Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Bung Karno’s Legacy

Wednesday is the 111th anniversary of the birth of Sukarno, the country’s first president, who introduced to the nation the five principles that became Indonesia’s state ideology upon its independence on Aug. 17, 1945.

The principles, known as Pancasila, include belief in God, just and civilized humanity, the unity of Indonesia, democracy through consensus and social justice for all. These principles have withstood the test of time, even as the country has had to cope with armed uprisings and other challenges.

Some say Pancasila was not an original idea. Former President B.J. Habibie said similar principles were implemented hundreds of years ago by people who lived in what is now the Indonesian archipelago. “It was already an inherent part of the people in this region,” Habibie said during a television interview last week.

He might be right, but millions of Indonesians, including scholars and political scientists, agree that it was Bung Karno, the name by which the first president is affectionately known, who formulated and popularized the ideology in a speech delivered on June 1, 1945, a date now marked as Pancasila Day.

“Pancasila was Bung Karno’s monumental work and hence he deserved the title of national hero,” former Constitutional Court chief justice Jimly Assidiqie said last Friday. In 1986, Sukarno and fellow nationalist Mohammad Hatta, himself nicknamed “The Proclamator,” were named heroes of national independence.

Not only was Sukarno a great leader at home, but he also shined on the international stage. In 1960 he delivered his famous “To Build the World Anew” speech. Addressing the United Nations, Sukarno criticized the organization for ignoring newly independent countries like Indonesia and demanded the body be reorganized.

Sukarno withdrew Indonesia’s membership from the UN and announced plans to set up a rival organization, the Conference of the New Emerging Forces. The plan never materialized, however, because Sukarno was ousted in the wake of a coup attempt in September 1965, allegedly the work of members of the now-outlawed Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).

Because of Sukarno’s reluctance to disband the PKI, the Provisional People’s Consultative Assembly (MPRS) removed him from office and appointed Gen. Suharto as acting president. After he had been stripped from power, Sukarno was placed under house arrest by Suharto, where he remained until his death on June 21, 1970.

It was a great irony that while Sukarno’s name was officially out of favor in Indonesia for years after he fell from power, a statue of Indonesia’s founding president was erected in Pakistan months after his death on the order of then-President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Bung Karno’s admirer and staunch friend.

And while Sukarno may have officially been out of favor, hundreds of thousands of Indonesians paid their last respects at his funeral.

It is true that Sukarno, like any leader, had some flaws and made mistakes while in office, such as focusing too much on politics and not enough on economic issues to improve the lives of the people. But it is also true that the country’s natural wealth remained plentiful under his administration. An ardent nationalist, Sukarno wanted to see Indonesia’s economy develop self-reliantly through the prudent exploitation of its natural resources.

He also spent lavishly from the state coffers to build the imposing National Monument (Monas); Istiqlal, the largest mosque in Southeast Asia; and a huge stadium with all the modern support facilities in Senayan.

All these are the legacies he left the nation. Despite holding great power, Sukarno never enriched himself though illegal means. He once said that he was probably the only president in the world who did not own a private home.

Warts and all, Sukarno, to millions of Indonesians, was a loving, visionary, determined and brave leader who placed Indonesia in the top tier of world powers.

Oei Eng Goan, a former literature lecturer at the National University (UNAS) in Jakarta, is a freelance journalist.

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