Thu, 22 May 2003

'I prefer Soeharto, despite corruption'

In the five years that have passed since the downfall of former president Soeharto, three presidents have been at the helm of the country to try and implement the reforms demanded by the people. However, some people on the streets complain that their lives are now more difficult than before. They told The Jakarta Post how they missed the "good old times" under Soeharto, when asked who they preferred among the past four presidents.

Iwan, 39, is a sidewalk vendor running a food stall near Permata Senayan Apartments in Central Jakarta. He lives nearby with his wife, while their two children are in Tegal, Central Java, with their grandparents:

If I have to choose one among the past four presidents, I prefer Soeharto, because the country was really safe back then. Low-income people earned money easily, there were no demonstrations, less crimes and everything went well.

People enjoyed prosperity and development despite the fact that he, his family and his cronies were corrupt.

There was no war, no rebels nor conflicts as is the case now in Aceh and other places in the country.

Back then I had two food stalls -- in Cijantung and in Rawamangun, both in East Jakarta -- and had several helpers, which enabled me and my family to enjoy a relatively prosperous life.

Soon after he resigned, everything turned upside down. Looting, protests and crimes were everywhere and uncontrollable.

The economic crisis caused the closure of some garment manufacturers, whose workers used to be my customers, and I went bankrupt.

Life is tougher now than before; staple foods are almost unaffordable.

I don't really care now about who is president, because they never help poor people like me. Our lives and our deaths are simply in our own hands now, not the president.

Nunung, 40, is a porter who helps traders at the Palmerah traditional market in Central Jakarta. He is divorced and resides in Tangerang, Banten:

I prefer Soeharto to his successors, because life under him was not as tough as it has been since his downfall.

His tyrannical regime at least helped to keep the country safe from separatists and criminals, despite the widespread corruption of the time.

I won't complain about his corrupt mentality, because he tried to balance his "dirty" deeds by providing welfare to the people. I didn't care what he and his cronies did, provided that low- income earners like me could survive more easily.

What I mean is that the low-income bracket did not have to endure terrible hardships under him.

After he stepped down, the country has only gotten worse, as there are many uncontrollable protests and rallies now.

Unfortunately, the protesters are so ignorant that they don't even know what they're saying; they just create chaos, if I may say so.

Worse still, the current leaders are too inept to handle the nation, which has led to many wars.

When I say "wars", I don't just mean it in terms of armed battles like in Aceh -- everyone in the country is at war now, because everyone is fighting to survive such a hopeless tough life.

Nerry, 27, is a housewife whose husband works as a bouncer at a fitness center in Joglo, West Jakarta:

I wouldn't choose any successor of Soeharto. None of those leaders were competent enough to rule the country.

All of them only thought of their own vested interests and let the people down, making life harder to live. They never side with low-income people.

Following Soeharto's downfall, life has only gotten harder, not to mention under the leadership of Megawati, who let the country get even worse.

Reform is only the rhetoric of those who articulated the issue simply in their attempt to force Soeharto to step down. Reform is nothing!

The reformists have thus far failed to improve the condition of the country, as corruption and crimes remain rampant.

I have a dream that one day, the country will have a leader like the Prophet Mohammed. At least the future leader will have characteristics like him, and a strong religious and ethical background.

--Leo Wahyudi S.