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The day before the fall of Suharto JAKARTA - Controversy has surrounded the book written by former President Habibie, which reveals a number of new historical facts about the events of May 1998. The military is mentioned as having a hand in speeding up the downfall of the Suharto regime. Two major-generals and a number of colonels are suspected of having "allowed" university students to occupy the parliament building in Senayan. Tempo sorts out the important moments during the 24 hours preceding Suharto's downfall. Here is the report.

Suharto stepped into his office. The senior general returned with two letters in hand. They contained an instruction for the formation of the National Vigilance and Safety Operation Command. He gave one letter to General Wiranto, the ABRI (Indonesian Armed Forces) commander concurrently the Minister of Defense & Security. The other letter was given to General Subagyo Hadisiswoyo, Army Chief of Staff.

Suharto told Wiranto when handing him the letter: "It's up to you whether or not you use this letter," a Tempo source present in the room imitated Suharto's statement, spoken in Javanese. Through this letter, Wiranto was given all-encompassing authority as head of the National Vigilance and Safety Operation Command.

The day was May 20, 1998, before midnight. Silence enveloped the house at Jalan Cendana No. 10, Central Jakarta - the private residence of the President. Suharto sat. His face was pale, his shoulders bowed. He said slowly: "I have spoken with the children. I am going to resign tomorrow so that there will be no more victims," said the Tempo source again, imitating Suharto's words.

Wiranto took out a piece of paper from his pocket. Evidently he had prepared some notes. He said to the President: "ABRI will protect all former presidents and their families." Suharto nodded. In a corner of the room, Siti Hediati "Titiek" Harijadi cried. This daughter of Suharto cried in muffled sobs. Commander of the Presidential Security Detail, Major-General Endriartono Sutarto, was also present in the room.

The meeting ended. Wiranto and Subagyo left. It was past midnight.

It was soon May 21, 1998.

Nine hours later, Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie was sworn in at the State Palace as the third President of Indonesia. The reins of power had officially switched hands, even though Suharto had actually given up any hope of holding on to power the previous night. All the pillars of power which he had constructed since March 12, 1967 had collapsed around him. The Golkar Party, his main source of political strength for years, had turned its back on him. Fourteen cabinet ministers had left him.

Three days earlier in Senayan, MPR/DPR Speaker Harmoko, together with other House leaders, asked Suharto to step down, despite the fact that Harmoko had proven himself a loyal assistant for over a decade. This former Minister of Information was a trusted confidant of Suharto for over half of his presidency.

From Jalan Cendana, Suharto realized that he had no more cards to play. One of his main strengths had been the economy. Indonesia was once called the "Asian Tiger" for its economic might. The initial growth during Suharto's New Order rule counted among its prestigious achievements. Economist Emil Salim wrote that the cost of living index in Indonesia had risen 438-fold between 1960 and 1966.

During this period, the government had made use of, among other things, policies of deregulation and reducing the role of the bureaucracy in order to rescue the economy. An example of this was the policy package launched on February 10 and July 28, 1967. The government opened itself to progressive foreign investment. In this way, inflation could slowly be brought under control. It went from the figure of about 650 percent (in 1966) to a controlled position of 13 percent (1969). "This was one achievement by the government made at that time," wrote Emil.

Almost three decades later, Suharto left office with the Republic shouldering an inestimable amount of debt. The new debt of US$43 billion (now equal to Rp387 trillion) from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was unable to prop up the value of the rupiah. On that day, May 21, 1998, the money market closed its transactions at an exchange rate of Rp11,236 per US dollar-after a freefall from Rp2,500 per US dollar. At the start of 1998, the rupiah even reached a low of Rp17,000 per US dollar.

Steve Hanke, an American expert on the currency board system (CBS) was brought to Indonesia approaching Suharto's downfall. He repeatedly reminded Suharto not to trust the IMF, because this body was worried that the CBS might succeed in Indonesia. Hanke told Suharto of Washington's interest until he fell from power, as related to Tempo on Friday of last week. Suharto believed him, and Hanke was appointed as a special advisor. He even mentioned the CBS in his speech in the General Session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), on March 1, 1998. But debt had continued to weaken Suharto's position, and his allies were leaving him, one by one.

As if he didn't have enough troubles, Suharto was also left by the source of strength which he had been developing for decades, namely the Indonesian Armed Forces or ABRI. A retired general who played an important role during 1998 revealed some information to Tempo last week. "ABRI," said the general, "the one strength which Pak Harto thought was still supporting him, abandoned him as well." This was the final blow to the undoing of the aging general.

Therefore, on the night of Thursday, May 20-before he summoned Wiranto and Subagyo-Suharto gathered his children and close relatives. A figure from the inner circle at Cendana retold the 8-year-old event to Tempo, last week: "Titiek and Mamiek (Siti Hutami Adiningsih) cried during the whole meeting."

Suharto's third son, Bambang Trihatmodjo, asked why his father was not going to resign according to schedule. Siti "Tutut" Hardijanti Rukmana, the oldest child of the Cendana family, spoke up: "It's the same whether it happens tomorrow or the day after, Bapak has to resign!"

Bambang was referring to the rescheduling of Suharto's initial plan to resign, according to what the President had already told his family. According to the original plan, the announcement of the formation of the Reforms Committee was to be on May 21, changes to the cabinet on May 22, and his resignation on May 23.

It turned out that Suharto was resigning sooner than expected.

Ryaas Rasyid, an expert in government administration who was close with military circles, said that ABRI had already agreed with Suharto's resignation. He said that there was a meeting on Jalan Merdeka Barat on the night of May 20 which was attended by General Wiranto and Lieutenant-General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono-the current President of Indonesia. Also present were Major-General Agus Widjojo and Lieutenant-General Hari Sabarno.

Ryaas was there together with national law expert Harun Al-Rasyid, University of Indonesia rector Asman Boedisantoso, and military observer Salim Said. Ryaas and friends asked what ABRI's position would be if Habibie became President. Yudhoyono answered: "We can accept that." Wiranto, according to Ryaas, concurred with the reply just given by the ABRI Chief of Staff for Social & Political Affairs.

According to Ryaas, he and his partners asked when ABRI thought Suharto would resign. Yudhoyono answered: "Another six months to a year." This answer, according to Ryaas, matched with Yudhoyono's personality as a moderate figure. The results of this meeting were then conveyed to Suharto.

At this time, the military was divided. General Subagyo said there was a Wiranto faction and a faction behind Lieutenant-General Prabowo Subianto, commander of the Army Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad). "I was in the middle," he wrote in his book entitled The KSAD (Army Chief of Staff) from Piyungan.

Major-General Kivlan Zen, a former Kostrad Chief of Staff, was in the Prabowo group, along with a number of other generals. When thousands of university students occupied the parliament building, he said that he organized a number of pro-Suharto organizations to retake the building from the students. However, they never took action because Suharto resigned ahead of schedule.

Kivlan said that he did everything he could to prevent the protests from being organized by Amien Rais, Chairman of the Muhammadiyah organization' s executive board, which was scheduled for May 20 in the area surrounding the National Monument (Monas). He ordered his troops to carry live ammunition when facing the crowd. "I asked Prabowo to meet Amien to get him to call off his plan. If not, he could be shot by my men or would be arrested," said Kivlan to Tempo. He also arranged for tanks and armored cars to be positioned in the heart of the city. "Use the tanks to run over those who force their way into Monas!" said Kivlan to his troops at that time.

The 1-million-strong protest at Monas was called off. However, Suharto was being pushed closer to the edge of the abyss. A number of people who were contacted to become members of the Reforms Committee had refused to join. Fourteen ministers for the economy led by Ginandjar Kartasasmita were unwilling to be part of Suharto's new cabinet.

After nightfall on May 20, Prabowo, who was still wearing his camouflage battle fatigues, met Habibie in Patra Kuningan. "Pak, there is a large possibility that the Old Man will step down," he wrote in the Prabowo White Book in 1999. Habibie said that he was ready to replace Suharto.

From Kuningan, he headed for Cendana. Prabowo expected to be praised for thwarting the demonstration. He was in for a surprise. In the family room, Suharto sat together with Wiranto and the Cendana children. The general who had been dubbed "The Rising Star" was treated like a loser in front of his wife's family.

Then, during his final moments in power, Suharto appointed his former adjutant as commander of the National Vigilance and Safety Operation Command. With this authority, Wiranto could order all ministers and leaders of government organizations- from the capital to the provinces-to work with him.

Wiranto, however, never used this power.

On May 21 at 9am local time, Suharto tendered his resignation. Habibie was sworn into office in front of the podium. A moment later, Wiranto took the microphone and said: "ABRI continues to guard the safety and integrity of all former presidents, including former President Suharto and his family."

This "battle" among the elites before the fall of General Suharto was over, and Wiranto had come out as winner.

At least for the time being.

Who gave the orders?

The command over ABRI troop movements in Jakarta as of May 14, 1998 belonged to the Commander of the Jakarta Operational Command, Lieutenant-General TNI Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin, who was also commander of the Jakarta Regional Military Command. Here are the statements of a number of high-ranking officers in the elite military circles, on their assignments during that precarious period.

Wiranto (General)
  • ABRI Commander
  • Duty: Highest responsibility for Indonesian defense and security. All troop movements at that time had to get his approval.
  • Statement: "There was a report on the mobilization of Kostrad forces in Jakarta which was not reported to ABRI Headquarters... This fact is something which could be construed as insubordination."

Fachrul Razi (Lieutenant- General)
  • Chief of ABRI General Staff
  • Duty: Responsible for the operational duties of ABRI troops

Soebagyo H.S. (General)
  • Army Chief of Staff
  • Duty: Oversee army troops. Statement: "The positioning of all forces has already been determined, and they are under the control of the Commander of the Operational Command."

Prabowo Subianto (Lieutenant- General)
  • Kostrad Commander
  • Duty: Prepare the troops which are to be used as reinforcements or will be under the operational control of the Commander of the Regional Military District.
  • Comment: "There was not any movement of troops outside of the chain of command. Everything was under the control of the Commander of the Regional Military District. Even if there was, what would it be for? Coup d'etat?"

Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin (Major-General)
  • Commander of Jakarta Regional Military District and Commander of the Jakarta Operational Command
  • Duty: Restore security in the capital city and control all troops in Jakarta. Statement: "I already fully knew the placement and positions of all of these troops. I wasn't worried. If there were troops that were out of control, where did they come from?"

Kivlan Zein (Major-General)
  • Chief of Kostrad Staff
  • Duty: Handle all internal matters and serving as the second-in-command at Kostrad.
  • Statement: "All Kostrad troops came to Jakarta upon the request of the Operational Command. After they were secured, I didn't have anything more to do with it."

Surrounding Jakarta

There are still a number of unanswered questions regarding the rioting which took place in the capital city on May 13-14, 1998. Some say the police were deliberately ordered to stand down so that Jakarta would burn away. Others suspect that some of the rioting was intentionally triggered. Where was the military at this time?

May 12
The Army Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad) only had three companies (1 company = 100 soldiers) in Jakarta.

May 13
Four Kostrad battalions (1 battalion = 700-1,000 soldiers) from Yon Arhanudri 1/Kostrad, Infantry Battalion (Yonif) 305 and Yonif 328 headquartered in Cilodong, West Java, moved into Jakarta.

May 14
Five Kostrad battalions were sent from Central Java (Solo, Salatiga, Purwokerto).

May 14
Five battalions (Yon) were sent from West Java (Yon 303 from Garut, Yon 321 from Tasikmalaya, and Yon 323 from Ciamis).

May 15
Five Kostrad battalions arrived in Jakarta. They came from East Java (the 18th Airborne Infantry Brigade and Yonif 502 from Malang, Yonif 501 from Madiun, and Yonif 503 from Mojokerto).

May 15
Reinforcements arrived from Yonif 721 in Makassar by chartered plane.

May 16
Kostrad has 20 battalions in Jakarta.

Kerry B. Collison
B.J. Habibie

Posted in History @ 03 November 2006 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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