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: Suharto exit gives Asian leaders

Thursday May 21, 3:52 am Eastern Time
Suharto exit gives Asian leaders a warning
By Jonathan Thatcher 
MANILA, May 21 (Reuters) - For Indonesia's nervous neighbours, President
Suharto's forced resignation is a huge relief. But it comes with a blunt
message to other Asian leaders tempted to overstay their welcome.

The ageing Indonesian president on Thursday relinquished his position as
Asia's longest-serving political leader after months of economic crisis
which turned into mass protest and rioting that finally broke his hold on power.

``It creates psychological waves through the region...other governments will
be behaving with Suharto at the back of their minds,'' University of the
Philippines political science professor Alex Magno said.

``This is really a trend in Asia. It is a healthy one,'' added Abdul Razak
Baginda, executive director of the Malaysian Strategic Research Institute.

It was a trend, he said, that began 12 years ago in the Philippines when
huge ``people power'' protests ended with the downfall of dictator Ferdinand

Similar, spontaneous uprisings spread as far as East Europe where communist
regimes were crumbling.

In Asia, ``people power'' spawned anti-government protests in Burma in 1988,
in China a year later and Thailand in 1992.

But only in Thailand could the demonstrators claim any success. Governments
in China and Burma kept the loyalty of the military which shot protesters
from the streets.

The student-led protests in Indonesia focused in the last few days on the
building in Jakarta which houses parliament, the rubber stamp of Suharto's
long rule.

Then a barely noticed general, Suharto rose to power in 1965, shunting aside
the country's first president, Sukarno, after putting down what he said was
an attempted communist-backed coup.

In his more than 30-year rule, Suharto brought the country prolonged
economic success and political stability.

But he largely prohibited open political expression and allowed his family
and close associates to grab an increasingly large share of the country's
wealth for themselves.

His departure, say some analysts, is a sign of the times that the
authoritarian style of leadership has run its course in Asia.

``I am in disagreement with the (former Singapore prime minister) Lee Kuan
Yew thesis that you need an authoritarian government to have
development...that model is to say the least, questionable,'' Malaya Ronas,
director of Institute for Strategic and Development Studies in Manila, said.

``Regular elections, no matter how rambunctious, are better than people
power. People power is the last resort,'' he added.

Philippine President Ramos, a former general who helped lead the 1986
``people power'' movement and who is now about to hand over power to a newly
elected successor, was quick to point out the need to allow greater say in

``We hope this will provide a lesson for all of us here in the Philippines
as well as in ASEAN (the Association of South East Asian Nations) that the
right approach perhaps...is to stay on the track of reform in consultation
with our people and the leaders of various sectors,'' he told reporters.

Kim Byung-kook, political science professor at Korea University, was more

``Indonesia sends a message that the old form of rule -- general turned
politician and using the military -- is outdated and is bound to fall.''

He said damage from the Asian financial crisis has been the catalyst for
change in much of the region. The other two countries hardest hit by the
crisis -- Thailand and South Korea -- have both since acquired new leaders.

``If it was not for the IMF's (International Monetary Fund's) punishing
package it wouldn't have come to this. The IMF is the hand-maiden of
change,'' said Zainal Aznam, deputy director general of Malaysian's
Institute of Strategic Studies.

Widely publicised photographs of IMF managing director Michel Camdessus,
standing with arms folded, looking down on Suharto while he signed an
agreement to introduce tough reforms in exchange for loans, became a symbol
of the Fund's not always welcome power.

Zainal said the development of the new international financial architecture
would be pivotal and with it the demands that government reveal more openly
what they are up to.

"The forces of democracy work with globalisation," he said.