The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







General Suharto (born June 8, 1921) was an Indonesian dictator and military strongman. He was the second President of Indonesia, from 1967 to 1998.

General Suharto
General Suharto

His years as the leader of Indonesia were characterized by substantial economic growth that reduced poverty in the nation, although much of the standard of living gains that were made were reversed by the Asian financial crisis that began in 1997. In exchange for this economic growth, Suharto enriched his family and his associates through a variety of state monopolies, subsidies, and other schemes. One estimate puts his family fortune at US$15 billion. He suppressed political dissent and regularly used the military to maintain control over dissident regions of the nation.



Suharto was born in Kemusu Argamulja , Central Java. He joined the Dutch colonial forces and studied in a Dutch-run military academy. During World War II, he became a battalion commander in the Japanese-sponsored local military.

After the Indonesian declaration of Independence by Sukarno in 1945 his troops fought against the Dutch attempt to re-establish colonial rule and seized Yogyakarta from them on March 1, 1949.

During the following years he mainly served as an army officer in Java. In 1959 he was accused of smuggling and transferred to the army staff college in Bandung in west Java. In 1962 he reached the rank of major general and took charge of the Diponegoro division. During the Indonesian Confrontation, Suharto was a commander of Kostrad (Strategic Reserve), the Army's most elite combat force. By 1965, the armed forces split into two factions, one left wing and one right wing, with Suharto in the right-wing camp.

Rise to power

In that year, using the excuse of foiling a failed Communist coup d'etat attempt, Suharto seized executive power from Sukarno's government and forced Sukarno to step down. Suharto purged the Indonesian armed forces of pro-Sukarno and pro-Communist elements and forced Sukarno to give up all executive powers to him on March 11, 1966. There is a suspicion he received CIA backing in this. He ended the confrontation with Malaysia in order to free the resources of the military.

Suharto established what he called the Orde Baru (New Order). He purged the parliament of communists, eliminated labour organizations and increased press censorship. He also cancelled diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China and re-established those with western countries and the United Nations. He became the final arbiter of all political decisions.

Suharto increased military funding and established two intelligence agencies - the Operational Command for the Restoration of Security and Order (Kopkamtib) and the State Intelligence Coordination Agency (Bakin). About 2 million people were executed in his mass purges and more than 200,000 were arrested on merely being suspected of being involved with the coup. Most communists, alleged communists and so-called " enemies of the state" were sentenced to death (although some of the executions were delayed to 1990). It is alleged that lists of suspected communists were supplied to the Suharto regime by the CIA. In addition, the CIA tracked the names on these lists as Suharto's regime cracked down on them. This tacit support of the United States government for the Suharto regime would remain quite firm throughout the terrible repression he inflicted on Indonesia, and through the invasion of East Timor, and would continue right through to the late 1990s. Because of its wealth of resources and large consumer population, Indonesia was highly valued as a trading partner of the US and so weapon shipments were maintained to the Suharto regime.

On March 12, 1967 Suharto became the acting president. On March 21 he was formally elected for the first of his five-year terms as a president. He directly appointed 20% of the house of representatives. The Golkar party became the favored party and the only acceptable one for government officials. Indonesia also became one of the founding members of ASEAN.

The height of the New Order

He also instituted repression against the Indonesian Chinese, banning the use of Chinese writing in most written material, and shutting down Chinese organizations because of their alleged communist sympathies.

In 1970 Suharto banned student protests after widespread demonstrations against corruption. A commission found out that corruption was very common. Suharto approved only two cases and then closed the commission. Corruption would become endemic.

He ruled through military control and media censorship. He controlled the finance by giving easy deals and monopolies to his relatives, including his six children. He also continuously played different factions of the military against each other, starting by supporting the Nationalists and later supporting the Islamist elements.

In 1973 he won another five-year term in an electoral college vote. The same would happen in 1978, 1983, 1988, 1993 and 1998. He instituted electoral reforms whereby only three parties were allowed to participate in the elections, including his own Golkar party.

In 1975, he ordered Indonesian troops to invade the former Portuguese colony of East Timor after Portugal withdrew and the Fretilin movement seized power. Later the puppet government installed by Indonesia requested the area be annexed to the country. It was estimated that 100,000 people, roughly a third of the local population, were killed by the Indonesian army. On July 15, 1976 East Timor became the province of Timor Timur until it was transferred to the United Nations in 1999.

Corruption became a significant burden in the 1980s. On May 5, 1980 a group Petition of Fifty (Petisi 50) demanded more political freedom. It was composed of former military men, politicians, academics and students. 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.

Suharto's human rights record also became steadily worse over the years. In 1993 the UN Human Rights Commission made a resolution that expressed deep concern over Indonesian human rights violations in East Timor. US president Bill Clinton backed it.

In 1996 Suharto ousted Sukarno's daughter Megawati Sukarnoputri from the leadership of the Indonesian Democratic Party, one of the three legal parties. In June, her supporters occupied the party headquarters. After security forces arrested them, riots broke out in Jakarta.

Suharto steps down

In 1997, according to the World Bank, twenty to thirty percent of Indonesia's development budget had been embezzled over the years. The Asian financial crisis of the same year did not bode well for Suharto's rule when he was forced to apply for loans, which also meant increased IMF scrutiny.

Despite his previous promise to step down, Suharto ensured his reelection by parliament for the seventh time in March 1998. After numerous demonstrations and political and army pressure against him, he was forced to resign on May 21 in the Indonesian 1998 Revolution. His successor was his deputy Jusuf Habibie.

After the fall

In May 1999, TIME Asia reported that the Suharto family fortune is worth an estimated US $15 billion in cash, shares, corporate assets, real estate, jewellery and fine art. US $9 billion of this is reported to have been deposited in an Austrian bank. The family is said to control about 36,000 km&sup2 of real estate in Indonesia, including 100,000 m&sup2 of prime office space in Jakarta and nearly 40% of the land in East Timor. Over US $73 billion is said to have passed through the family's hands during Suharto's 32-year rule.

On May 29, 2000 Suharto was placed under house arrest when Indonesian authorities began to investigate the corruption during his regime. In July, 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 blamed an unspecified brain disease.

Unable to prosecute Suharto, the state prosecuted his son Hutomo Mandala Putra, more widely known as Tommy Suharto . He was sentenced to 15 years jail for arranging the murder of a judge who sentenced him to 18 months for his role in a land scam in September 2000. He is the first member of the Suharto family to be found guilty and jailed for a criminal offence. Tommy Suharto maintains his innocence but says he will not appeal the verdict or the sentence.

Presidents of Indonesia

Preceded by:
(1945 - 1967)

(1967 - 1998)

Followed by:
Jusuf Habibie
(1998 - 1999)

Politics of Indonesia

Last updated: 02-05-2005 09:03:09
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01