Episode 103 of the podcast is now available, just in time for Beethoven’s 250th birthday! Today we look at Indonesia during the 1970s, 80s and 90s. This was the time of Indonesia’s long-lasting second president, Suharto.
This episode is dedicated to William S., and Robb F., for generously donating to the podcast. It has been more than a month since the podcast last received any donations, so thank you for ending the dry spell, especially in this difficult time. And since William has donated before, he now receives the coveted water buffalo icon, next to his name on the Podcast Hall of Fame page! May both of you achieve all your goals in this season. Or, to quote a blessing from the Old Testament Book of Numbers: “The LORD bless you, and keep you. The LORD make his face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. The LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” End quote. And then when this season is done, Happy New Year to you as well.
Hello, and welcome to the History of Southeast Asia Podcast! I am your host, Charles Kimball.
Episode 103: Indonesia Under Suharto
Greetings, dear listeners! If this isn’t the first time you listened to this podcast, you must have noticed the opening music was different. I played the first 30 seconds of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony because the day I uploaded this episode, December 16, 2020, is Ludwig Von Beethoven’s 250th birthday. Yes, that great composer would be two and a half centuries old if he was alive now! Here is your dose of culture for today.
Now what about your dose of history? Well, you’ve come to the right place for that. For the past six episodes the podcast narrative has been covering Southeast Asia’s recent history, events that happened when some of you were alive. We did episodes on Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Burma and western New Guinea. Now we are going back to Indonesia for another round.
In the previous episode on Indonesia, Episode 97, we covered the country during the rule of its first president, Sukarno. Go back and listen to Episode 97 if you want to know what happened in the first two decades after Indonesia achieved independence. Although Sukarno and Suharto had similar-sounding names, they ran the country very differently. Sukarno was a flamboyant leader, and his presidency was a turbulent time for the country. By contrast, Suharto was much quieter, more low-key, and so was the country under him, largely because the PKI, the Indonesian Communist Party, had been destroyed in the 1965 uprising. Because of this, I expect this episode will be about the same length as Episode 97, though Suharto ruled for 32 years, almost twice as long as Sukarno.
Suharto was born on June 8, 1921, in a village in East Java. We noted in Episode 97 that like many Indonesians, Suharto used only one name. Seventy years later, in 1991, he and his wife went on the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, and because of that, he is sometimes called Hadji Suharto, or Hadji Mohammed Suharto, but those are titles, not proper names.
Suharto’s early life was a classic “rags to riches” story, starting out as a peasant, becoming a soldier, rising through the ranks, and eventually reaching a point where he could seize power and become president. He was the only child from his father’s second marriage, but he had 11 half-brothers and sisters. His father was a village irrigation official, who controlled the local water supply for rice growers. When he was five weeks old, his mother suffered a nervous breakdown, and the parents divorced soon after that. During his childhood, he moved from his mother’s home to an aunt’s, to his father’s, and to his stepfather’s. At one point he stayed in the house of Daryatmo, an Islamic teacher who also practiced mysticism. Suharto saw Daryatmo as his mentor, and kept him around as an adviser after he grew up. Suharto would praise Daryatmo in his autobiography, “My Thoughts, Words and Deeds.” When Daryatmo died in January 1998, some people predicted that Suharto would not last long in power without him, and sure enough, Suharto’s presidency ended just four months later.
But we’re getting ahead of the story. As a child, Suharto was so poor that he once had to change schools because he could not afford the shorts and shoes that were the required uniform. Thus, he only got as far as middle school by the time he was eighteen years old. His first job was with the bank in his village, but he resigned after he tore his only set of work clothes in a bicycle accident.
We saw previously in this podcast that Indonesia was a Dutch colony in the early twentieth century, and in May 1940 the mother country, the Netherlands, entered World War II because Germany invaded the homeland. Therefore Suharto decided to pursue a military career. First he joined the Royal Netherlands Indies Army, but this force surrendered to the Japanese in March 1942. Then he joined the Japanese-sponsored Volunteer Army, reaching the rank of commander by the end of the war. When the Japanese surrendered, he disbanded the regiment he led, went over to the Indonesian nationalists, and joined the army they were setting up. Because of his wartime experience, Suharto was quickly promoted to lieutenant colonel, and his background as an army officer made sure that henceforth, he would be both anti-colonial and anti-Communist.
Podcast footnote: Unlike Sukarno and other Indonesian nationalists, Suharto doesn’t appear to have had much interest in fighting colonialism, or in any other politics, before World War II. This is because he had little contact with Europeans, and maybe no contact at all, during his youth. Consequently he did not speak any European languages as a child, and only learned Dutch after joining the Dutch military in 1940. End footnote.
Halfway through the Indonesian war for independence, in 1947, Suharto married Siti Hartinah, a minor member of a Javanese royal family, the family of the sultan of Solo. Indeed, many Indonesians would only accept Suharto as their leader because he had married into royalty. Eventually they would have six children. Likewise, when Siti died in 1996, the royal link was broken, and Indonesians started talking about Suharto losing his legitimate right to rule.
After independence came in 1949, Suharto attended the army staff and command school, and was promoted to brigadier general. For most of the decade and a half after that, he was stationed on Java, but in 1950 he led the Garuda Brigade in suppressing a revolt on Amboina, and that meant spending a year in Makassar, on the eastern island of Sulawesi. I am mentioning this because during that time he adopted one of his neighbors, a thirteen-year-old boy named Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, “B. J. Habibie” for short. Remember that name, Habibie will appear again at the end of this episode. Then as soon as that campaign ended, Suharto led his troops against a rebellion of Islamic fundamentalists in central Java.
From 1954 to 1959, Suharto commanded the Diponegoro Division, the troops in Central Java and Yogyakarta provinces. Here he met two prominent businessmen, Liem Sioe Liong and Bob Hasan, and got involved in a series of “profit generating” enterprises, conducted primarily to keep his poorly funded military unit functioning. This may have involved opium smuggling, and Army anti-corruption investigations followed, but instead of being brought before a court martial, a senior general had him transferred to the army Staff College in Bandung, West Java.
By 1962 Suharto was a major general, and he returned to Makassar, this time to lead the army, navy and air force units that raided western New Guinea, until that territory was transferred from Dutch to Indonesian rule; we talked about that event in Episodes 97 and 102. After this, Suharto commanded the army’s new Strategic Reserve Force, and was holding that position in Jakarta when a failed coup attempt killed six generals in 1965. I mentioned in Episode 97 that Suharto survived the coup because he wasn’t at home when the assassins came looking for him; but I didn’t tell you where he was; he was visiting his three-year-old son in the hospital, who had recently been scalded.
Okay, that’s Suharto’s life story up until he replaced Sukarno as president, at the age of 46. Now let’s cover his long-lasting presidency.
Suharto dedicated himself to rebuilding the country and reversing many of Sukarno’s policies. Relations were normalized with Malaysia; you may remember the “Confrontation” following Malaysia’s creation, that we talked about in Episodes 97 and 98. Also, Indonesia had quit the United Nations over the Malaysia issue, and now it rejoined the UN. While Suharto was in charge, the rest of the world did not hear much from him or Indonesia. Whereas Sukarno was left-leaning, Suharto was pro-Western, and he only appeared in the foreign media when he met with more visible heads of state. One example of Suharto in the news was when he hosted the 1994 G-7 Conference, the annual meeting of leaders from the world’s seven richest nations, in Jakarta. This G-7 conference was also an example of Suharto’s moves to attract foreign investment, something that hadn’t interested Sukarno much. Sukarno had called his program for Indonesia “Guided Democracy,” and now Suharto called his policies “The New Order.”
To keep Western nations friendly, Suharto had to pay lip service to democracy. But he did not want to join Sukarno’s political party, the Indonesian Nationalist Party, or PNI. For him, Sekber Golkar, a political club founded by a group of army officers in 1964, was more to his liking. Sekber Golkar meant Joint Secretariat of Functional Groups; when elections were held in 1971, the name was shortened to just Golkar, meaning Functional Group. The 1971 election was rigged to make sure Golkar would win a commanding majority of seats in the legislature; civil servants were expected to vote Golkar, and regional administrators were required to deliver "quotas" of Golkar votes. Sure enough, Golkar won 236 of the 360 seats, an almost two-thirds majority. Second place went to Nahdatul Ulama, an Islamic party, which got 58 seats. After the election, Suharto forced the merger of the parties that ran against Golkar. The four Islamic parties were lumped into one group called the United Development Party, and five other parties, including the PNI, were formed into the Indonesian Democratic Party. This arrangement allowed Suharto to easily win reelection every five years.
In Episode 100, I mentioned how new strains of rice and new farming techniques greatly increased rice harvests in the 1960s, creating what we call the “Green Revolution.” As a rice-growing nation, Indonesia benefitted from the Green Revolution, and more profits came from the boost in world oil prices in the 1970s, because Indonesia has the largest oil reserves east of the Persian Gulf. Together, the rice and oil booms allowed the economy to grow at a rate of 6% a year, about twice the rate of population growth. However, all was not well in the business sector. In 1975 the state-owned oil company, Pertamina, defaulted on paying loans worth $10.5 billion, and the crisis threatened to bring down the whole economy. It took the dismissal of Pertamina’s corrupt director, project cancellations, renegotiation of loans, help from the West and rising oil prices to save the situation. Then when oil prices stagnated in the early 1980s, Suharto introduced reforms across a wide range of sectors to cut production costs and improve the competitiveness of Indonesian exports.
The economic boom of the 1970s meant the country’s poorest people weren’t starving anymore,but otherwise only about 10 percent of workers earned enough to enjoy a real improvement in their standard of living. Most of the profits went to those who were rich already, especially the president’s family, friends, and business associates. Thus, Indonesia developed a kleptocracy, very much like what the Marcos family ran in the Philippines at the same time. Suharto’s six children amassed huge holdings in industries like airlines, petroleum, banking, automobiles, etc., estimated at between $6 billion and $30 billion in value. Foreign companies that did business in Indonesia often had to hire junior members of the Suharto clan as "consultants" to grease the wheels. The economic inequalities were made worse by the growth of the population to more than 200 million, despite a relatively successful family-planning program in Java. This made Indonesia the world’s fourth most populous country, after China, India and the United States; by itself, Java has more people than most nations. Largely because of the crowding and poverty, rioting occurred in several Indonesian towns in the 1990s.
Whatever else can be said about Suharto’s Indonesia, it was more stable than Sukarno’s. There were two reasons for this: revolutionary fervor was now a thing of the past, and the Suharto government was more repressive than Sukarno’s had been. When he first took over, Suharto got along with the student movement, which was tired of Sukarno, but the students turned against him when they saw his government become authoritarian and corrupt. There were large student demonstrations challenging the legitimacy of the 1971 elections. Students also protested the costly construction of Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, a theme park in Jakarta, in 1972, and they protested the 1974 visit of Kakuei Tanaka, the Japanese prime minister. Finally, in 1978 there were demonstrations against the lack of term limits to Suharto’s presidency. The regime responded by imprisoning many student activists, and even sent army units to occupy the university campus of the Bandung Institute of Technology, from January to March of 1978. After the occupation ended, Suharto issued the decree on "Normalization of Campus Life," which prohibited political activities on-campus not related to school work.
Suharto was largely successful at promoting national identity over regional identity. We noted in previous episodes that the Indonesian people had trouble seeing themselves as one nation, because they had not been united in the past, except for a brief union under the fourteenth-century kingdom of Majapahit; rule under foreigners like the Dutch and the Japanese didn’t count. However, to unify the country, he committed serious human rights violations, especially in western New Guinea, East Timor and Aceh. We covered the western New Guinea repression in Episode 102, and now we will look at the other two.
The last time we looked at Timor was in Episode 59. Longtime listeners will remember that during the colonial era, that medium-sized island was divided, with the Portuguese ruling the east and the Dutch ruling the west. Over the centuries the boundary between east and west wavered a bit; the current border was only drawn in 1914, by a ruling from The Hague. Under the Portuguese, East Timor was a sleepy and neglected outpost, largely administered by a traditional system of local chiefs. Before the twentieth century, the Portuguese only had firm control in the capital, Dili. The main exports were sandalwood and coffee, and investment in infrastructure, health, and education was minimal. Lisbon mainly used the island as a place to exile criminals, especially political prisoners.
With World War II, the Japanese occupied the island, and the native Timorese suffered badly under the occupation. Then after the war, everything pretty much returned to the way it was previously, except that those killed during the war stayed dead. That was the situation until 1974, when a coup in Lisbon toppled the Portuguese dictatorship; the new government, the first successful democracy in Portuguese history, decided to give away Portugal’s ancient colonial empire. The last Portuguese governor over East Timor, Mário Lemos Pires, was appointed on November 18, 1974. One of the first things he did was legalize political parties, and schedule elections to create a local legislature. Three parties soon appeared that had significant support. The Timorese Democratic Union, or UDT, was for keeping ties with Portugal, but it wasn’t clear if they meant some form of autonomy under the Portuguese flag, or maintaining a special relationship with Portugal after independence. The Frente Revolucionária do Timor Leste Independente, FRETILIN for short, was a leftist group that wanted rapid progress to independence. Finally, the Timorese Popular Democratic Association supported joining Indonesia.
The election took place on March 13, 1975, with FRETILIN and the UDT emerging as the dominant parties. The two nearest countries, Indonesia and Australia, now watched developments on Timor with concern. So did the United States, which saw Suharto as a bonafide anti-communist, and did not want Indonesia destabilized by a new left-wing government next door. Those of you who listened to the Indochina War episodes will remember that this all happened right around the time that Cambodia, South Vietnam and Laos fell to communism. Then on August 11, the UDT staged a coup, because FRETILIN was becoming the most popular party. Governor Pires fled to Atauro, a small offshore island north of Dili. Here he tried to broker an agreement between the two parties, and waited for instructions from Lisbon, which never came. Meanwhile, Indonesia began a series of political and military activities to destabilize and annex East Timor, which they called Operation Komodo, after the Komodo dragon, the giant lizard found on four nearby Indonesian islands. In October 1975, in the border town of Balibo, two Australian television crews reporting on the conflict were killed by Indonesian forces, after they witnessed Indonesian troops sneaking into Portuguese Timor.
Gradually, FRETILIN gained control over East Timor, forcing the UDT to flee to the Indonesian side of the island. Still, FRETILIN wanted the Portuguese to return and re-establish order; they expressed this by flying the Portuguese flag over their offices. Instead, Portugal stayed out of the conflict, so FRETILIN decided to take matters into their own hands. On November 28, 1975, FRETILIN made a unilateral declaration of independence, proclaiming the Democratic Republic of East Timor, with a member of FRETILIN, Francisco Xavier do Amaral, as the first President. This was not recognised by either Portugal, Indonesia, or Australia; the countries that did recognize the new state were either left-wing or communist: Albania, the Cape Verde Islands, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and São Tomé and Príncipe. In response, Indonesia had the leaders of all parties in East Timor, except FRETILIN, sign a declaration calling for union with Indonesia. Though it was signed on the Indonesian island of Bali, it was called the Balibo Declaration. Xanana Gusmão, East Timor’s new press secretary, described this as the “Balibohong Declaration,” a pun on the Indonesian word for “lie.”
To Jakarta, the events on Timor looked too much like communism coming back to Indonesia, so on December 7, only nine days after independence had been declared, the Indonesian army invaded East Timor. Many years later, in 2001, declassified documents revealed that the invasion came with the blessing of the Americans. On the day before the invasion, two US leaders, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and President Gerald Ford, completed a visit to Jakarta. It turned out that Kissinger and Ford urged Suharto to take over the former colony quickly, so the world would not see that the Indonesians were equipped with US-made weapons. Australia also sided with Indonesia. Portugal and the UN condemned the invasion, but that did not keep the Indonesians from annexing the area as their 24th province. Human rights groups claimed the Indonesian army, disease and famine may have killed more than 100,000 people, about one sixth of the population, during the annexation.
By 1976 there were 35,000 Indonesian troops in East Timor. FALINTIL, the military wing of FRETILIN, fought a guerrilla war that enjoyed success in the first few years, but weakened afterwards because of the lack of international support. By 1989, Indonesia had things firmly under control and opened East Timor to tourism. But then on November 12, 1991, Indonesian troops fired on protesters gathered at the Santa Cruz Cemetery in Dili to commemorate the killing of an independence activist. Because the shooting was captured on film, it provoked international condemnation, and the embarrassed Indonesian government admitted to 19 dead, though it is more likely that 270 were massacred. Only now did world opinion begin to shift in favor of the Timorese, mainly because the Cold War was over, so East-West politics no longer got in the way. In 1996 Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo and Jose Ramos Horta, two Timorese dissidents, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to resolve the conflict.
Now let’s skip to the west side of Indonesia, for a look at Aceh. This territory, located on the northwestern tip of Sumatra, has been mentioned more than once in past episodes. In Episode 11, I said Aceh was probably the first part of Indonesia to convert to Islam, and the Acehnese tended to follow a strict, fundamentalist form of Islam, rather than combine Islam with ideas from other religions, as the rest of Southeast Asia does. Then when foreigners arrived, the Acehnese resisted them bitterly, first the Portuguese in Episode 12, then the Dutch in Episode 22, and then the Japanese in World War II. For the Indonesian War of Independence, Aceh was quiet, because the Dutch did not go there, and because President Sukarno promised that Aceh would be an autonomous part of the Indonesian state, with the same Islam-based laws that had been in place for centuries. But instead of keeping that promise, Sukarno tried to merge Aceh with the neighboring province of North Sumatra, a move which would have created a territory with a large, Christian minority. Therefore, the Acehnese saw the Java-based Indonesian government as just another foreign occupier. In other words, while the separatists in western New Guinea and East Timor were Christian, and did not want to be part of a nation with a majority Moslem population, the separatists in Aceh felt that Indonesia was not Moslem enough!
In Episode 60, I told you about Darul Islam, an Islamic fundamentalist movement that revolted against the Indonesian government in 1949. Aceh’s governor, Daud Beureu’eh, joined the revolt in 1953, and thus Aceh became a rebel-held area. Jakarta quickly retook the cities, but resistance continued until 1959, when many supporters accepted a peace agreement that declared Aceh a "Special Region," with autonomy in religious, educational, and cultural matters. Daud himself stayed in a guerrilla base until 1962, when he was granted amnesty.
In the 1970s, many American oil and gas companies got permission from the Jakarta government to exploit Aceh’s natural resources. Because of that drilling, today 15 percent of Indonesia’s oil and natural gas comes from Aceh. However, the Acehnese felt they were not represented in the agreements. One of them, a former member of Darul Islam named Hasan Muhammad di Tiro, applied for a pipeline contract in a new Mobil Oil gas plant, but was outbid by Bechtel, an American engineering firm. This inspired di Tiro to organize a new separatist movement among his old Darul Islam contacts. The movement, called Gerekan Aceh Merdeka or the Free Aceh Movement, was proclaimed in 1976, and it called for an independent Aceh. This time, however, the movement did not have enough followers to fight government forces effectively, and from 1980 onward, di Tiro was forced to live in exile in Sweden. Likewise, the government did not take a chance with Daud Beureu’eh, the previous Acehnese rebel leader; he was taken to Jakarta and kept under house arrest for the rest of his life.
The government was able to keep a lid on Aceh for most of the 1980s, but then starting in 1989 there were a string of security incidents, prompting the government to send 12,000 soldiers, in a program called Operation Red Net. The regional commander at the time spelled out the military’s basic policies by saying, quote, "I have told the community, if you find a terrorist, kill him. There’s no need to investigate him … if they don’t do as you order them, shoot them on the spot, or butcher them." Unquote. Naturally that led to a number of human rights abuses. Amnesty International reported that between 1989 and 1992, about 2,000 people were killed by military operations in Aceh.
According to one writer who was in Aceh before the trouble started, the 1989 attacks began when a religious leader from Malaysia came to Aceh and, quote, "used several economic and social arguments to whip the young men into a state of eager anticipation at the prospect of a glorious holy war to liberate Aceh." Unquote. The leader told the young men, many of them students, that Jakarta was siphoning off Aceh’s natural resources without putting money back into the region, forcing the Acehnese to live in poverty. Aceh’s residents also resented the government’s policy of “transmigration,” where the people of overcrowded Java are encouraged to move to the outer islands. This includes Aceh, where the Javanese newcomers settle in the cities and take the best jobs. Because of these resentments, the second phase of the rebellion, after 1989, enjoyed large support from the Acehnese people. This support was demonstrated in 1999, when half a million, one eighth of Aceh’s population, demonstrated in Banda Aceh, the capital, calling for a referendum on Aceh’s future. But we will stop covering the Aceh rebellion for now, since it continued into the twenty-first century. You will have to listen to a future episode to find out how it turned out.
Suharto’s most visible opponents were not separatists on the outer islands, but closer to home: Moslem groups that never accepted government control, and university students alienated by the government’s corruption and human rights violations. In the early 1990s many dissidents turned to Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of the late Sukarno. The government engineered a split in the Indonesian Democratic Party in 1996, which caused Sukarnoputri to be removed as chairperson of the party, and kept her from running in the next election. The party’s supporters rioted in Jakarta, but it was only a taste of things to come. Although Sukarnoputri did not enjoy widespread support, she was the first figure in a generation to challenge the incumbent president.
In the early and mid-1990s, Asian officials boasted that they had created a self-perpetuating Pan-Asiatic prosperity zone. According to them, a dynamic economy in one Pacific rim country would stimulate the rest; Japanese savings became investments in the surrounding nations, which were in turn used to export goods to the West, especially the United States. There may have been some truth to this, but such a network also caused massive inflation, collapsed currencies and widespread bankruptcies when one member faltered. In this case it happened with Thailand, in July 1997.
Of all the countries affected by Thailand’s currency collapse, Indonesia was hit the hardest. The economy imploded; thirty years of economic gains were wiped out in a few months, and the Gross Domestic Product dropped 15%. The monetary unit, the Rupiah, was already one of the world’s most devalued currencies; now it went into free fall, dropping in value from 2,300 Rupiah per US dollar to as low as 17,000 Rupiah per dollar, in February 1998. For what it’s worth, as I record this in 2020, the Rupiah is valued at 14,130 to the US dollar, so after 22 years, it has only made a partial recovery.
The International Monetary Fund put together a foreign aid package totaling $38 billion, one of the largest ever. In return for the emergency aid, Suharto had to agree to major structural reform, a realistic budget for the upcoming year, and to cut back on crony deals, like the clove monopoly controlled by Suharto’s son, Tommy. Those turned out to be promises he couldn’t keep, as his family stood to lose under any sort of austerity program. An ailing bank controlled by his son was shut down, and it quickly reopened under a new name. In January 1998 he announced a good-times budget that called for a 32 percent increase in spending, and an end to special tax breaks for family-owned businesses, but he still would not close them down. However, he did end government subsidies that kept down the price of oil and foodstuffs like rice, guaranteeing that the poor would have to shoulder the cost of reform. In one year the number of Indonesians living below the poverty line jumped from 20 million to 100 million (almost half the country’s population).
Suharto was now 76 years old, and talked about retirement, but instead he ran for a sixth term in February 1998. The opposition parties and student demonstrators demanded that he step down, but since there was no obvious successor, and because the local and international business communities were so used to Indonesia’s brand of crony capitalism, the outcome was never in doubt. Suharto won again, and then he acted as if nothing had changed. Caught between skyrocketing prices, tumbling wages, and millions losing their jobs, people took to the streets in protest. At first the demonstrations were confined to campuses, but in April violent rioting erupted in the streets of Medan, then other cities. 230 were killed when a looted shopping mall caught on fire, and an estimated 500 more died in other riot-related violence. Chief among the victims were members of the Chinese community, always scapegoats when something goes wrong in Southeast Asia.
Podcast footnote: Many of Indonesia’s Chinese are Christians, so the violence took on a religious element as they were raped and killed by the country’s Moslem majority. A member of the Indonesian Chinese community, James Riady, made headlines in 1996, for making illegal contributions to the re-election campaign of US President Bill Clinton. End footnote.
Throughout the turmoil the army reminded everyone that it was on the side of the government. Tanks and army trucks appeared on the streets, but demands for Suharto’s resignation increased. Student demonstrations would not go away, so on May 12, while Suharto was away on a visit to Cairo, soldiers swapped rubber bullets for live ammunition and shot dead four students at Trisakti University in Jakarta.
Jakarta erupted – in three days of rioting and looting, over 6,000 buildings in the city were damaged or destroyed and an estimated 1,200 people died. Law and order collapsed. Mounting evidence pointed to General Prabowo, Suharto’s son-in-law, using military goon squads to spearhead attacks on Chinese shops and Chinese women. He did this to create a situation where it looked like Suharto had “saved the nation.” However, Prabowo’s plan backfired and, following Suharto’s fall, he was dismissed from the army and sent into exile for a few years.
Although the riots subsided, anti-Suharto demonstrations increased, and the army threatened to shoot troublemakers on sight. The country looked on, fearing massive bloodshed. But as Suharto clung to the presidency, some of his ministers and even the soldiers supporting the president could see that he was part of the problem, not part of the solution. Therefore the soldiers simply stood by and watched when rioters threw things at the villas and offices of Suharto’s hated children and associates. By now Suharto was a president only in his palace, and after ministers and soldiers put pressure on him to resign, he stepped down on May 21, 1998. Vice-president B. J. Habibie, now 63 years old, took his place; remember him? Habibie was hardly a change, since as we saw earlier, he was Suharto’s stepson. Still, he began the country’s transition to a new era, by liberalizing Indonesia’s press and political party laws.
Like his predecessor Sukarno, Suharto was never healthy again after leaving the presidency. He rarely appeared in public, and his family spent much of their time fending off corruption investigations. Suharto suffered from strokes and heart and intestinal problems, so while there was talk about having him stand trial, it never happened. He died on January 27, 2008, at the age of 86, and he was buried alongside his wife, in the central Java city of Solo.
That’s all for today. This is the last episode planned for 2020, which so far has been the strangest year of my life, and probably yours, too. Just think about it; if 2020 was a movie, it would be narrated by Rod Serling, the script would be written by Stephen King, and it would be directed by Alfred Hitchcock! It has been a great year for launching new podcasts, though. While some of the older podcasts I listen to have suffered interruptions, due to COVID-19, the pandemic has encouraged people stuck at home to get started on their shows. Yesterday I heard that the number of podcasts available online has jumped, from 750,000 in 2019 to 1.6 million now. If you are listening to this, chances are you are also listening to a podcast that began in 2020. Since I am planning to complete the next episode around New Year’s Day, go ahead and listen to those other podcasts, and celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Saturnalia, or whatever other holiday you observe at the end of the year. Then join me next time as the podcast goes to Singapore and Malaysia again. I plan to begin 2021 with at least two episodes, to bring the narrative on those countries up to the present.
If you are listening to this episode after 2020, kindly disregard everything I just said in the past minute.
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