The passing of former president Suharto on Sunday, 27 January 2008, brings to a close the most important chapter in the political history of Southeast Asia – and of the founding generations of ASEAN leaders. The successor generation faces the challenge of continuing their legacies amid changing expectations.
Prior to his death, Suharto’s worsening medical condition had forced Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to cut short his talks in Malaysia with Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi earlier in January. Not long after, Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew flew to Jakarta to visit the ailing 86-year-old Suharto, who Mr. Lee clearly still holds in high esteem and fondly remembers as a close friend. Within a day, another aging ASEAN stalwart, Mahathir Mohamad, did likewise. He even offered prayers for the man many Indonesians still call respectfully as “Pak Harto”, using the honorific reference to “father” or “uncle”.