- Development & Aid
- Economy & Trade
- Human Rights
- Global Governance
- Civil Society
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
- Indonesia’s President Suharto stepped down after 32 years in power on Thursday, his once-dominant rule broken by a collapsed economy that ignited months of angry protests across this vast country.
In a nationwide address Thursday morning, Suharto handed over the presidency to his vice president and political protege, 61- year-old Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, who is now supposed to oversee a process of political transition and economic recovery.
Reading from a prepared text, the 76-year-old Suharto said: “I believe that it has become extremely difficult for me to continue leadership of this country and to cultivate the development of our country.”
“I have decided to hereby declare that I withdraw from my position as the president of the Republic of Indonesia, effective immediately,” Suharto said, following the procedure laid out in the 1945 Constitution.
Habibie, a German-trained engineer whom Suharto had chosen to be his vice president in March, was sworn in right after the president quit. Suharto said Habibie, who appears to be backed by the military in the interest of an orderly transition, would serve as president from now till his term ends in 2003.
In the streets of Jakarta, student protesters who had in earlier days dragged Suharto’s effigy through the streets, roared and danced in jubilation upon hearing the news that he had stepped down.
“Reformation wins! Reformation wins!” they chanted at the Parliament building here. But other students in Bandung, outside Jakarta, said they wanted Suharto tried for various crimes. “No, that’s not enough. Suharto should be tried,” they yelled.
The resignation announcement by Suharto — who came to power in a 1965 coup against Indonesia’s founding president Sukarno — reflected his desire to control the manner by which he left the presidency and have as graceful an exit as possible.
On May 19, he said he would respect the people’s wishes for ‘reformasi’ or reform and step down but did not give a time frame, triggering a fresh wave of public protests.
He promised to form a “reform committee” to tackle political reform, improve election laws, reorganise the Cabinet and and call parliamentary elections “as soon as possible”, where he would not stand for office.
But on Thursday, Suharto said in a matter-of-fact address that the reform committee could not “be realised because of a lack of consensus” on its composition, which meant the “reshuffling of the Cabinet is no longer necessary”.
He seemed to strike a conciliatory tone, expressing regret “if there were mistakes, failures or shortcomings”.
Marzuki Darusman of the Indonesia’s Commission on Human Rights, says Suharto’s resignation defuses some of the pressure toward an even bigger confrontation in the streets, between security forces and protesters.
“He has somehow broken that and made it possible for the country to avoid entire bloodshed,” he said Thursday.
Suharto’s departure comes after key political power blocs close to him withheld their support, ranging from at least part of the powerful military, to former Cabinet members and generals, to the Speaker of the House Harmoko.
On Wednesday, Harmoko had given Suharto until Friday to resign before he began launching impeachment proceedings.
Likewise, members of Suharto’s party Golkar in the Parliament had also agreed to support the convening of the People’s Consultative Assembly — which in March gave him a new mandate — to force Suharto to leave.
But while Suharto was ousted by popular opposition that began from student-led protests, the real root of discontent was triggered by economic woes that struck Indonesia late last year.
Indonesia has by far been the biggest casualty of the Asian economic crisis, which last year forced it to seek a 43 billion dollar bail-out package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Austerity measures under the IMF scheme, including cuts in subsidies and hikes in prices of basic goods, stoked violent riots and public anger against the Suharto government that escalated in January. Unemployment has reached 10 percent in this country of 200 million people.
The protests soon focused against Suharto’s 32-year-old rule, nepotism and his family’s huge business interests. Still, Suharto obtained a seventh, five-year term from the People’s Consultative Assembly in March, with Habibie as vice president.
His hold on power seemed to stabilise somewhat, and tough negotiations with the IMF over terms of an economic reform programme went back on track.
But the turning point began less than two weeks ago, when police forces shot and killed six student rallyists in Jakarta’s streets. Student-led protests were backed by more and more influential people and some Suharto allies, especially after bloody riots that left 500 dead last week.
Businesses and schools have been closed here since last week and Indonesians, including ethnic Chinese, have been holding neighbourhood watches to keep out mobsters and looters.
Soon it became evident that Suharto’s clout had all but been eroded. Students said they would accept no less than an immediate resignation — and many agreed Indonesia could not restore economic stability without his departure.