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Subject: TAPOL Bulletin on The End of Suharto
Date: Mon, 29 Jun 1998 21:13:28 +0100 (BST)
From: TAPOL

From TAPOL BULLETIN No 147, July 1998 Lead article

[The publication of issue No. 147, June 1998, was delayed by the fast moving events in Indonesia. Here are two articles from No 147, July 1998 which will be mailed to subscribers and readers in one week's time. Anyone who is not a subscriber, wishing to receive this issue, with a view to subscribing should write to the address below.]

The end of Suharto 21 May 1998 will go down in world history as the day when the bloody and despotic rule of Suharto came to an end. His 32-year rule made him Asia's longest ruler after World War II. He broke many other world records, as a mass killer and human rights violator. In 1965/1966 he was responsible for the slaughter of at least half a million people and the incarceration of more than 1.2 million. He is also responsible for the deaths of 200,000 East Timorese, a third of the population, one of the worst acts of genocide this century.

Ignoring the blood-letting that accompanied his seizure of power, the western powers fell over themselves to wel-come Suharto. He had crushed the world's largest commu-nist party outside the Soviet bloc and grabbed power from President Sukarno who was seen by many in the West as a war-mongering, pro-communist leader.

Anti-communism and stability Many in the West believed in the domino-theory, which held that all Asian countries would fall into communist hands. Hence the fall of Sukarno was seen as a triumph. It is a public secret that the CIA and MI6 contributed sub-stantially to the communist witch-hunt and the subsequent downfall of Sukarno. Within hours of taking over the command of the Indonesian armed forces in October 1965, Suharto set about constructing a virulent anti-communist regime which attracted international support. His claim to have foiled an alleged 'communist coup attempt' provided his regime with one of its pillars of legitimacy.

Once he had been officially installed as president in 1967, development aid started pouring in. Even after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the international community contin-ued to support Suharto's rule. But in the past three years the enthusiasm for Suharto began to erode.

Suharto's other pillar of legitimacy was stability which he was able to guarantee by means of harsh repression, with the help of the military. For many years foreign in-vestors were grateful for this, turning a blind eye to the lack of fundamental freedoms like freedom of association and speech. But stability began to disintegrate during the early 1990s when workers' protests and land disputes be-came daily events. In the face of popular resistance, brutal military oppression became increasingly ineffective.

In the last two years, other forms of social unrest took hold: assaults on local police, fury against the privileges enjoyed by transmigrants from Java or Madura, anger of local businesses unable to withstand competition from modern super-markets. In many instances, these turned into anti-Christian and anti-Chinese riots. The hallmark of the Suharto regime was no longer stability but instability, making it a liability for foreign investors. The ultimate ex-plosion occurred a week before he stepped down when large swathes of Jakarta's Chinatown were reduced to rub-ble. Thousands of Chinese families fled the country. The army stood by as gangs of provocateurs took over the streets. Meanwhile in cities and towns across the country, tens of thousands of students were out in force, demanding that Suharto must go. With the economy in deep crisis and a power vacuum at the top, market forces made it clear that Suharto's rule was no longer sustainable.

Crisis of legitimacy The crisis in Indonesia took on biblical proportions. A number of catastrophes came together. The political crisis which had been simmering for years; the cyclical El Nino; the disastrous man-made forest fires and the economic free-fall, all contributed to Suharto's crisis of legitimacy.

The political crisis dates back to July 1996 when the PDI headquarters which was occupied by supporters of Megawati Sukarnoputri was attacked by hired thugs and police units on 27 July 1996, severely damaging Suharto's image. Peaceful rallies were met with brute force. The gen-eral public exploded in anger and Jakarta was plunged into the worst protests and riots since 1965. >From then on, In-donesia lurched from one crisis to another.

Gradually news about Indonesia shifted from the inside to the front pages, no longer soft news but hard news. Arti-cles began to appear everywhere about the Suharto dicta-torship: about nepotism, human rights violations, about East Timor. From being the darling of the West, Suharto's Indonesia was now a pariah state. When the economic cri-sis hit Indonesia, it became clear to everyone, at home and abroad, that Suharto was the problem.

In January 1998, nineteen members of LIPI, the highly-respected Indonesian Academy of Sciences, called on Su-harto to step down, defying regulations that civil servants must not criticise the government. Then a group of high-profile women civil servants took to the streets with the same demand. These two seemingly small incidents piled on the agony for the despot. But as history shows, dictators never depart gracefully. Even when it was clear in March this year that his days were numbered, Suharto insisted on being 'elected' by his hand-picked MPR for a seventh term and appointing a cabinet of cronies, including his daughter Tutut. His arro-gance shocked even his most loyal devotees.

Suharto and the Orde Baru Suharto's Orde Baru began with a massive bloodbath in 1965 followed by many massacres during the next 32 years. The Orde Baru started off as a military regime with Suharto as the leader of the junta. But the military junta disappeared swiftly as he removed generals once they had managed to build their own power base.

In the seventies, attempts were made by top-ranking generals to create a rotating system of executive power but by then Suharto's power base was beyond control. In 1980 a group of dissident officers set up Petisi 50, one of the first organised opposition groups. But this was also the beginning of the Suharto regime proper. From that moment on, the Orde Baru regime and the Suharto regime became synonymous. A vertical line of power was consolidated. Everyone given a top position became totally dependent on and subordinate to Suharto.

Republic of fear The hallmarks of the Orde Baru were depoliticisation and fear. The few political freedoms inherited from the authoritarian Guided Democracy period of Sukarno were dismantled. All basic freedoms were snuffed out and the doctrine of the 'floating mass' was introduced. This as-serted that the rural masses were too ignorant to get in-volved in politics as this would only disrupt development. The slaughter and mass arrests of 1965 inculcated an at-mosphere of fear which persisted into the nineties. As ac-tivists often said, fear had become a part of Indonesian culture.

The main instrument of repression was KOPKAMTIB, the Command for the Restoration of Security and Order, created by Suharto early in October 1965. Military com-manders at all levels were invested with special powers to arrest people and control political activities. This was the Indonesian version of the Gestapo, but integrated into the army structure.

The politics of the eighties will go down in Indonesian history as the dark ages. Suharto set out to bulldoze everything suspect. In the name of Pancasila, the state doc-trine, the entire country was forced to comply. The political system was forced into a strait-jacket corporatist model. Monoloyalitas was the buzzword and every citizen had to take a Pancasila course. Like Hitler before him, Suharto wanted to create a new kind of Indonesian super human being. It took a great deal of courage in the eighties to be a dissident. Just organising an discussion group could result in a prison sentence of up to years.

As we know from Orwell's 1984, states like Suharto's Orde Baru cannot last long. Demokrasi Pancasila was nothing less than a regime based on fear, without democratic space, and as such, it became increasingly inept. Suharto's demise means the demise of the Orde Baru but it could take several years before some of the structures disappear. The holding of free elections scheduled for 1999 should accelerate the process of con-signing the Orde Baru to the scrap-heap of history.

Ekonomi NKK According to received wisdom, Suharto rescued the Indonesian economy from the ruins of the Sukarno regime. The Sukarno government left an external debt of US$2.5 billion and spiralling inflation. Suharto has left an external debt of around US$120 billion; the economy is expected to contract by 15 to 20 per cent this year and inflation could exceed 100 per cent. As for the rupiah, it now stands at 14,500 to the US dollar as compared with 2,400 last July. Worse, when Suharto took over, Indonesia's forests and natural resources were still intact. Suharto's legacy is a crippled Indonesian economy, natural resources have been squandered, along with irreversible ecological damage.

When Suharto took over, the West and its multilateral institutions, the IMF and the World Bank, hardly waited for the bodies of the slaughter victims to be disposed of before showering the Indonesian economy with aid. For more than 30 years, an inhumane and unjust social-economic system enjoyed the unstinting support of the free world. Every year, IMF and World Bank economists heaped praise on Indonesia's robust economy.

In the mid eighties large parts of East and Southeast Asia were obsessed by 'Asian tiger' hype. It started with the exploitation of cheap labour, producing consumer goods for the global economy. But by the early nineties, Asian export-oriented economies like Indonesia moved into more risky ventures. A casino economy emerged, with capital being invested in high risk projects like real estate and petrochemical plants or making a fast buck by specu-lating in shares or in the foreign currency market. The flow of foreign capital seemed unlimited, foreign bankers were only too eager to throw billions of dollars at the Indonesian economy, lending to Indonesian conglomerates that were as empty as inflated balloons.

This casino economy was combined with Ekonomi NKK (Nepotism, Corruption, Collusion) run by the Suharto family. Anyone wanting to do business in Indonesia had to take on board one or other of the hundreds of companies owned by the Suharto offspring. One analyst has made a tally of 1,247 corporations within the Suharto business em-pire. The web of corruption is only now coming to light while the free fall of the economy is still far from over.

Suharto and ABRI Over the years Suharto's relationship with ABRI has become much more complex. Until the first economic cri-sis struck in 1973/4 when the state oil company, Pertamina had to be bailed out of US$10 billion of debts, military rule was uncontrolled. The Dwifungsi (dual function) military doctrine penetrated everywhere. Suharto and his generals ruled over Indonesia as if it was their private fiefdom. State corporations were used as milk cows; on retirement, every general would be rewarded with a forest concession or a juicy business deal. But gradually, things began to change.

The national political and economic cake became too small to go round. An entrepreneurial class of ABRI offi-cers did not emerge. Unlike Thailand where top-ranking officers became part of the economic elite, ABRI generals were told to concentrate on military professionalism. Offi-cers like Ibnu Sutowo and Thahir, who had amassed for-tunes from running state companies, became a thing of the past. Senior officers were reduced to making extra earnings from mafia practices, or extorting protection money from the emerging Sino-Indonesian entrepreneurial class.

While it proved relatively easy to keep ABRI out of big business, it was not so easy to keep them out of politics. By the early nineties, Suharto had discarded his most loyal generals, even men like Ali Murtopo who had stage-managed the 'act of free choice' in West Papua and intro-duced the 'floating mass' doctrine, or Benny Murdani who had commanded the invasion of East Timor. From now on, top posts in ABRI were reserved for family members like Wismoyo Arismunandar and Prabowo Subianto or former adjutants. But the apex of the pyramid of officer postings had become so thin that it was impossible to satisfy every-one and ensure solid ABRI loyalty towards Suharto.

The emergence of factions in ABRI, with different de-grees of loyalty meant that, even though the top generals were hand-picked by Suharto, loyalty was no longer auto-matic. As protests spread throughout the country, Suharto became a beleaguered man, no longer knowing who he could trust.

Like all dictators, he tried to cling to power to the bitter end. In the end, his top generals were the ones who realised that Suharto had become a liability and persuaded him to stand down because they were no longer able to control the situation. For the top brass, maintaining their own political (and economic) privileges had become their priority. Maintaining the Dwifungsi without Suharto became the solution.

The last days of Suharto There are several accounts of the sequence of events be-fore and after Suharto's fall. They read like thrillers, full of suspense., with events swirling round an aging dictator who had lost all sense of reality. As the political crisis was reaching its climax, Suharto decided to attend a conference in Cairo, wanting to show he was still in control. Back home, the crisis lurched from bad to worse. Tens of thousands of students were demon-strating in force in campuses right across the country.

On 12 May, four students were shot dead at Trisakti University, Jakarta, during a peaceful demonstration. These deaths sent shock-waves across the country as students came out in even greater numbers, flying flags half-mast and saying prayers for the dead.

The day after the killings, riots broke out in Jakarta, devastating the main commercial centres, gutting shopping malls and vehicles. Suharto was forced to cut short his visit. He returned to a different country. The rioting in Ja-karta had left the country in a political vacuum. Instead of coming out to protect the victims, the army had done nothing. It was not until weeks later that investigations re-vealed that more than a thousand people had died in the infernos, while scores, perhaps hundreds, of Chinese women had been systematically gang raped. Evidence is now linking the riots to army factions that helped organise the mayhem which wrecked the system of food distribu-tion, making economic conditions even worse.

While in Cairo, Suharto hinted that he might be pre-pared to step down and play the role of lengser keprabon, an elder statesman guiding things from behind, like other authoritarian Asian leaders, Ne Win in Burma and Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore. His statement was met with scep-ticism; student demonstrations continued to demand that Suharto should resign and should go on trial. By then it was clear that Suharto's demise was just a matter of time.

As Indonesia's best known writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer said: "I was not at all surprised. Suharto was no longer a force for determining the process of change. He was like a small stone that could be kicked around by the feet of the students" [Washington Post, 7 June 1998].

While Suharto tried to save his presidency, the three days of rioting had convinced even his staunchest follow-ers that it was time for him to go. Different cliques within the regimes came up with their own scenarios. On 18 May, with the Parliament building under siege by thousands of students, Harmoko, one of his most loyal lackeys and chair of DPR/MPR(Parliament/People's Congress), stunned everyone by announcing that that it would be better for Suharto to resign and announcing that impeachment proce-dures would be started if he failed to do so. A few days earlier, his house in Solo had been gutted by an angry crowd. A few months earlier, this same Harmoko, as chair of the ruling party GOLKAR, had proclaimed to every-one's astonishment that: "After making a check throughout the country, it is evident that the Indonesian people still want Suharto as President". Harmoko's vault over the fence was spectacular but not exceptional. He was just one of the many rats leaving the Titanic.

But Harmoko's thunderbolt was greeted with a public slapdown by General Wiranto who said that Harmoko's proposals were 'illegal and unconstitutional'.

Constitutionalism rules the day On the same day, 18 May 1998, real moves began on how to ditch Suharto. The buzz word was konstitutional, a typical concept of the Orde Baru where constitutionalism is form with no substance. Everything in Indonesia must be constitutional: if you want to slap a heavy sentence on a human rights activist, just find a suitable article in the criminal code. The Orde Baru legal system was never based on the rule of law and the division between the three powers was non-existent. Everything had to be done ac-cording to the law (konstitutional). In the end, Suharto re-ceived the same bitter medicine he had applied to his po-litical enemies.

By now student demonstrations had spread from the campuses onto the streets with everyone joining in. Amien Rais had announced that he would bring out one million people in Jakarta on 20 May, National Awakening Day, and no one doubted this could happen. But the night be-fore, a top general, undoubtedly General Wiranto, phoned him with a warning: 'Go ahead and you will have a Tien An Men on your conscience.'

The rally was called off. It could not have happened anyway as the streets leading to the huge square where it would have taken place were sealed off by hundreds of tanks (including many British Scorpions) and tens of thousands of troops. On 20 May, the heart of Jakarta was under siege by the Indonesian army. Later that day, Amien Rais angrily accused the army of state terrorism.

By now Suharto's position was hopeless. He negotiated with key members of his crony cabinet who told him to resign. He conferred with the top brass who told him the situation had become uncontrollable. He asked for advice from nine key Muslim leaders who told him bluntly to step down. In the meantime, the four factions in parliament, including ABRI, had decided that Suharto should step down.

Habibie, an historic accident It was General Wiranto who emerged as the constitu-tional fixer. He consulted seven constitutional experts for their views on possible successions. Should it be Amien Rais, the leader of Muhammadiyah, or a reform council of mainstream opposition figures that would hold new general elections? The third possibility was to hand over power to Vice-President Habibie. It became clear that for ABRI, the third option was the most attractive, even though their past conflicts with the man were legendary. They could not control Amien Rais or a reform council; Habibie would be much easier to control as he lacked a power base.

When this alternative was presented to Suharto, he gave vent to serious doubts about Habibie's abilities (even though he had chosen the man to be his vice-president). This was all the more reason for Wiranto to opt for Habibie because the era of Orde Baru tanpa Suharto (New Order without Suharto) was now taking shape.

Early on 21 May, a forlorn Suharto announced his res-ignation and his decision to hand over to Habibie, as his daughter, Tutut, stood weeping in the background. Habibie took the oath of office after which Wiranto grabbed the mike to say that ABRI would protect the person and the interests of the dictator who they had just deposed.

Many people in Indonesia still have to get used to the idea that Suharto is no longer in charge. More than half of the population are under 30 years of age and have only known Suharto as President. Yet ironically, they were the ones who sounded the death knell for a dictator who had wrought such damage on a vast and beautiful country like Indonesia.


TAPOL, Indonesia Human Rights Campaign, 111 Northwood Road, Thornton Heath, Surrey CR7 8HW, UK Phone: 0181 771-2904 Fax: 0181 653-0322 email: tapol@gn.apc.org Defending the rights of the victims of Indonesian oppression in Indonesia, East Timor, West Papua and Aceh.