, Activists Say

by Markus Junianto Sihaloho

photo: Golkar Party chairman Aburizal Bakrie honored deceased dictator Suharto at Golkar's 45th anniversary celebration. Widodo S Jusuf, Antara

Golkar, the long-time political vehicle of former President Suharto, presented the deceased dictator with a posthumous award over the weekend for contributions to the nation and the party.

Party chairman Aburizal Bakrie, in presenting the award to Suharto's eldest daughter Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, also known as Mbak Tutut, spoke glowingly of the late strongman. According to Transparency International, Suharto allegedly stole $15 billion to $35 billion during his 32-year rule and left legacy of pervasive corruption and unresolved human rights abuses.

"I personally congratulate and give the highest appreciation to the late HM Soeharto as the Abdi Luhur Award recipient for his extraordinary devotion to this nation, especially in laying the foundations of the Golkar Party," Bakrie said.

The award, presented during the party's 45th anniversary in Jakarta on Saturday evening, was criticized by human rights organizations the following day.

Bhatara Ibnu Reza, a senior researcher at Imparsial, a nongovernmental organization concerned with human rights and defense issues, said presenting the award to Suharto had shown "the real face" of Golkar.

He said the party had been claiming it was involved in the reform movement that began in 1998, but that the award "has proven that Golkar will never change" and "can never be trusted."

Bhatara said the party was only interested in political power, as demonstrated during Suharto's regime and most recently in aligning itself with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democratic Party coalition, a move which made it more difficult to investigate past abuses.

Ridha Saleh, deputy chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas-HAM), said the decision was insensitive given the unresolved human rights abuses.

"Note that the award will never erase what Suharto did from people's minds," Ridha said.

Also honored by Golkar was former Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who stepped down as party chairman following the faction's crushing defeats in the legislative and presidential elections.

A number of analysts predict the party will struggle to repeat its feat in 2004, when it managed to overcome its involvement in Suharto's New Order regime and attracted more than 22 percent of the popular vote in the legislative polls, despite being under the helm of Bakrie, a controversial businessman with a low personal approval rating.

Kalla, who is in Europe, was represented by daughter Muchlisa Kalla. Also in attendance were former President BJ Habibie and his wife Ainun Habibie; incumbent Vice President Boediono; and Taufik Kiemas, chairman of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR). Suharto-era generals Prabowo Subianto, Suharto's former son-in-law; and Wiranto, chairman of the People's Conscience Party (Hanura) were also there. Both men have been implicated in major human rights abuse cases.

The event was attended by about 3,000 party members, including State Minister of Youth and Sport Andi Mallarangeng, the president's former spokesman who was controversially appointed to a senior position within Golkar after Bakrie became party chairman and aligned himself with Yudhoyono.

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