The fall of Soeharto

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Sent: Saturday, January 05, 2008 4:44 AM
Subject: [i-s] THE FALL OF SUHARTO


By Akhmad Kusaeni

Itwas the story of the end of an era: The fall of Suharto. Students inIndonesia were not chanting reformasi! any longer. Reformasi, meaningreform, by the mid of May 1998, seems an obsolete term. They began touse the more heroic and eerie term. They then shouted Revolusi sampaimati! --- revolution until death. The new chant resembles a similar onefrom 53 years ago, when Indonesian struggled for their independencefrom the Dutch: Merdeka atau mati! --- independence or die.

Theeconomic disease had spread too far. For the past three decades,Indonesia has been one of Asia's most powerful economies. During thisperiod, its economy grew at an average annual rate of seven percent.But when financial turmoil struck the region last July, Indonesia'seconomic achievements quickly unraveled.

Since then, itscurrency, the rupiah, has lost nearly 80 percent of its value. Beforecrisis, the values of rupiah were relatively stable with Rp3.000 per $1U.S. dollar. During the crisis, rupiah jumped to Rp15.000 per $1 U.S.dollar. Banks and major companies have collapsed overnight.Unemployment has increased dramatically and food prices haveskyrocketed.

Riots have erupted across the country, most ofwhich are directed at ethnic Chinese, who make-up three percent of thepopulation, yet control approximately three-quarters of the nation'swealth. If economic conditions didn't improve, many experts warned thatIndonesia might plunge into social and political chaos.
But hishandling of the recent economic crisis has failed to restore confidenceboth at home and abroad. Many contend that his reluctance to adhere tothe International Monetary Fund's prescribed reforms has exacerbatedthe current crisis. And despite his repeated promises, PresidentSuharto has failed to dismantle the monopolies and cartels that controlthe economy, many of which are run by his family and friends.

Furthermore,his plan to peg the rupiah against the U.S. dollar has provokedinternational criticism. Continued defiance of the IMF plan may promptits board to suspend future payments of its $33 billion loan package,potentially causing even greater chaos in the region.

Wheneconomics crisis became worst, it was too late for Suharto to recover.The bottom line was that the people have lost all confidence in him.Among mainstream leaders, Amien Rais (now holding position as theNational Assembly's House Speaker) was one of the first to see thepotential for a mass uprising against Suharto. He said: "We must notafraid of the term "people's power". That, after all, was how we gainedindependence and again how we toppled Sukarno in 1966".

Therefor,the student protest then continued to gain strength, with students allover the country demanding immediate "total reform" (reformasi total).The level of violence increased as the demonstrations grew in thestrength and size, and the confrontation started to claim fatalities.On May 8, 1998, a demonstrator was beaten to death be securitypersonnel in Yogyakarta, and the day after a plain-clothes securityofficer died in student demonstration in Bogor. The two deathscontributed to exacerbating the tension and animosity between thestudents and the security forces. On May 12, the troops shot dead fourstudents in a demonstration at the Trisakti University in Jakarta. TheTrisakti shootings were widely covered by the media, and the four slainstudents were dubbed "heroes of reform" (pahlawan reformasi).[1]

Thenext day (May 13) a memorial ceremony was held at the TrisaktiUniversity, which was attended by thousands of students from differentuniversities in Jakarta. Several of Suharto's most prominent critics inthe previous six months came to speak to students, such as Amien Raisand Megawati Sukarnoputri (now VP under President Abdurrahman Wahid'sgovernment). Meanwhile, a large crowd assembled outside the campusgates to watch the students' activities and famous speakers who tookpart in the ceremony. Around noon the crowd started to become uneasy,and some of them called the students to go out on the streets to marchto parliament building and Presidential Palace.

When thestudents declined, the crowd continued to grow restive, and some streetlamps were smashed. Shortly afterwards, a passing garbage truck wasstopped and set on fire. From the area around the Trisakti University,the rioting spread to nearby area and then to all over Jakarta.

InCenter Business District Grogol, several shops, almost exclusivelyChinese-owned, were looted, with rioters carrying away refrigerators,computers, TV sets and other electronic goods. Some of the goods werealso taken out on the streets and set on fire, together with numerouscars and some motorbikes parked on the streets. Many shops were smashedor set on fire after they had been looted. The rioting continuedthroughout the night, and the next day, May 14, it flared up all overJakarta and in the neighboring towns of Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi.

Accordingto Joint Fact-Finding Team (TGPF, Tim Gabungan Pencari Fakta) over1.000 people died in the riots which were the worst seen by far inJakarta. Hundreds of banks and offices were partly or completelydestroyed and close to 2.000 motor vehicles were set on fire. Riotersalso attacked numerous police stations, hotels, restaurants, and gas
stations. An official estimate put the value of damaged property at almost 400 million US dollars.

Oneof the most gruesome aspects of the riots was the rape and sexualassault of large number of women, most of them of Chinese descent. TheTGPF verified 64 cases of rape, several of them involving killing ormutilation of the victims. In the conclusion, these protest and riots,spearheaded by students, finally led to downfall of Suharto on May 21,1998.

How can one explain the fall of Suharto, a long-term'strongman' in May 1998, who had not only ruled for thirty-two yearsbut had also been unanimously elected seventy-two days earlier? Was hethe victim of a power struggle among the political elite, including themilitary, or was his fall simply the result of a momentum that hadbuilt up over many years and which exploded with the onset of thefinancial crisis?

Four western's scholar tried to makeanalyses on the downfall of Suharto in their interesting and importantbooks. They were Stefan Eklof in Indonesian Politics in Crises: TheLong Fall of Suharto, 1996-98 ; Michael R.J. Vatikiotis in IndonesianPolitics under Suharto: The Rise and Fall the New Order ; Adam Schwarzin A Nation in Waiting: Indonesia's Search for Stability ; and DamienKingsbury in Politics of Indonesia.
Stefan Eklof, in his book, triedto explore the two-year political crisis in Indonesia, which led to thefall of Suharto. Eklof, of the Center for East and Southeast AsianStudies at Lund University, Denmark, carried out research in Indonesiaon four separate occasions during 1997-1998. Based on his research, headmitted that Suharto's fall was precipitated by the economic crisisand the dynamics of international market mechanisms. But, according tohim, the Asian economic crisis was not the beginning of the story.

In preface of his book he stated:
"Economiccollapse provided the impetus for the political crisis to evolve infull, but Indonesia was already in the midst of a political legitimacycrisis when the economic crisis struck in mid-1997".

Thispolitical crisis, its background and development, was the theme for hisbook. But, Eklof, also gave the readers a brief history about Suharto(born in 1921) and his "military dictatorship". Yes, few of the world'smajor countries have been so completely dominated by one person asIndonesia was by Suharto from the mid-1960s to 1998. When he was forcedto step down in May 1998 he had already by far surpassed hispredecessor and Indonesia's first president Sukarno, as the country'slongest serving head of state. As Suharto had led Indonesia for 32years, few other world leaders had led their countries for longer thanthe Indonesian president.

Suharto and his New Order regime cameto power in 1966 in the wake of an abortive coup attempt the yearbefore in which six top army generals were murdered. The circumstancesaround the coup were still unclear, but the event provided a pretextfor the military to move against its main political adversary, theIndonesian Communist Party, PKI (Partai Komunis Indonesia). In anation-wide purge from October 1965 to March 1966, an estimated 500.000real and imagined Communist were killed as long-standing social andpolitical tension exploded, fuelled by the army's organized campaignagainst the PKI.[2]

Duringhis 32 years in power, according to Eklof's book, Suharto presided overtremendous changes in the social and economic spheres. Enormousprogress was made in health, education, agriculture and povertyeradication to mention a few of the most important fields. This was atthe heart of Suharto's and the New Order's legitimacy.

How wasSuharto maintaining his power for such very long time? Suharto has beensucceeding in making himself as president, general and king. Thepolitical structure of his New Order regime can be described as asteeply ascending pyramid in which the heights are thoroughly dominatedby single office, the presidency. The President commands the military,which is primus interpares within bureaucracy, which in turn holds swayover the society.

David Jenkins, Australian journalist,describes the degree of control Suharto had achieved almost threedecades after taking power:
Suharto stood at the apex of thepyramid; his appointees sat in each of the key executive, legislative,and judicial branches of the government. His writ extended into everydepartment and into every state-run corporation; it reached down, if hechose, to every village…In short, he had established himself as theparamount figure in a society in which deference to authority is deeplyrooted[3].

Golkaris the government's party, an electoral vehicle given its present formin 1969 in order to deny any parliamentary majority to the otherparties. Its seats are filled with men and women who have or have hadbureaucratic careers or are in other ways connected to bureaucracy. InParliament and Assembly, the Golkar delegations have never takenautonomous initiatives, but served instead as the sponsors of policiesarrived at elsewhere in the government. A large majority of the1000-members Assembly is appointed or approved by the sittingexecutive. Every five years, all 1000 members "vote" by acclamation forSuharto's re-election. Before his resignation, Suharto has just electedfor the seventh terms of presidency.

Critics of the New Orderhad often been tended to characterize the regime as a militarydictatorship. The relationship between ABRI (Angkatan BersenjataRepublik Indonesia, Armed Forces of the Republic of Indonesia) and thecivilian politicians was always uneasy. The military vigorouslydefended in prominence in politics, enshrined in the doctrine of thedual function (dwifungsi) of the military.

The doctrinestipulated that ABRI, because of its historical role in the strugglefor national independence, had two roles, one in defense and security,and the other in social political management. ABRI also saw itself asthe essential vanguard for national stability and unity. Mostevidently, the dual function meant that ABRI was represented by anappointed faction in parliament, and that active and retired officersheld the key post in the government and throughout the bureaucracy.Besides the presidency, ABRI clearly was Indonesia's most politicallyinfluential institution under the New Order.

So, in the case of May riots, Eklof believed that the military were involved in instigating the riots. He stated:

"Theinvolvement of personnel from the special forces, Kopassus, in allthree cities, Jakarta, Medan and Solo, seems particularlyincriminating, and strengthens suspicions that the group of seniorofficers around Lieutenant-General Prabowo (former Kopassus Commander)was responsible for instigating at least parts of the unrest".

Itwas not completely clear what motive, or motives, Prabowo and the grouparound him would have had for instigating the riots. Adam Schwarz, inhis book "A Nation in Waiting", had quoted Indonesian's scholar DewiFortuna Anwar:

"It's very hard to believe the riots were spontaneous. It was all done with military precision".

ForSchwarz, an American journalist worked for the Far Eastern EconomicReview and now lecturer on Asian politics at John Hopkins University,why the military would instigate riots was also not clear. One theorywas that military elements loyal to Prabowo and close to his radicalMuslim supporters saw an opportunity to strike at the ethnic-Chinese,in what sociologist Ariel Heryanto called an "act of thestate-sponsored terrorism". It's aims "to spread greater fear among thelarge population against whom similar violence could happened at anytime".

Similar to Schwarz views, Stefan Eklof also sees thepossibility that the riots were part of a concerted campaign againstIndonesia's ethnic Chinese population. It's aims to drive parts of theethnic Chinese business community out of the country and thusfacilitating a redistribution of their business and other assets tonon-Chinese Indonesians. The rapes and sexual violence against ChineseIndonesian women, primarily in Jakarta, might in this context have beenpart of the campaign.

Another theory that Adam Schwarz mentionedin his book is that Prabowo and the generals close to him helped fomentthe riots in a bid for power. According to this theory, Prabowo hopedthe riots would discredit Armed Chief Commander General Wiranto andconvince Suharto to appoint Prabowo as armed chief commander or chiefof a new security agency.

Earlier in the month, Suharto hadreportedly considered reconstituting the disbanded internal securityagency, Kopkamtib, and putting Prabowo or Army Commander Subagyo incharge of it. He would have been able to do this thanks to the newpowers given to him in March at the MPR (National Assembly) session.The Kopkamtib chief would have wide-ranging powers and be outsideWiranto's chain command.

On the afternoon of May 14, severalsenior generals and influential civilians held a meeting at armedforces headquarters. The purpose of the meeting was disputed, butseveral members of government-appointed team that investigated theriots believed the meeting discussed the restoration of Kopkamtib andthe granting of emergency powers to Prabowo.

In its formalreport, the fact-finding team said there were links between theabduction of pro-democracy activists earlier in the year, the killingsat the Trisakti University on May 12 and the riots that began next day.

The TGPF report said:
"Therange of incidents climaxing on May 13 to May 15 gives the perceptionthat the situation was engineered to create an emergency which requiredextra-constitutional force to control". [4]

Thetwo officers, General Wiranto and General Prabowo, were known to beaverse each other. All the four books mention this competition amongmilitary elite, but only in Damien Kingsbury's book, readers couldunderstand these rivalries in very detail.

All the four bookshad a common ground on one thing that while Suharto out of the country(Suharto visited Egypt at that time), Prabowo might have staged theunrest to create impression that Wiranto was incapable of commandingthe security forces and upholding order.

The chaotic situationwould have been occasioned a direct intervention by Prabowo to restoreorder, thus making him stand out as a national savior. This scenarioresembles the events of 1965-66, when Suharto used his position asCommander of Strategic Reserve Army (Kostrad) to wrest power fromSukarno. A senior military officer, quoted by Asiaweek, even suggestedthat it was Prabowo's plan to take power from Suharto in the samemanner.

It was very interesting to know the result of rivalriesbetween General Wiranto and General Prabowo. As it mentioned inKingsbury's book "The Politics of Indonesia", General Wirantorepresented the Red and White Faction in ABRI and General Praboworepresented the Green Faction in Indonesia military. Red and WhiteFaction were army officers who close to nationalists, Christians, andother minority group such as Chinese. Green Faction were army officerswho close to the modernist Muslim community.

Kingsbury furthermentioned that while Suharto's resignation was greeted with enthusiasmand Vice President Habibie replaced him as the Head of State, realpower appeared to be firmly in the hands of General Wiranto. The factthat several army officers closed to Wiranto became minister inHabibie's "Reform Cabinet" indicated that ABRI was again in theascendancy, and that the Red and White Faction had won the day.

Aftera brief and somewhat ill conceived show of power on May 22, in which hetold Habibie to appoint him as ABRI Commander-in-chief, Prabowo wasshuffled out of Kostrad to the staff and Command College at Bandung. Hethen applied for earlier retirement from the military and went toJordan to seek a new life as a businessman. (Prabowo was a close friendof Prince Abdullah of Jordan. They were classmates in Army College inAmerica).

Meanwhile, Prabowo's military allies were similarlymoved from influential positions in what was beginning to look like apurge, to be replaced by Red and White loyalists. In particular,Kopassus Commander Major General Muchdi (Prabowo's allies) was replacedby Major General Sjahrir (Wiranto's allies).

Kingsbury made conclusion that:
"The Red and White Faction had not only won in Cabinet; it had also won control of ABRI".

MichaelR.J. Vatikiotis, another U.S scholar who watched closely situation inIndonesia before and after the fall of Suharto, wrote in his book"Indonesian Politics under Suharto" that "there was clearly a virus inthe military's software".
He mentioned that consistent withSuharto's long-standing policy of divide and rule within the ranks,Suharto --at the end of the New Order era-- had appointed Wiranto asarmed forces commander; another loyal adjutant, Subagyo as armycommander, and his son-in-law Prabowo to the key Kostrad commands.

IfSubagyo's intense loyalty to Suharto acted as a check on Wiranto'sprofessional inclinations, Prabowo was the virus. As Kostrad commander,he had more active troops than Wiranto under his direct command.Prabowo also used his influence with Suharto to have several closefellow officers appointed to other key command in Jakarta.

Wirantotherefore had a tough time mobilizing troops to protect Jakarta oncethe rioting broke out. Reinforcements had to be brought in from as faras East Java – apparently because Kostrad troops were standing aside tolet the looting continue. Later, before removing Prabowo anddispatching him to Staff College in Bandung, Wiranto told Suharto thatPrabowo was a "troublemaker". Suharto, by then out of power, readilyagreed.

Habibie, Suharto's successor, also agreed that Prabowowas a "troublemaker". In Stefan Eklof's book, it was mentioned that inthe afternoon after Suharto resigned, news spread that the presidentialpalace was surrounded by troops, believed to have been ordered there byPrabowo. According to intelligence reports, the troops were fromKopassus. Coordinating Minister of Politics and Security Feisal Tanjungordered troops reduction, but the order was not followed, and insteadthe number of troops in the city center increased.

In theevening of May 21, Prabowo, accompanied by the Kopassus Commander MajorGeneral Muchdi, showed up in full battle gear at the presidentialpalace and demanded to see Habibie. A scuffle occurred between Prabowoand the presidential guard, as the Kostrad commander initially refusedto hand over his gun before entering the place. Eventually Prabowoconceded and was allowed to see Habibie unarmed.

According toone of Habibie's close associates, Prabowo presented the president witha list people whom he wanted to sit on the cabinet. Wiranto wouldretain his position as defense minister, but Prabowo demanded that hebe replaced as commander-in-chief by the army chief of staff, GeneralSubagyo. Prabowo himself was to be promoted to a new post as deputycommander-in-chief.

Prabowo also reportedly told Habibie that hehad already made arrangements to assemble a gathering of Muslims toretake the parliament building and restore order the following morning,and he demanded to be rewarded for this and other services. However,Prabowo eventually left the palace without having had his demandsgranted by the president. Meanwhile, Habibie, fearing his life, movedto the state guest house Wisma Negara where he remained overnight, butno further disturbances occurred. The obvious threat of a coup d'etattriggered an alert among the other military units in Jakarta, andmilitary presence in Central Jakarta remained heavy for the following24 hours. [5]

Inthe morning of May 22, Prabowo was officially relieved of his commandover Kostrad at a closed ceremony. He was to be transferred to Bandungwhere he has assigned as chief of the Army's Staff and Command School,Seskoad, a position out of the capital and with no combat troops underhis command. His associate, Kopassus Commander Major General Muchdi,was also immediately removed from his position. The two replacementsmarked the beginning of process. Led by Wiranto, to consolidate ABRIand to remove Prabowo's associates from strategic positions.

Thefour scholars --Eklof, Schwarz, Vatikiotis and Kingsbury-- agreed thatHabibie's own role in the succession process was unclear. Althoughthere was no evidence that he actively conspired to depose Suharto, thelatter possibly believed that Habibie had done so, and after thetransfer to power the relationship between the two men became markedlycooler.

Another question mark regards Prabowo's role. If relationship between Suharto and
Habibie became cooler, it seemed that Suharto after his resignation completely broke with his son-in-law. Eklof stated that:

"Thereare indications that Prabowo and his associates were involved ininstigating parts of the riots in Medan, Jakarta, and Solo, and it hasbeen suggested that the Kostrad commander worked with Habibie toencourage Suharto to resign. Prabowo seems to have counted onbenefiting from Habibie's ascendancy, but his plans backfired asSuharto, on the night before his resignation, reassured himself ofWiranto's support for the hand-over of power to Habibie. In the newpower constellation, there was no room for Prabowo"

It wasinteresting to find out what Wiranto and Suharto talked about on thenight before president resignation. The Jakarta Post quoted informedsources as saying Wiranto went to Suharto's house on Wednesday eveningand, speaking on behalf of the military leadership, "asked thepresident to resign". But, either Schwarz or Vatikiotis, they did agreewith that speculation.

Vatikiotis wrote:
"At around 10.30p.m. Wiranto came to see him. Tempting as it is to assume that Wirantoasked him to resign, almost every military source insists that thiswould have been unthinkable. Wiranto briefed Suharto on the securitysituation, and doubtless painted a bleak picture"

Schwarz, similar to Vatikiotis, wrote:
"Somebelieve the military's version on events exaggerates its role after thefact in order to appear on the side of reform movement".

Military analyst Salim Said claimed:
"Wirantojust reported to Suharto what was going on without encouraging Suhartoto do one thing or another. Until the last minute, Suharto was incontrol of the army".

Hasnan Habib, a retired general and former ambassador to the United States, took the same view:
"Wirantowas Suharto's favourite aide-de-camp. There is no way a Javanesesoldier like Wiranto told Suharto to resign. Lots of my colleaguesthink Wiranto was too passive".

In the other hand, as itmentioned in Adam Schwarz's book, General Prabowo considered himself "aking maker", because he had contributed to the unrest in Jakarta andelsewhere, paving the way for Habibie to take over the presidency.[6]

Accordingto Habibie's aide Dewi Fortuna Anwar, Prabowo once showed Habibieevidence of his support, including pamphlets supporting Habibie and ofthe demonstrations he had covertly organized to counter pro-democracyactivists. But, Habibie denied Prabowo's support. Habibie was shrewdenough to prevent Prabowo from doing the same thing to him. If Prabowocould orchestrate the riots in order to topple Suharto, hisfather-in-law, he might do the same thing to Habibie.

There wasa widespread feeling that the students had been exploited as pawns inthe political manuevering among the elite. In its final stages, thefour authors: Eklof, Schwarz, Vatikiotis, and Kingsbury, had made aconclusion, that "the fall of Suharto was more due to intra-elitemanuevering than to `people power'".

They also believed thateconomic collapse provided the impetus for the political crisis toevolve in full, but Indonesia was already in the midst of a politicallegitimacy crisis when the economic crisis struck in mid-1997.Therefore, Suharto was nothing less than the victim of a powerstruggles among the political elite, including the military. His fallsimply was the result of a momentum that had built up over many yearsand which exploded with the onset of the financial crisis.

Clearly,there was no disagreement in terms of substance between the fourauthors, but rather it reflects their different personal styles ofwriting. For example, Schwarz was slightly more explanatory, whileVatikiotis is slightly more adversarial. Not surprisingly, the issue ofSuharto's succession haunted both Schwarz and Vatikiotis's books. Whilethis issue had been critical in contemporary Indonesian politics, ithad been the dominant issue on the political agenda since the late1970s.

Vatikiotis hinted that Suharto would be on his way outeither in or soon after 1993 (the year when his first edition of thebook published), while Schwarz hinted that Suharto would be looking tostep down in 1998 which possible democratization to follow. In thiscase, Schwarz was absolutely right, while Vatikiotis was not completelywrong. Anyway, Suharto resigned in 1998 just ahead a few years ofVatikiotis prediction.

[1] Kompas Daily Newspaper, Jakarta: May 14, 1998.
[2] R. William Liddle, Leadership and Culture in Indonesian Politics, Sydney: Asian Studies Association of Australia, 1996.
[3]David Jenkins, Soeharto and his Generals: Indonesian Military Politics1975-1983, Ithaca: Cornell Modern Indonesia Project, 1984.
[4] Far Eastern Economic Review, May 28, 1998.
[5] Michael Sheridan, "The Day Civil War Simmered in Indonesia", Sunday Times, November 8, 1998.
[6]Keith Richburg, "Seven Days in May that Toppled a Titan: Back-RoomIntrigue Led to Suharto's Fall", Washington Post, May 24, 1998.

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