Anytime, anything, anyhow might be ways to describe former PM Lee Kuan Yew’s shoot from the hip comments. With his frank words that Suharto does not deserve enough recognition, critics would jump on the band of authoritarian brothers innuendo. I won’t be surprised if the Indonesians would also pick up on this comment and whip it into a “Lee Kuan Yew supported a former dictator who oppressed us” argument. If a bilateral embarrassment arises out of this, we all know who to point fingers at this time. The flip side is that however unpleasant the “truth” (in his view) is you don’t want to hear, you can expect MM Lee to voice his opinion. From graduate mothers to have more babies to the harsh realities of race discrimination in Singapore and Malaysia.
JAKARTA: Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew visited former Indonesian president Suharto at a hospital in Jakarta on Sunday.
Mr Suharto is in a “very critical condition” after suffering multiple organ failure.
Speaking to Singapore media after the visit, MM Lee praised the former president for bringing progress and development to Indonesia, and stability to the region.
As Mr Suharto has been widely criticised for corruption and human rights abuses during his 32-year rule, Mr Lee said he is sad that the former leader is not getting the recognition he deserves.
Mr Lee is the first foreign leader to visit Mr Suharto after he was admitted to the hospital more than a week ago.
The minister mentor was briefed by Mr Suharto’s doctors before entering the ward where the 86-year-old ex-leader remains in critical condition.
Mr Lee said he has come to visit and pay tribute to an old friend.
He said: “I feel sad to see a very old friend with whom I had worked closely over the last 30 years, not really getting the honours that he deserves. He deserves recognition for what he did. And the younger generations – both in Indonesia and in the world – do not remember where Indonesia started. I do. That’s why I came here to visit him.
“He gave Indonesia progress and development. He educated the population. He built roads and infrastructure. And from Sukarno’s konfrontasi and other foreign policy excesses, he stabilised international relations, cooperated in ASEAN and made ASEAN more successful than SARC in South Asia. And today, we have a stable Southeast Asia.”
Despite the growth and prosperity that Mr Suharto brought, the former military general has come under heavy criticism for abusing his power.
Mr Lee said: “Yes, there was corruption. Yes, he gave favours to his family and his friends. But there was real growth and real progress. I think the people of Indonesia are lucky. They had a general in charge, had a team of competent administrators – including a very good team of economists to build up the country.”
Mr Suharto was forced to step down from office in 1998, soon after the Asian financial crisis that derailed the Indonesian economy.
Many had put the blame on the former president. But Mr Lee put the developments in perspective.
He said: “From ’67 when he became president right up to ’97, the economy grew and Indonesia was on the point of taking off the economy. It didn’t take off not because of his fault (but) because bank Indonesia’s interest rate was too high, and so the companies borrowed in USD for low interest rates. When confidence was lost after the Thai baht crisis and people wanted to pull their money out, the whole thing collapsed. It was not his fault.”
Comparing Mr Suharto to former Myanmar leader Ne Win, who came to power almost at the same time, Mr Lee said Indonesia is doing better now because of Mr Suharto’s leadership.
“In the 1960s, Burma had the same coup with General Ne Win taking over. He did not have this team of economists. He did it his own way – the Burmese way to socialism – and if you compare Burma with Indonesia, you would know what a difference Suharto has made.
“I’m very sad to see his life come to an end without the full glory that he deserves. There’re very few people of his age and my age who can remember the past. And if they can remember the past, they will know that in the 1960s, Indonesia was in very dire economic difficulties – hyper-inflation like today’s Zimbabwe,” said Mr Lee.
Through decades of formal ties established as leaders of neighbouring countries, it is clear that a strong bond exists between the two former heads who played a significant part in the growth and development of their respective countries as well as within the region.