Sat, 24 May 2003

'Soeharto looked after people's welfare'

The fight against corruption is one of the important items on the reform agenda. For low-income people, however, their first priority is simply to survive. Several people, whose lives have changed for the worse since Soeharto's downfall in 1998, told The Jakarta Post that Soeharto was still the best president for them, because life was better under his rule.

Andi, 26, is a motorcycle taxi, or ojek, driver in Muara Karang, North Jakarta. He lives in Pakuhaji, Tangerang, with his wife and daughter:

Soeharto was a dictator when he ruled the country and he was corrupt, but he looked after people's welfare and provided social security.

His corrupt administration generally ruined the country, so that the people were burdened with the economic crisis following his resignation.

Unfortunately, his successors have not been as competent as Soeharto was in governing the country.

Habibie was a reputable intellectual, but not a good leader. Abdurrahman Wahid's physical defect, I'm sorry to say, was in fact a drawback in his ability to lead the nation. He seemed unable to earn the people's respect, regardless of his intellectual capability.

Megawati is no better than her predecessors, I'm sure. She cannot cope with the current situation in the country, so low- income people must keep on living in misery due to the high prices of staple foods and other things.

I prefer Soeharto, because back then I had a successful life and coffee business. I could make an average of Rp 100,000 a day and within four years, I was able to buy two motorcycles.

I went bankrupt because of the economic slump after his downfall and had to sell my motorbikes. I've been leading a much tougher life since then, working as an ojek driver.

It's difficult to make even Rp 30,000 a day now in this so- called reform era. I'm just trying to be patient in coping with the hardships, while I dream of returning to the prosperity of six years ago. Someday, I won't be an ojek driver anymore.

Sobri, 40, is a vendor who sells soft drinks and cigarettes on Jl. Kyai Tapa, West Jakarta, and lives in Jelambar, West Jakarta. His wife and eight children live in Bogor, West Java:

I can't say who was the best president since the Soeharto era. Besides, I prefer Soeharto because back then, poor people like me could make money easily.

I mean, life was not as tough as it is now. Back then, I made less money in a day, but it went further.

I make around Rp 50,000 a day now, but it's not worth much, as I can't cover my daily expenses with it.

In a way, the good thing about Soeharto was that he helped lighten the burden of the poor, despite his corrupt government.

The three presidents after him were all the same. They didn't side with the poor, and they can't improve the situation.

I always have to watch out for raids by public order officers. This is proof that the current leader cannot guarantee any security for low-income earners to survive.

Juni, 23, is a street musician and busks on public transportation vehicles around Depok, West Jakarta. He lives with his family in Palmerah, West Jakarta:

I believe that former president Soeharto was very good at leadership, development and improving people's welfare, regardless of his corrupt government. Life seemed much easier for poor people then.

Things changed when B.J. Habibie became president. I can't judge his leadership, but he seemed incapable.

The next president, Gus Dur, unfortunately had a physical handicap that somewhat influenced people's respect toward him.

Finally, Megawati Soekarnoputri is also an unqualified leader. She was only elected because of her late father's charisma.

Perhaps she is not intelligent and has no leadership skills because she cannot help ease the hardships of people.

Reform is no longer a hope for a brighter future.

It's unfortunate that I graduated from vocational high school after Soeharto's resignation, because the competition for jobs has gotten tougher and tougher in the reform era. That's why I chose to be street singer.

-- Leo Wahyudi S.