Indonesian Revolution of 1998
Suharto retired as president of Indonesia
Indonesia , officially the Republic of Indonesia , is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Indonesia is an archipelago comprising approximately 13,000 islands. It has 33 provinces with over 238 million people, and is the world's fourth most populous country. Indonesia is a republic, with an...

 in May 1998 following the collapse of support for his three-decade long presidency. The resignation followed severe economic and political crises in the previous 6 to 12 months. BJ Habibie continued at least a year of his remaining presidential years, followed by Abdurrahman Wahid in 1999. Suharto's resignation also marked the end of the New Order
New Order (Indonesia)
The New Order is the term coined by former Indonesian President Suharto to characterize his regime as he came to power in 1966. Suharto used this term to contrast his rule with that of his predecessor, Sukarno...

, a regime that began in 1968.

Dissent under the New Order

Coming to power in 1966 on the heels of an alleged coup by the Indonesian Communist Party, the government of the former general Suharto adopted policies that severely restricted civil liberties
Civil liberties
Civil liberties are rights and freedoms that provide an individual specific rights such as the freedom from slavery and forced labour, freedom from torture and death, the right to liberty and security, right to a fair trial, the right to defend one's self, the right to own and bear arms, the right...

 and instituted a system of rule that effectively split power within his own Golkar
The Party of the Functional Groups is a political party in Indonesia. It is also known as Sekber Golkar . It was the ruling party during Suharto's regime...

 Party and the military.

In 1970, corruption prompted student protests and an investigation by a government commission. Suharto responded by banning student protest, forcing the activists underground. Only token prosecution of cases recommended by the commission was pursued. The pattern of co-opting a few of his more powerful opponents while criminalizing the rest became a hallmark of Suharto's rule.

In order to maintain a veneer of democracy, Suharto made a number of electoral reforms. He stood for election before electoral college votes every five years, beginning in 1973. According to his electoral rules, however, only three parties were allowed to participate in the election: his own Golkar
The Party of the Functional Groups is a political party in Indonesia. It is also known as Sekber Golkar . It was the ruling party during Suharto's regime...

 party; the Islamist United Development Party
United Development Party
The United Development Party , sometimes translated as Development Unity Party is a political party in Indonesia. It is an islamic party and currently led by Suryadharma Ali.-Origins:...

 (PPP), and the Democratic Party of Indonesia
Indonesian Democratic Party
The Indonesian Democratic Party was one of the two state-approved parties during the New Order era of the late 20th-century in Indonesia.-Origins:...

 (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 the membership of 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 won every election in which he stood, in 1978, 1983, 1988, 1993, and 1998.

This authoritarianism became an issue in the 1980s. On 5 May 1980 a group Petition of Fifty
Petition of Fifty
The Petition of Fifty was a document protesting then President Suharto's use of state philosophy Pancasila against political opponents. Issued on 5 May 1980 as an "Expression of Concern", it was signed by fifty prominent Indonesians including former Army Chief of Staff Nasution, former Jakarta...

 (Petisi 50) demanded greater political freedoms. 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.

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
Jusuf Habibie
Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie , also known B. J. Habibie, was the third and shortest-serving President of Indonesia, serving from 1998 to 1999.-Early life and career:...

 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. In 1991, the murder of East Timorese civilians in a Dili
Dili, spelled Díli in Portuguese, is the capital, largest city, chief port and commercial centre of East Timor.-Geography and Administration:Dili lies on the northern coast of Timor island, the easternmost of the Lesser Sunda Islands....

 cemetery, also known as the "Santa Cruz Massacre", caused American attention to focus on its military relations with the Suharto regime and the question of Indonesia's occupation of East Timor. In 1992, this attention resulted in the Congress of the United States passing limitations on IMET assistance to the Indonesian military, over the objections of President George H.W. Bush. In 1993, under President Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton
William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton is an American politician who served as the 42nd President of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Inaugurated at age 46, he was the third-youngest president. He took office at the end of the Cold War, and was the first president of the baby boomer generation...

, 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.

Cracks emerge

In 1996, the Indonesian Democratic Party
Indonesian Democratic Party
The Indonesian Democratic Party was one of the two state-approved parties during the New Order era of the late 20th-century in Indonesia.-Origins:...

 (PDI), a legal party that had traditionally propped up the regime, changed direction and began to assert its independence, under Megawati Sukarnoputri
Megawati Sukarnoputri
In this Indonesian name, the name "Sukarnoputri" is a patronymic, not a family name, and the person should be referred to by the given name "Megawati"....

, the daughter of the popular father of the nation, Sukarno
Sukarno, born Kusno Sosrodihardjo was the first President of Indonesia.Sukarno was the leader of his country's struggle for independence from the Netherlands and was Indonesia's first President from 1945 to 1967...

. In response, Suharto attempted to foster a split over the leadership of PDI, backing a co-opted faction loyal to deputy speaker of Parliament Suryadi against supporters of "Mega".

After the Suryadi faction announced a party congress to sack Megawati would be held in Medan
- Demography :The city is Indonesia's fourth most populous after Jakarta, Surabaya, and Bandung, and Indonesia's largest city outside of Java island. Much of the population lies outside its city limits, especially in Deli Serdang....

 20–22 June, Megawati proclaimed that 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, and recriminations over the violence. The protests culminated in the military allowing Megawati's supporters to take over PDI headquarters in Jakarta, with a pledge of no further demonstrations.

Suharto allowed the occupation of PDI headquarters to go on for almost a month, as attentions were also on Jakarta
Jakarta is the capital and largest city of Indonesia. Officially known as the Special Capital Territory of Jakarta, it is located on the northwest coast of Java, has an area of , and a population of 9,580,000. Jakarta is the country's economic, cultural and political centre...

 due to a set of high-profile ASEAN meetings scheduled to take place there. Capitalizing on this, Megawati supporters organized "democracy forums" with several speakers at the site. On 26 July, officers of the military, Suryadi, and Suharto openly aired their disgust with the forums. (Aspinall 1996)

On 27 July, police, soldiers, and persons claiming to be Suryadi supporters stormed the headquarters. Several Megawati supporters were killed, and over two-hundred arrested and 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. (Amnesty International 1996)

Monetary crisis

In the second half of 1997, Indonesia became the country hardest hit by the Asian economic crisis. The Indonesian rupiah
Indonesian rupiah
The rupiah is the official currency of Indonesia. Issued and controlled by the Bank of Indonesia, the ISO 4217 currency code for the Indonesian rupiah is IDR. Informally, Indonesians also use the word "perak" in referring to rupiah...

 dropped to almost 20% of its original value, causing huge debts on foreign currency and often short-term debt. Weaknesses in the Indonesian economy, including a high debt, poor financial management systems and crony capitalism
Crony capitalism
Crony capitalism is a term describing a capitalist economy in which success in business depends on close relationships between business people and government officials...

, were identified as underlying causes. Other analysts cited volatility in the global financial system and over-liberalisation of international capital markets. The government responded by floating the currency, requesting International Monetary Fund
International Monetary Fund
The International Monetary Fund is an organization of 187 countries, working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world...

 assistance, closing some banks and postponing some major capital projects. Evidence suggested that Suharto's family and associates were being spared the toughest requirements of the reform process. There was open conflict between economic technocrats implementing IMF plans and Suharto-related vested interests.

In December 1997, Suharto for the first time did not attend an ASEAN presidents' summit, which was later revealed to be due to a minor stroke, creating speculation about his health and immediate future of his presidency. In mid December as the crisis swept through Indonesia and an estimated $150 bn of capital was being withdrawn from the country, he appeared at a press conference to assure he was in charge and to urge people to trust the government and the collapsing Rupiah.

Suharto's attempts to re-instill confidence, such as ordering generals to personally reassure shoppers at markets and an "I Love the Rupiah" campaign, had little effect. The government released a highly unrealistic budget which sent the Rupiah to below Rp. 10,000 to the US dollar (compared to Rp. 2,200 six months earlier). The currency decreased to Rp. 16,500 to the US dollar following Suharto's subsequent announcement that he would appoint Habibie as the next vice president. Suharto reluctantly agreed to a far wider reaching IMF package of structural reforms on 15 January 1998. However, the Rupiah continued on to drop to a sixth of its pre-crisis value, and rumours and panic led to a run on stores and pushed up prices.

Suharto's position as president remained solid for 30 years so long as the Indonesia economy grew strongly. When the economic crisis hit in 1997/98, Suharto's performance legitimacy disappeared and once strong support for Suharto disappeared both domestically and internationally.


As the financial crisis unfolded, opposition leaders such as Amien Rais
Amien Rais
Amien Rais is a prominent Indonesian politician who led and inspired the reform movement that forced the resignation of President Suharto in 1998. Amien Rais was the leader of Muhammadiyah, one of the two biggest Muslim organizations in Indonesia, from 1995 to 2000...

 became more vocal in their criticism of Suharto and the New Order. There were rumours of splits in the armed forces, imminent riots and talk of a bloody crackdown.

Demonstrations and riots

In 1997 and 1998 there were riots in various parts of Indonesia. Sometimes these riots were aimed against the Chinese-Indonesians. Some riots looked spontaneous and some looked as if they had been planned. One theory was that pro-Suharto generals were trying to weaken the forces of democracy by increasing the divisions between the orthodox and the non-orthodox Muslims, between the Muslims and the Christians and between the Chinese and the non-Chinese. Another theory was that certain generals were trying to topple Suharto.

Human Rights Watch Asia
Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch is an international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights. Its headquarters are in New York City and it has offices in Berlin, Beirut, Brussels, Chicago, Geneva, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Moscow, Paris, San Francisco, Tokyo,...

 reported that in the first five weeks of 1998 there were over two dozen demonstrations, price riots, bomb threats, and bombings on Java and that unrest was spreading to other islands.

The Trisakti incident

At the start of May 1998, students were holding peaceful demonstrations on university campuses across the country. They were protesting against massive price rises for fuel and energy, and they were demanding that President Suharto should step down.

On 12 May, students at Jakarta's Trisakti University
Trisakti University
Trisakti University is a private university in Jakarta, Indonesia. Founded on 29 November 1965, the university has more than 30,000 students.It has several campuses and nine faculties:*Faculty of Law*Faculty of Medical Sciences*Faculty of Dentistry...

, many of them the children of the elite, planned to march to parliament to present the government with their demands for reform. The police prevented the students from marching. Some time after 5 pm, uniformed men on motorcycles appeared on the flyover which overlooks Trisakti. Shots rang out. Four students were killed. At Semanggi nine students were killed (and four more the next year).

Riots of 13–14 May

On the 13 and 14 May rioting across Jakarta destroyed many commercial centres in Jakarta and over 1,000 died. Ethnic Chinese
Chinese Indonesian
Chinese Indonesians, also called the Indonesian Chinese, are an overseas Chinese group whose ancestors emigrated from China to Indonesia, formerly a colony of the Netherlands known as the Dutch East Indies...

 were targeted. The riots were allegedly instigated by Indonesian military members who were out of uniform. Homes were attacked and women were raped by gangs of men who wore ordinary clothing. The US State Department and many human rights groups have strongly argued that the Indonesian military and police participated and incited the rioting and violence against Sino-Indonesians.

Over 1,000 and as many as 5,000 people died during these riots in Jakarta and other cities such as Surakarta
Surakarta, also called Solo or Sala, is a city in Central Java, Indonesia of more than 520,061 people with a population density of 11,811.5 people/km2. The 44 km2 city adjoins Karanganyar Regency and Boyolali Regency to the north, Karanganyar Regency and Sukoharjo Regency to the east and...

. Many victims died in burning malls and supermarkets but some were shot or beaten to death. A government minister reported the damage or destruction of 2,479 shop-houses, 1,026 ordinary houses, 1,604 shops, 383 private offices, 65 bank offices, 45 workshops, 40 shopping malls, 13 markets, and 12 hotels.

Alleged involvement of the military in planning the riots

Father Sandyawan Sumardi, a 40-year-old Jesuit priest and son of a police chief, led an independent investigation into the events of May 1998. As a member of the Team of Volunteers for Humanitarian Causes he interviewed people who had witnessed the alleged involvement of the military in organizing the riots and rapes.

A security officer alleged that Kopassus
Kopassus is an Indonesian Army special forces group that conducts special operations missions for the Indonesian government, such as direct action, unconventional warfare, sabotage, counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism, and intelligence gathering.Kopassus was founded on April 16, 1952...

 (special forces) officers had ordered the burning down of a bank; a taxi driver reported hearing a man in a military helicopter encouraging people on the ground to carry out looting; shop-owners at a Plaza claimed that, before the riots, military officers tried to extract protection money; a teenager claimed he and thousands of others had been trained as protesters; a street child alleged that Kopassus officers ordered him and his friends to become rioters; there was a report of soldiers being dressed up as students and then taking part in rioting; eyewitnesses spoke of muscular men with short haircuts arriving in military-style trucks and directing attacks on Chinese homes and businesses.

In May 1998, thousands of Indonesian citizens were murdered and raped... ¶ The Joint Fact Finding Team established to inquire into the 1998 massacres found that there were serious and systematic human rights violations throughout Jakarta. The Team also found that rioters were encouraged by the absence of security forces, and that the military had played a role in the violence. The Team identified particular officials who should be held to account.¶ The Special Rapporteur on violence against women... also pointed to evidence suggesting that the riots had been organized (E/CN.4/1999/68/Add.3, para. 45).

American Defence Secretary William Cohen
William Cohen
William Sebastian Cohen is an author and American politician from the U.S. state of Maine. A Republican, Cohen served as Secretary of Defense under Democratic President Bill Clinton.-Early life and education:...

 was in Jakarta in January 1998, where he visited both General Wiranto
Wiranto is a retired Indonesian army General. He was Commander of the military of Indonesia from February 1998 to October 1999, and ran unsuccessfully for President of Indonesia in 2004 and the vice-presidency in 2009....

 and General Prabowo
Prabowo Subianto was an Indonesian career soldier and currently a businessman and a politician. Married to former President Suharto's daughter, Siti Hediati Hariyadi , he was influential under the New Order administration.The 1998 Revolution cut short his career, and he was accused of involvement...

. The CIA chief had also been a recent visitor to Jakarta. The CIA and the Pentagon were close to both Prabowo and Wiranto.

Resignation of Suharto

Reportedly the military was split. There was said to be a power struggle between Prabowo and Wiranto. Both generals claimed to be loyal to Suharto. Some feared factionalism could lead to a civil war.

Some of Suharto's former allies deserted him. Wiranto allowed students to occupy Parliament. Wiranto reported to Suharto on 20 May that Suharto no longer had the support of the army.

Suharto was forced to resign on 21 May and was replaced by Habibie, his Vice President.

In 1998 one of the key generals was Prabowo, son of former Finance Minister Dr. Sumitro Djojohadikusumo who may have once worked with the British and the Americans against Sukarno. Prabowo had learned about terrorism at Fort Bragg
Fort Bragg, North Carolina
Fort Bragg is a major United States Army installation, in Cumberland and Hoke counties, North Carolina, U.S., mostly in Fayetteville but also partly in the town of Spring Lake. It was also a census-designated place in the 2010 census and had a population of 39,457. The fort is named for Confederate...

 and Fort Benning
Fort Benning
Fort Benning is a United States Army post located southeast of the city of Columbus in Muscogee and Chattahoochee counties in Georgia and Russell County, Alabama...

 in the US. In May 1998, Prabowo was commander of Kostrad
Kostrad is the Indonesian Army's Strategic Reserve Command. Kostrad is a Corps level command which has up to 35,000 troops...

, the strategic reserve, the regiment Suharto commanded when he took power in 1965. Prabowo's friend Muchdi ran Kopassus
Kopassus is an Indonesian Army special forces group that conducts special operations missions for the Indonesian government, such as direct action, unconventional warfare, sabotage, counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism, and intelligence gathering.Kopassus was founded on April 16, 1952...

 (special forces) and his friend Sjafrie ran the Jakarta Area Command. General Wiranto, the overall head of the military, was seen as a rival to Prabowo.

Allegedly, late on the evening on 21 May, Prabowo arrived at the presidential palace and demanded that he be made chief of the armed forces. Reportedly, Habibie escaped from the palace. On 22 May, Prabowo was sacked as head of Kostrad. Wiranto remained as chief of the armed forces. Wiranto's troops began removing the students from the parliament building.

Continued military influence

One result of the May riots was that the military appeared to remain the power behind the throne. During a time of widespread fear, the military could claim to offer stability, though it was they who had perhaps helped to orchestrate the disorder. In 2004, General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono AC , is an Indonesian politician and retired Army general officer who has been President of Indonesia since 2004....

 was elected president. Each of the three presidential tickets in 2009 included a general as candidate for either president or vice president.

The aftermath

Not so often reported were the silent departure of families and wealth from the country. The emigrants were not exclusively of Chinese descents but also include wealthy natives or pribumi
Native Indonesians are also known as Pribumi, literally meaning "sons of the soil", is a term that refers to a population group in Indonesia that shares a similar sociocultural heritage...

s and Soeharto’s cronies. The immediate destination was Singapore, where some stayed permanently while others moved on to Australia, USA and Canada. Many of these families returned when the political situation stabilized a few years later.
Since the fall of Soeharto’s New Order regime, a variety of state-sponsored initiatives have been implemented to address mass violations of human rights. In these efforts, research shows that senior government officials consistently failed to achieve truth
Truth has a variety of meanings, such as the state of being in accord with fact or reality. It can also mean having fidelity to an original or to a standard or ideal. In a common usage, it also means constancy or sincerity in action or character...

, accountability
Accountability is a concept in ethics and governance with several meanings. It is often used synonymously with such concepts as responsibility, answerability, blameworthiness, liability, and other terms associated with the expectation of account-giving...

, institutional reform
Security sector reform
Security Sector Reform is a concept to reform or rebuild a state's security sector that emerged first in the 1990s in Eastern Europe. It starts where a dysfunctional security sector is unable to provide security to the state and its people effectively and under democratic principles. Even worse,...

 and reparations
Reparations (transitional justice)
Reparations Though difficult to define, reparations are broadly understood as compensation given for an abuse or injury. The colloquial meaning of reparations has changed substantively over the last century...

 for the most serious crimes.

Further reading

  • Chandra, Siddharth and Douglas Kammen. (2002). "Generating Reforms and Reforming Generations: Military Politics in Indonesia’s Transition to Democracy." World Politics, Vol. 55, No. 1.
  • Dijk, Kees van. 2001. A country in despair. Indonesia between 1997 and 2000. KITLV
    The Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies at Leiden was founded in 1851. Its objective is the advancement of the study of the anthropology, linguistics, social sciences, and history of Southeast Asia, the Pacific Area, and the Caribbean. Special emphasis is laid on...

    Press, Leiden, ISBN 90-6718-160-9
  • Kammen, Douglas and Siddharth Chandra (1999). A Tour of Duty: Changing Patterns of Military Politics in Indonesia in the 1990s. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Modern Indonesia Project Publication No. 75.

External links

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