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Suharto was born in a small village near Yogyakarta, during the era of Dutch colonial control. His ethnic Javanese peasant parents divorced not long after his birth, and he passed between several foster parents for much of his childhood. After a brief and unsuccessful stint as a village bank clerk, Suharto joined the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army in 1940. During the Japanese occupation of Indonesia, Suharto served in various Japanese-organized Indonesian security forces. He joined the newly formed Indonesian army, during Indonesia's independence struggle, in which he rose through the ranks to command a garrison against Dutch offensives at the Republican capital of Yogyakarta. Following Indonesian independence, Suharto rose to the rank of Major General.
An attempted coup on September 30, 1965 was countered by Suharto-led troops. The Suharto-led army blamed the attempt on the Indonesian Communist Party, which was subsequently outlawed, and led a violent anti-communist purge, which is thought to have killed over half a million people. Suharto wrested power from the weakened incumbent and founding president, Sukarno, who relied on the ICP for support, and was inaugurated President in March 1968. Popular, military and political support in Indonesia for Suharto's 32-year presidency eroded dramatically following the devastating effect of the 1997–98 Asian financial crisis on Indonesia's economy and standard of living. Suharto was forced to resign from the presidency in May 1998 following mass demonstrations and violence. Suharto lived his post-presidential years in near seclusion, and died at the age of 86 in Jakarta in 2008.
The legacy of Suharto's 32-year presidency is debated both in Indonesia and abroad. Under his "New Order" administration, Suharto constructed a strong, centralized and military-dominated government. An ability to maintain stability over a sprawling and diverse Indonesia and an avowedly anti-Communist stance won him the economic and diplomatic support of the West during the Cold War. For most of his presidency, Indonesia experienced significant economic growth and industrialization, dramatically improving health, education and living standards. The "New Order" placed restrictions on the country's ethnic Chinese. Against the backdrop of Cold War international relations, Suharto's "New Order" invasion of East Timor, and the subsequent 24-year occupation, resulted in an estimated minimum of 102,800 deaths. By the 1990s, the New Order's authoritarianism and widespread corruption—estimates of government funds missappropirated by the Suharto family range from US$1.5 billion and US$35 billion—was a source of much discontent, and was referred as one of the world's most corrupt leaders. In the years since his presidency, attempts to try him on charges of corruption and genocide failed because of his poor health.
Like many Javanese, Suharto had only one name. In religious contexts, he is sometimes called “Haji” or “el-Haj Mohammed Suharto”, but this Islamic title is not part of his formal name or generally used. The spelling "Suharto" has been official in Indonesia since 1947, but the older spelling, "Soeharto", is still frequently used.
After graduation, Suharto was assigned to Battalion XIII at Rampal. His service there was unextraordinary, but for his contracting malaria requiring hospitalization while on guard duty, and then gaining promotion to sergeant.
The March 1942 invasion of Imperial Japanese forces was initially welcomed by many Indonesians as a key step towards independence and Suharto was one of thousands of Indonesians who volunteered for Japanese organised security forces. He first joined the Japanese sponsored police force at the rank of keibuho (assistant inspector), where he claimed to have gained his first experience in the intelligence work so central to his presidency ("Criminal matters became a secondary problem," Suharto remarked, "what was most important were matters of a political kind").
Suharto shifted from police work toward the Japanese-sponsored militia, the Peta (Defenders of the Fatherland) in which Indonesians served as officers. In his training to serve at the rank of shodancho (platoon commander) he encountered a localized version of the Japanese bushido, or "way of the warrior", used to indoctrinate troops. This training encouraged an anti-Dutch and pro-nationalist thought, although toward the aims of the Imperial Japanese militarists. The encounter with a nationalistic and militarist ideology is believed to have profoundly influenced Suharto's own way of thinking.
The Japanese turned ex-NCOs, including Suharto, into officers and gave them further military education, including lessons in the use of the samurai sword. Suharto's biographer, O.G. Roeder, records in The Smiling General (1969) that Suharto was "well known for his tough, but not brutal, methods".
Suharto claims to have led a number of attacks against remaining Japanese forces around Yogyakarta. The central role he commonly portrayed himself playing in his reminisces on the period during his presidency is debatable; however, it may be acknowledged that Suharto's familiarity with military functioning helped in the organization of the disparate independence forces into a unified fighting force. In the early years of the War, Suharto organized local armed forces into Battalion X of Regiment I; Suharto was promoted to the rank of Major and became Battalion X's leader.
The military forces of the still infant Republic of Indonesia were constantly restructuring. By August 1946, Suharto was head of the 22nd Regiment of Division III (the "Diponegoro" Division) stationed in Yogyakarta. In late 1946 the Diponegoro Division became responsible for defense of the west and south-west of Yogyakarta from Dutch forces. Conditions at the time are reported in Dutch sources as miserable; Suharto himself is reported as assisting smuggling syndicates in the transport of opium through the territory he controlled, in order to make income.
Suharto was married to Siti Hartinah, a woman from a high class family that, in the years of the revolution, lost its prestige and income. Over the next 17 years the couple would have six children: Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana (Tutut, born 1949), Sigit Harjojudanto (born 1951), Bambang Trihatmodjo (born 1953), Siti Hediati (Titiek, born 1959), Hutomo Mandala Putra (Tommy, born 1962), and Siti Hutami Endang Adiningsih (Mamiek, born 1964). Suharto's wife, died in 1996.
Operatie Kraai ("Operation Crow"), commenced in December 1948 and decimated much of the Indonesian fighting forces, resulting in the capture of Sukarno and Hatta, the civilian leadership of Indonesia. Suharto, for his part, took severe casualties as the Dutch invaded the area of Yogyakarta; the retreat was equally humiliating.
Suharto's efforts to regain the national honor culminated in an attack on Dutch forces at Yogyakarta on March 1, 1949. Suharto would later embellish his role as the singular plotter; according to more objective sources, however, the nationalist Sultan Hamengku Buwono IX (who still remained in power), as well as the Panglima of the Third Division ordered the attack. General Nasution would recall, however, that Suharto took great care in preparing the "General Offensive" (Indonesian" Serangan Umum).
In a series of daring small-scale raids under cover of darkness and with the support of locals, Suharto's forces captured the city, holding it until noon. The attack yielded some ammunition and a few light arms; as propaganda and psychological warfare it had filled the desired effect, however — civilians sympathetic to the Nationalist cause within the city had been galvanized by the show of force, and internationally, the United Nations took notice, with the Security Council putting pressure on the Dutch to cease Police Action and to re-embark on negotiations. Suharto gained both national and international recognition of his abilities as a military planner.
The return of the Dutch to the negotiating table all but assured, Suharto took an active interest in the peace agreements, though they were much to his dissatisfaction.
In 1962 he was promoted to the rank of major general and was appointed to lead the Mandala Command, a joint army-navy-air force umbrella command headquartered in Makassar, that organised military incursions in Netherlands New Guinea, after this country had elected a council and adopted a flag and anthem in preparation of independence. Diplomatic pressure by the US, which feared Indonesia would otherwise ally with the Soviet Union, led the Netherlands to sign the New York Agreement that transferred sovereignty of Western New Guinea to Indonesia. After this, Suharto was appointed commander of Kostrad (Strategic Reserve), a sizeable army combat force, which most importantly had significant presence in the Jakarta area.
On the night of September 30–October 1, 1965 six senior army generals were kidnapped and executed in Jakarta by a battalion of soldiers from the Presidential Guard in an attempted coup. The left faction among the top generals was wiped out, including the powerful Army Chief of Staff, Ahmad Yani. The army thus fell to those more willing to stand up to Sukarno and the army's enemies on the left. Backed by elements of the armed forces, the insurgents, known as the 30 September Movement, commanded the Presidential Palace opposite Merdeka Square, the national radio station, and telecommunications centre. The group announced on radio that morning that they were trying to stop a CIA-backed military coup which was planned to remove Sukarno from power on "Army Day", October 5.
Suharto was the most senior general not removed by the 30 September group, apart from Armed Forces Chief of Staff, General Abdul Harris Nasution (who was targeted for assassination but narrowly escaped, and was in hiding). Suharto had no affinity to Sukarno, nor any special Islamic conviction with which to oppose him. He despised disorder, but was known for prizing opportunity, for which General Yani and disciplined him several years before, thus removing affinity there. On the night of 30 September, Suharto had been in hospital preoccupied with a scalding injury to his three-year old son Tommy where Colonel Abdul Latief was the only principal of ensuing events with whom Suharto spoke that evening.
Upon being told of the disappearance of the generals and shootings, Suharto went to Kostrad headquarters just before dawn from where he could see soldiers occupying Merdeka Square. He led the elite Army Strategic Reserve (Kostrad) in seizing control of the centre of Jakarta, capturing key strategic sites. Now joined by Nasution, Suharto announced over the radio at 9:00pm that six generals had been kidnapped by "counter-revolutionaries" and that he was in control of the army, and would crush the 30 September Movement and safeguard Sukarno. Suharto issued an ultimatum to Halim Air Force Base, where the G30S had based themselves and where Sukarno (the reasons for his presence are unclear and were subject of claim and counter-claim), General Omar Dhani and Aidit had gathered. The coup leaders fled Jakarta while G30S-sympathetic battalions in Central Java quickly came under Suharto control, and it was clear that the incompetently organised and poorly coordinated coup had failed. By 2 October, Suharto's faction was firmly in control of the army. Sukarno's obedience to Suharto's 1 October ultimatum to leave Halim is seen as changing all power relationships. Sukarno's fragile balance of power between the military, political Islam, communists, and nationalists that underlay his "Guided Democracy" was now collapsing.
In early October, a military propaganda campaign began to sweep the country, successfully convincing both Indonesian and international audiences that it was a Communist coup, and that the murders were cowardly atrocities against Indonesian heroes. The PKI's denials of involvement had little effect. The army led campaign to purge Indonesian society, government and armed forces of the communist party and other leftist organisations. Leading PKI members were immediately arrested, some summarily executed. The purge quickly spread from Jakarta to the rest of the country, and the worst massacres were in Java and Bali. (see: Indonesian killings of 1965–66) The situation varied across the country; in some areas the army organised civilian groups and local militias, in other areas communal vigilante action preceded the army. The most widely accepted estimates are that at least half a million were killed. A CIA study of the events in Indonesia assessed that "In terms of the numbers killed the anti-PKI massacres in Indonesia rank as one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century..". Many others were also imprisoned and for the next ten years people were still being imprisoned as suspects. It is thought that as many as 1.5m were imprisoned at one stage or another. As a result of the purge, one of Sukarno's three pillars of support, the Indonesian Communist Party, had been effectively eliminated by the other two, the military and political Islam.
On February 1, 1966, Pres. Sukarno promoted Suharto to the rank of Lieutenant General. The same month, Gen. Nasution had been forced out of his position of Defense Minister. The power contest had been boiled down to Suharto and Sukarno; with Sukarno in ill-health and politically isolated due to the removal of the PKI from the scene, Suharto had virtually assured himself the presidency. The Supersemar decree of 11 March 1966 transferred much of Sukarno's power over the parliament and army to Suharto, ostensibly allowing Suharto to do whatever was needed to restore order.
On March 12, 1967 Sukarno was stripped of his remaining power by Indonesia's provisional Parliament, and Suharto named Acting President. Sukarno was placed under house arrest and little more was heard from him, and he died in June 1970. On March 21, 1968, the Provisional Peoples Representative Assembly formally elected Suharto for the first of his five-year terms as President.
Internationally, Suharto put Indonesia on a course toward improved relations with Western nations, while ending its friendly relations with the People's Republic of China. He dispatched his foreign minister, Adam Malik to mend strained relations with the United States, United Nations, and Malaysia and end the Confrontation. Indonesia also became a founding member of ASEAN. Diplomatic ties with the People's Republic of China were eventually restored in 1990.
To maintain domestic order, Suharto greatly expanded the funding and powers of the Indonesian state apparatus. He established two intelligence agencies—the Operational Command for the Restoration of Security and Order (KOPKAMTIB) and the State Intelligence Coordination Agency (BAKIN)—to deal with threats to the regime. Suharto also established the Bureau of Logistics (BULOG) to distribute rice and other staple commodities granted by USAID. These new government bodies were put under the military regional command structure, that under Suharto was given a "dual function" as both a defense force and as civilian administrators.
Suharto became a strong advocate for Chinese assimilation rather than integration. As part of 1967's 'Basic Policy for the Solution of the Chinese Problem' and other measures, all but one Chinese-language papers were closed, all Chinese religious expressions had to be confined to their homes, Chinese-language schools were phased out, Chinese script in public places was banned, and Chinese were encouraged to take on Indonesian-sounding names. Most of this legislation were revoked following Suharto's fall from power in 1998.
Within a few years, the Indonesian economy was revived from its near collapsed state of the mid-1960s. It grew by an average 7 per cent for 25 years, reducing the proportion of Indonesians in the "very poor" category from 65% in the mid-1960s to 7% in 1990, (although much of these gains would be lost in the 1997/98 Asian financial crisis). Suharto established Indonesian self-sufficiency in rice production by the mid-1980s, extended basic education to almost all citizens and implemented a successful family planning program.
As virtually unchecked forces in Indonesian society under the New Order, however, members of the military and Golkar Party were heavily involved as intermediaries between businesses (foreign and domestic) and the Indonesian government. This led to bribery, racketeering, and embezzlement. Funds from these practices often flowed to foundations (yayasan) controlled by the Suharto family.
From his assumption of office until his resignation, Suharto continued Sukarno's policy of asserting Indonesian sovereignty. He acted zealously to stake and enforce territorial claims over much of the region, through both diplomacy and military action.
In 1969, Suharto moved to end the longtime controversy over the last Dutch territory in the East Indies, western New Guinea. Working with the United States and United Nations, an agreement was made to hold a referendum on self-determination, in which participants could choose to remain part of the Netherlands, to integrate with the Republic of Indonesia, or to become independent. Though originally phrased to be a nationwide vote of all adult Papuans, the "Act of Free Choice" was held July–August 1969 allowed only 1022 "chiefs" to vote. The unanimous vote was for integration with the Republic of Indonesia, leading to doubts of the validity of the vote.
In 1975, after Portugal withdrew from its colony of East Timor and the Fretilin movement momentarily took power, Suharto ordered troops to invade East Timor. Later the puppet government installed by Indonesia requested the area be annexed to the country. A detailed statistical report prepared for the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor estimated a minimum of 102,800 conflict-related deaths in the period 1974–1999, namely, approximately 18,600 killings and 84,200 'excess' deaths from hunger and illness. On July 15, 1976 Suharto's "New Order" declared East Timor the 27th province of Indonesia. Following Suharto's 1998 resignation from the Presidency, East Timor voted for independence in 1999 and was transferred to United Nations administration.
In 1976, the regime was challenged in the province of Aceh by the formation of the Free Aceh Movement, or GAM, who demanded independence from the unitary state. Suharto quickly authorized troops to put down the rebellion, forcing several of its leaders into exile in Sweden. Prolonged fighting between GAM and the Indonesian military and police led Suharto to declare martial law in the province, by naming Aceh a "military operational area" (DOM) in 1990.
The rapid pace of this development had vastly increased their population density. In response, Suharto pursued the policy of transmigration to promote movement from crowded cities to rural regions of the archipelago where natural resources had not yet been exploited.
In 1970, corruption prompted student protests and an investigation by a government commission. Suharto responded by banning student protests, forcing the activists underground. Only token prosecution of the cases recommended by the commission was pursued. The pattern of co-opting a few of his more powerful opponents while criminalising the rest became a hallmark of Suharto's rule.
In order to maintain a veneer of democracy, Suharto made a number of electoral reforms. According to his electoral rules, however, only three parties were allowed to participate in the election: his own Golkar party; the Islamist United Development Party (PPP); and the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI). All the previously existing political parties were forced to be part of either the PPP and PDI, with public servants under pressure to join Golkar. In a political compromise with the powerful military, he banned its members from voting in elections, but set aside 100 seats in the electoral college for their representatives. As a result, he was unopposed for reelection as president in 1973, 1978, 1983, 1988, 1993, and 1998.
On May 5, 1980 a group of prominent military men, politicians, academics and students calling themselves the "Petition of Fifty" questioned Suharto's use of the national ideology Pancasila. The Indonesian media suppressed the news and the government placed restrictions on the signatories. After the group's 1984 accusation that Suharto was creating a one-party state, some of its leaders were jailed.
In the same decade, it is believed by many scholars that the Indonesian military split between a nationalist "red and white faction" and an Islamist "green faction." As the 1980s closed, Suharto is said to have been forced to shift his alliances from the former to the latter, leading to the rise of Jusuf Habibie in the 1990s.
After the 1990s brought end of the Cold War, Western concern over communism waned, and Suharto's human rights record came under greater international scrutiny. The 1991 killing of over 200 East Timorese civilians in Dili, East Timor, resulted in the Congress of the United States passing limitations on IMET assistance to the Indonesian military. In 1993, under President Bill Clinton, the U.S. delegation to the UN Human Rights Commission helped pass a resolution expressing deep concern over Indonesian human rights violations in East Timor. Noam Chomsky has referred to the Indonesian invasion and occupation of East Timor has the worst instance of genocide relative to population since the Holocaust.
In response, Megawati proclaimed that if sacked, her supporters would hold demonstrations in protest. The Suryadi faction went through with its sacking of Megawati, and the demonstrations manifested themselves throughout Indonesia. This led to several confrontations on the streets between protesters and security forces. A deal was eventually made with the military to allow Megawati's supporters to take over PDI headquarters in Jakarta, in exchange for a pledge of no further demonstrations. During this time, Megawati supporters organized "democracy forums" at the site, with several activists making speeches denouncing Suharto and his regime.
After one month of this, police, soldiers, and persons claiming to be Suryadi supporters stormed the headquarters, killing Megawati supporters and arresting two-hundred. Those arrested were tried under the Anti-Subversion and Hate-spreading laws. The day would become known as "Black Saturday" and mark the beginning of a renewed crackdown by the New Order government against supporters of democracy, now called the "Reformasi" or Reformation.
The 1997 Asian Financial Crisis had dire consequences for the Indonesian economy and society, and Suharto's regime. The Indonesian currency, the rupiah, took a sharp dive in value. Suharto came under scrutiny from international lending institutions, chiefly the World Bank, IMF and the United States, over longtime embezzlement of funds and some protectionist policies. In December, Suharto's government signed a letter of intent to the IMF, pledging to enact austerity measures, including cuts to public services and removal of subsidies, in return for receiving the aid of the IMF and other donors.
Beginning in early 1998, the austerity measures approved by Suharto had started to erode domestic confidence in the regime. Prices for commodities such as kerosene and rice, and fees for public services including education rose dramatically. The effects were exacerbated by widespread corruption.
Suharto stood for reelection for the seventh time in March 1998, justifying it on the grounds of the necessity of his leadership during the crisis. As in past years, he was unopposed for reelection. This sparked protests and riots throughout the country, now termed the Indonesian Revolution of 1998. Dissension within the ranks of his own Golkar party and military finally weakened Suharto, and on May 21, 1998 he stood down from power. He was replaced by his deputy Jusuf Habibie.
After his resignation, Suharto retired to a family compound in Central Jakarta, making few public appearances. Efforts to prosecute Suharto have mostly centered around alleged mismanagement of funds, and their force has been blunted due to health concerns. Suharto was never prosecuted.
On May 29, 2000, Suharto was placed under house arrest when Indonesian authorities began to investigate the corruption during his regime. In July 2000, it was announced that he was to be accused of embezzling US$571 million of government donations to one of a number of foundations under his control and then using the money to finance family investments. But in September court-appointed doctors announced that he could not stand trial because of his declining health. State prosecutors tried again in 2002 but then doctors cited an unspecified brain disease.
On March 26, 2008, civil court judge Wahyono acquitted Suharto of corruption but ordered his charitable foundation Supersemar to pay $110m (£55m).
In 2003, Suharto's half-brother Probosutedjo was tried and convicted for corruption and the loss of $10 million from the Indonesian state. He was sentenced to four years in jail. He later won a reduction of his sentence to two years, initiating a probe by the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission into the alleged scandal of the "judicial mafia" which uncovered offers of $600,000 to various judges. Probosutedjo confessed to the scheme in October 2005, leading to the arrest of his lawyers. His full four year term was reinstated. After a brief standoff at a hospital, in which he was reportedly protected by a group of police officers, he was arrested on November 30, 2005.
On July 9, 2007, Indonesian prosecutors filed a civil lawsuit against former President Suharto, to recover state funds ($440m or £219m, which allegedly disappeared from a scholarship fund, and a further $1.1 billion in damages).
On September 4, 2007, mediation at the Attorney General's Office (AGO) between prosecutors and lawyers for Suharto over the Supersemar foundation civil lawsuit succeeded and thus the trial will have to commence.
On September 10, 2007, Indonesia's Supreme Court awarded Suharto damages against Time Asia magazine, ordering it to pay him one trillion rupiah ($128.59 million). The High Court reversed the judgment of an appellate court and Central Jakarta district court (made in 2000 and 2001). Suharto had sued the U.S.-based Time magazine seeking more than $US 27 billion in damages for libel over a 1999 article which reported that he transferred stolen money abroad.
On May 6, 2005, Suharto was taken to Pertamina Hospital in Jakarta with intestinal bleeding, believed to be from diverticulosis. The political elite of Indonesia, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Jusuf Kalla, visited his bedside. He was released and returned home, May 12, 2005.
On May 26, 2005, the Jakarta Post reported that amid an effort by the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to crack down on corruption, Indonesian Attorney General Abdurrahman Saleh appeared before a Parliamentary commission to discuss efforts to prosecute New Order figures, including Suharto. Attorney General Abdurrahman remarked that he hoped Suharto could recover so that the government could begin inquiries into New Order human rights violations and corruption for purposes of compensation and recovery of state funds, but expressed skepticism that this would be possible. As a result, the Supreme Court of Indonesia has issued a decree making the office of the Attorney General responsible for supervising Suharto's medical care.
On April 24, 2006, Attorney General Abdurrahman announced that a team of twenty doctors would be asked to evaluate Suharto's health and fitness for trial. One physician, Brigadier General Dr Marjo Subiandono, stated his doubts about by noting that "[Suharto] has two permanent cerebral defects." In a later Financial Times report, Attorney General Abdurrahman discussed the re-examination, and called it part of a "last opportunity" to prosecute Suharto criminally. Attorney General Abdurrahman left open the possibility of filing suit against the Suharto estate."
On May 4, 2006, Suharto was again admitted to Pertamina Hospital for intestinal bleeding. His doctors stated further that Suharto was suffering from partial organ failure and in unstable condition.
Suharto's body was taken from Jakarta to the Giri Bangun mausoleum complex, part of the Mangkunegaran burial site in Karanganyar, near the Central Java city of Solo. He was buried alongside his late wife in a state military funeral with full honours, with the Kopassus elite forces and Kostrad commandos as the honour guard and pallbearers and Commander of Group II Kopassus Surakarta Lt.Colonel Asep Subarkah. In attendance were the incumbent president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as "Ceremony Inspector", and vice-president, government ministers, and armed forces chiefs of staff. Suharto's eldest daughter Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana spoke at the funeral requesting, in accordance with Javanese custom, forgiveness for her any misdoings of her father. Tens of thousands of people lined the streets to see the convoy. Condolences were offered by many regional heads of state, although certain regional leaders such as Helen Clark, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, boycotted the funeral , and Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono declared a week of official mourning.
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