(Suharto can also be spelt Soeharto.)
Kill tally: Up to two million killed following an alleged coup attempt in
1965 (most reports estimate the number at around 500,000). Over 250,000
deaths following the invasion of East Timor in 1975.
Thousands more killed in various Indonesian provinces.
Background: The Indonesian archipelago is first exposed to the West in the
16th Century when the Portuguese attempt to monopolise
the lucrative spice trade and spread Christianity. The Portuguese are
supplanted by the Dutch in the first half of the 17th Century. During the
19th Century the Dutch extend their colonial rule across the archipelago,
bringing all the land area of modern Indonesia,
with the exception of Portuguese East Timor, under their control.
The country proclaims its independence on
17 August 1945 then fights a war with the Dutch when they attempt to reimpose control. In December 1949 the Republic of
the United States of Indonesia (RUSI) is established with independence
activist Sukarno as president. When the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI)
supposedly attempts a coup d'état in September 1965, the army steps in.
Sukarno is deposed. Major-general Suharto rises
to power, establishing a 'New Order' (Orde Baru). More background.
Mini biography: Born on 8 June 1921 in the village
of Kemusu Argamulja
in Central Java, Indonesia. Though his family are
simple peasants, Suharto receives a relatively
1940 - After working in a village bank, then as a labourer, Suharto enlists
for a three-year term in the Dutch colonial army, the KNIL (Koninklijk Nederlandsch Indisch Leger - Royal Netherlands East Indies Army),
beginning his service in June.
1941 - Suharto is accepted for training as
a sergeant at a military school at Gombong in Central Java. A week after
his training begins the Dutch surrender to the invading Japanese.
1942 - joins the occupation police force
then, in 1943, becomes a battalion commander in the Peta
(Defenders of the Fatherland), a Japanese-trained militia.
1945 - On 14 August Japan
surrenders unconditionally, ending the Second World War.
officially joins the Indonesian Army on the same day it is founded, 5
October. He fights against the Dutch during the war for independence, is
appointed commander of the Third Regiment, and distinguishes himself
during an attack on Yogyakarta
on 1 March 1949.
Following independence, Suharto remains
in the military. He serves on the island of Sulawesi,
then returns to Central Java.
1953 - In March Suharto is posted to Solo
as commander of Infantry Regiment 15.
1955 - At Indonesia's
first democratic election held on 29 September no party wins a majority
of seats in the country's single House of Parliament, although Sukarno's
Indonesian Nationalist Union (PNI) wins more votes than any other party.
The resulting political instability is heightened by the self-serving
actions of military officers in some regional areas and by the growth of
an Islamic separatist movement.
1957 - In attempt to prevent the new republic from breaking apart
Sukarno proclaims martial law on 14 March and turns to the PKI and the
armed forces (ABRI) to assist with his plan for the introduction of a
At the end of the year, PKI-controlled unions lead a movement to nationalise Dutch-owned companies. The Royal Packetship Company (which controls most of the
archipelago's shipping) and Royal Dutch Shell are seized and 46,000 Dutch
nationals are expelled from the country. Officers from ABRI are given a
role in managing the nationalised firms.
Meanwhile, Suharto is promoted to
regional commander in the Diponegoro Division
Java, with the rank of full colonel.
In this position he begins to engage in business ventures to help fund
his command, a practice that is common throughout the Indonesian
1958 - Military and Muslim political figures rebel against Sukarno
in February, proclaiming the Revolutionary Government of the Indonesian
The rebellion is quashed by the middle of the year. The United States'
covert support of the rebels pushes Sukarno closer to the Soviet Union
and the People's Republic of China.
1959 - The success of Suharto's
extra-military business activities attracts the attention of the high
command. Suharto is implicated in sugar
smuggling and other corrupt practices. He is removed from his command and
ordered to take a course at the Army Staff and Command School in Bandung,
Java. However, despite this
reprimand, Suharto will be promoted to
brigadier-general in January 1960.
In July Sukarno dissolves the House of Representatives and
formally introduces 'Guided Democracy'. A new parliament established in
March 1960 contains a majority of directly appointed representatives,
including blocks from the military (later known as the Golkar party) and from the PKI. The leader of the PKI
heads a newly formed House of Assembly.
The influence of the PKI expands in the early 1960s. Membership of
the party reaches two million. Affiliated unions and peasant organisations have as many as nine million members.
The PKI is directly involved in the implementation of land and social reforms encompassed by the 'Guided Democracy' credo
and is active in pursuing an independent foreign policy aligning Indonesia
By 1964 fears of a communist takeover of the country become widespread.
1960 - Sukarno breaks diplomatic relations with the Dutch and sets
up the Army Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad),
a special military unit formed to recover West New Guinea, which is
still occupied by the Dutch. Suharto commands
the unsuccessful 'Operation Mandala' to drive
the Dutch out. Full-scale war is averted by a United Nations (UN) and
US-brokered settlement that sees the territory handed to Indonesia
in May 1963. However, under the 'New York Agreement' the territory will
have the right after five years to make an "act of free choice"
to determine its future.
1961 - Suharto is posted to Army
Headquarters in Jakarta.
Following this posting he embarks on his first overseas trip.
1962 - At the start of the year Suharto is
promoted to major-general and placed in charge of the Diponegoro
1963 - On 23 September Sukarno begins a confrontation with the newly
formed state of Malaysia,
across the Strait of Malacca to the north of Sumatra. The low-level
conflict draws in Britain,
and the Soviet
Union and lasts until 1964, the
so-called 'Year of Living Dangerously'. Meanwhile Suharto
is made commander of Kostrad, which now acts as
a special alert force.
1964 - Golkar (the Joint Secretariat of
Functional Groups) is established by the military and backed financially
and organisationally by the government.
1965 - Suspicions that the communists will attempt to take over the
country are raised when the PKI, with Chinese backing, proposes to
establish a "fifth force" of armed peasants and workers. The
military divides into factions, with one group supporting Sukarno and the
PKI, and the other opposed. Suharto, who is now
army chief-of-staff, sides with the opponents.
On 30 September pro-communist military officers (the so-called
September 30 Movement) attempt to stage a coup d'état, allegedly to
prevent a coup by their opponents in the military. Six anti-Sukarno
generals and a lieutenant are kidnapped and killed by the pro-communists.
Suharto, who had been informed of the
anti-Sukarno coup plot but failed to head it off, leads a counter force
that puts down the pro-communists and allows him to take control of the
The failure of the coup will result in widespread reprisals
against the communists, although the role of the PKI in the coup attempt
position is formalised on 16 October when
Sukarno appoints him as minister for and commander of the army. Suharto subsequently orders the military to
"clean up" the PKI.
PKI members and Chinese are targeted by the military,
military-backed militias and violent mobs, with
up to two million being murdered (most reports estimate the number at
around 500,000). The military is purged of pro-Sukarno elements. Sukarno
is now politically and militarily isolated, allowing Suharto
to rise to ultimate power.
1966 - On 11 March Sukarno transfers supreme authority to Suharto, who quickly acts to introduce his 'New
Order' (Orde Baru).
The PKI is banned on 12 March. PKI members are purged from the
parliament. Labour organisations
are banned and controls on the press are tightened. The confrontation
is ended, relations with Western powers are reestablished, and ties with China
are suspended. All power is centralised on Suharto, who is the final arbiter of all political
Overall spending on the military is increased, with some financial
assistance coming from the US,
and the armed forces are given a central and permanent role in civil
governance and economic management, setting the ground for the later
development of endemic corruption. Two new intelligence gathering
agencies are established to prevent the reemergence of the PKI - the
Operational Command for the Restoration of Security and Order (Kopkamtib) and the State Intelligence Coordination
The military detains about 200,000 people allegedly involved in
the attempted coup, with the detainees being divided into three
categories. Those in 'Group A' (PKI leaders and associates "directly
involved") are sentenced by military courts to death or long terms
in prison; 'Group B' detainees (those less actively involved) are sent to
prison, in some cases until 1980; those in 'Group C' (mostly rank and
file PKI members) are generally released. Executions of detainees
continue until as late as 1990.
1967 - On 12 March the House of Assembly strips Sukarno of all
political power and installs Suharto as acting
president. Sukarno is kept under virtual house arrest until his death on
21 June 1970. During the year Indonesia
joins with Malaysia,
to form a new regional and officially nonaligned grouping, the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Indonesia's
diplomatic relations with China
are broken and most Chinese-language newspapers are closed.
In August, Suharto places all the
divisions of the armed forces under his control. Full political control
is also ensured when the Assembly agrees that the government will
directly appoint one third of its members. Suharto
handpicks judges, the governor of the central bank, the board of
directors of each state-owned company and the chairman of the Security
and Exchange Commission.
1968 - On 21 March Suharto is formally
elected for a five-year term as president. He will remain in the position
until 1998, standing unopposed for successive five-year terms in 1973,
1978, 1983, 1988, 1993 and 1998.
1969 - Suharto honours
the 'New York Agreement' and allows West New Guinea vote on the
UN-monitored "act of free choice" to determine if it wants to
join the Indonesian
The vote is carried but the method of the referendum throws the result
into question. Rather than a general plebiscite the vote is restricted to
1025 selected community representatives. After the UN General Assembly
ratifies the vote in November West New Guinea
becomes the 26th province
and is renamed Irian Jaya
The local resistance, the Free Papua Movement (OPM), rejects the
referendum result and begins an ongoing low-level insurgency, operating
from sanctuaries along the border with neighbouring
Papua New Guinea (PNG). The OPM advocates unification with PNG.
The Indonesian military establish a permanent presence in Irian Jaya to control the
indigenous population, who become increasingly concerned by the influx of
mainly Javanese immigrants brought in under the government's
1970 - On 22 January student protests are banned following a series
of demonstrations against corruption. In July a Suharto-appointed
commission finds that corruption is widespread throughout government. The
commission is shut down.
1971 - Golkar wins 62.8% of the vote in
general elections held in July. It becomes entrenched as the dominant
political force in Indonesia,
winning 62.1, and 64.3 percent of the popular vote respectively in the
general elections of 1977 and 1982. Other parties are marginalised
and forced to amalgamate and have their activities restricted.
By 1973 there are only three political parties allowed to operate
- Golkar, the United Development Party, and the
Indonesian Democratic Party. Suharto directly
appoints over 20% of the members of the House of Representatives. All Indonesia's
public servants are required to join a Golkar-controlled
association and are compelled to vote for Golkar
1974 - A military coup in Portugal
sees the installation of a new Portuguese Government determined to sever
the ties with its colonies, including East Timor and the small enclave of
Oecusse on the north coast of Timor. The decision divides
the East Timorese population.
The Timorese Democratic Union (UDT) initially favours
a continued association with Portugal.
The Marxist Revolutionary Front for East Timor's Independence
(FRETILIN) calls for the immediate participation of East Timorese in the
colonial government leading to full independence. When the UDT shifts its
position the two groups join in an independence campaign. The Popular
Democratic Association of Timor (Apodeti) favours integration with Indonesia
and receives backing from the Indonesian Government, which also wants to
see the province integrated.
Indonesia's policy on East Timor hardens following a meeting in
September between Suharto and Australian Prime
Minister Gough Whitlam, who acknowledges that it may be best if the
province joins Indonesia, if the East Timorese so wish.
1975 - The rise in the influence of FRETILIN causes concern in Indonesia,
which fears that East Timor may become a
beachhead for communist subversion. On 28 November FRETILIN proclaims the
Democratic Republic of East Timor. The opposition groups call on Indonesia
to intervene. Jakarta
On 7 December, Indonesia
invades, landing forces at the capital Dili and
at Baukau, 100 kilometres
to the east, and installing a puppet government composed of members of
UDT and Apodeti.
The occupation takes place with the blessing of US President
Gerald Ford and US
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who meet with Suharto
on 6 December, the day before the Indonesian troops are mobilised.
"I would like to speak to you, Mr
President, about another problem, Timor. ... FRETILIN is
infected the same as is the Portuguese Army with communism ... We want
your understanding if we deem it necessary to take rapid or drastic
action," Suharto tells the visitors.
Ford replies, "We will understand and will not press you on
this issue. We understand the problem you have and the intentions you
Kissinger says, "You appreciate that the use of US-made arms
could create problems. ... It depends on how we construe it; whether it
is in self-defence or is a foreign operation.
It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly. We would be able
to influence the reaction in America
if whatever happens, happens after we return."
It is estimated that 60,000 East Timorese or 10% of the population
are killed in the first two months of the invasion. All told, up to
250,000 of East
Timor's 1975 population of about
650,000 will die as a result of the occupation, which will last for 24 years.
1976 - The extent of corruption within Pertamina,
the national oil producer, is revealed when the company begins to default
on debt repayments. The company's total debt is estimated at more than
1978 - Widespread student demonstrations against the regime result
in a tightening of control over university campuses and the press.
1980s - Political and economic
corruption emerges as a major issue. Ties to Suharto
are seen as an essential prerequisite to doing business in Indonesia,
with those in favour being given lucrative
government contracts often at the expense of economic efficiency. Cronies
of the regime use their positions for personal enrichment and to enhance
their political power. Suharto's six children
use their privileged position to launch questionable business ventures.
Nevertheless, the number of Indonesians living in absolute poverty
drops from 60% to 14% between 1970 and 1990.
1980 - On 5 May a group called the 'Petition of Fifty', composed of
former generals, political leaders, academics, students, and others,
calls for greater political freedom. The petition is not reported in the
Indonesian media. Restrictions are placed on the signatories to the
petition. The government takes no action on the concerns they have raised.
1982 - In September a new press-licensing scheme is introduced that
allows the government to close down an entire publishing house for an unfavourable article published in a single newspaper
1983 - A cease-fire agreement is signed between the Indonesian
Government and FRETILIN on 23 March, however the
Indonesian Army resumes its offensive on 31 August.
1984 - The 'Petition of Fifty' accuses Suharto
of attempting to establish a one-party state. After riots against the
regime break out in September a high level member of the 'Petition of
Fifty' and former secretary-general of ASEAN is put on trial for
antigovernment activities and sentenced to a 10-year jail term.
1985 - In August hundreds of alleged PKI supporters are removed
from government jobs. Many PKI members imprisoned since the coup attempt
of 1965 are executed.
1987 - Golkar wins the general elections
held in April with an increased majority.
1990 - Resistance to Indonesian rule begins to resurface in the
staunchly Islamic province
in the westernmost part of Sumatra,
spearheaded by the Free Aceh (Aceh Merdeka) separatist
movement. The military are unsparing in their efforts to crush the
separatists, with the number killed estimated to be about 5,000. The
conflict continues throughout the 1990s, as does that in Irian Jaya.
1991 - On 12 November at the Santa Cruz
cemetery in Dili, Indonesian troops shoot and
kill 271 unarmed Timorese attending the funeral of a young Timorese
killed during an earlier demonstration. The so-called 'Dili Massacre' receives worldwide coverage.
The international community responds to the incident by suspending
or threatening to suspend aid to Indonesia,
prompting Suharto to appoint a national
investigation commission to look into the incident.
The commission finds the army guilty of "excessive
force". The senior officer in East Timor and his superior in Bali are replaced, three officers are
dismissed from the army, and at least eight officers and soldiers are
court-martialled. Four junior officers are
sentenced to jail terms of between eight and 14 months. However, the
punishments are relatively light compared to the harsh sentences meted
out to the Timorese accused of instigating the incident.
1992 - At the general elections held in June Golkar
is again returned with a massive majority.
1993 - In March the US begins to support
critics of Indonesia's
rule in East Timor.
The UN Human Rights Commission adopts a resolution expressing "deep
concern" at human rights violations by Indonesia in East Timor. In May the administration
President Bill Clinton places Indonesia
on a human rights "watch" list. When Suharto
in July, concerns are raised about the East Timor human rights issue.
1994 - Talks between senior Indonesian Government figures and some
Timorese resistance leaders are reported to take place in September.
Talks between Indonesia
about East Timor
also resume. Riots break out in the territory in November.
Towards the middle of the year Suharto
indicates that he may not stand for a seventh term as president at the
elections scheduled for 1998.
1996 - Rioting breaks out in Jakarta
on 27 July after security forces seize the headquarters of the Indonesian
Democratic Party, occupied since June by supporters of former party head
Megawati Sukarnoputri, Sukarno's daughter, following her ousting in a
government-engineered takeover of the party.
1997 - In February Suharto visits Burma
to finalise a deal on the construction of toll
roads by a company run by his eldest daughter, Siti
Hardiyanti Rukmana ('Tutut'). Most of the cars imported into Burma
are manufactured by a company controlled by Suharto,
whose second and youngest sons are also involved
in business ventures in the country.
general elections held on 29 May, increasing its majority. The election
takes place in an atmosphere of violence. Over 250 are estimated to have
died in clashes before the poll, including at least 17 in East Timor, where the military clamp
down on protesters following the vote.
According to the US State Department, "Parliamentary
elections are tightly controlled by the Government of Indonesia. The
electoral system severely limits political competition; Indonesian
citizens do not have the ability to change their government through
Towards the end of the year a financial and economic crisis in
Asia sends shockwaves through Indonesia.
Conditions attached to a multi-billion International Monetary Fund aid package
see prices rise, causing widespread social discontent. The floating of
the currency sees the value of the rupiah
plummet. Inflation and unemployment soar and the flight of capital accelerates.
Meanwhile, a World Bank report estimates that at least 20-30% of
Indonesian's development budget over two decades has been embezzled for
personal and political benefit.
In September Burmese dictator Ne Win
travels to Indonesia
for talks with Suharto, who complains that the
level of corruption in Burma
is affecting his investments.
1998 - Riots break out across the Indonesian archipelago in
February. In March, Suharto stands for and wins
a seventh term as president, despite earlier indications that he would
step down. Students take to the streets in massive and sustained
demonstrations calling on Suharto to resign and
demanding political change.
At the same time fresh riots shake Jakarta,
with looters targeting Chinese businesses. The riots are quelled by the
military but the largely peaceful student demonstrations are allowed to
proceed. With the pressure mounting, Suharto
finally relents, announcing his resignation on 21 May. He is replaced by
his deputy, Jusuf Habibie.
1999 - In May, Time Asia reports 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 3.6 million hectares
of real estate in Indonesia, including
100,000 square metres 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
2000 - Suharto comes under investigation
for the corruption that occurred during his presidency. On 29 May he is
placed under house arrest. In July it is announced that he will be
charged under a 1971 anticorruption law. He is 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.
The trial is set to begin on 31 August but the case collapses on 28
September when a panel of court-appointed doctors find
him permanently physically and mentally unfit to stand trial.
2002 - On 4 June it is reported that Indonesian state prosecutors
will check on Suharto's health with a view to
possibly reopening the corruption case against him. Suharto
had been spotted walking unaided and talking animatedly at a wedding in Jakarta.
A team of physicians examines Suharto on
18 June. They say they need to run more tests. On 12 August the doctors
announce that Suharto is suffering from a
non-specified "brain disease" that leaves him barely able to
speak. A state prosecutor says it is now unlikely that Suharto will ever go to trial.
Meanwhile, on 26 July Suharto's youngest
son, Hutomo 'Tommy' Mandala
Putra, is found guilty and jailed for 15 years
for organising the murder of the judge who in
September 2000 sentenced him to 18 months for his role in a land scam. He
is the first member of the Suharto family to be
found guilty and jailed for any offence.
The young Suharto maintains his
innocence but says he will not appeal the verdict or the sentence. He is
incarcerated in Cipinang Penitentiary in a
well-appointed three-room cell and is granted protection by his own
bodyguards and the services of a personal secretary.
His wife, family and friends are allowed to come and go as they
please and he makes frequent trips to Jakarta
for health checks. It is also reported that he continues to conduct his
business affairs while behind bars.
2003 - In January the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights
announces that it will conduct a wide-ranging inquiry into violations
committed during Suharto's reign. Beginning
with an investigation into the massacre of communists that followed the
alleged coup attempt in 1965, the 15-strong team will determine whether
human rights violations took place; whether state policies provided a
basis for rights violations; and whether Suharto
was directly involved. The investigation is expected to take five months
and could result in prosecutions.
2004 – In January the prospect that Suharto
will face prosecution is reignited when Indonesia's
attorney-general orders that new medical tests be conducted to determine
whether the former dictator is healthy enough to stand trial for
The development is reported to be a reaction to public concerns
following the naming of Suharto's eldest
daughter, Siti Hardiyanti
Rukmana ('Tutut'), as
a candidate for upcoming presidential elections, and to perceptions that Suharto is currently in good health.
On 10 February the attorney-general's office confirms that Suharto will made to undergo
further examinations by a special medical team. "Recently, he (Suharto) met (former Malaysian leader) Mahathir and people received an impression that he
was healthy," says spokesman Kemas Yahya. "We don't know whether he is physically
fir or not. That's why he must be examined."
lawyer says that while his client is in good health physically "his
disease becomes apparent when he is asked to speak, especially when he is
asked to remember something."
Meanwhile, on 25 March the international anticorruption organisation Transparency International (TI) places Suharto at the top of a list of the world's most
corrupt political leaders of the past two decades.
According to TI, Suharto is alleged to
have embezzled between US$15 billion and US$35 billion from Indonesia.
2005 - Suharto is admitted to the Pertamina
in Jakarta on 5 May
with "massive digestive bleeding" caused by diverticulosis.
On 11 May he is allowed to return to his home, although he still requires
intensive medical treatment.
Tommy Suharto's sentence for the murder of a
judge is reduced by the Indonesian Supreme Court from 15 to 10 years.
With remissions, it is possible that Tommy Suharto
could be released from jail within 12 months.
Comment: There is no doubt that the nascent Republic
required strong and stable leadership to set it on a path of progress and
development. And there is no doubt that this was always going to be
country was catapulted from what was basically a feudal society to a
democratic state in a matter of years. There was no tradition of
multiparty, participatory government and no great familiarity or
understanding of democratic institutions. There was however a legacy of
brutal colonialism and a tradition of political corruption overlying a
pervasive and ongoing cultural fatalism.
like Suharto was necessary to ensure social
cohesion in Indonesia,
but that does not excuse his excesses - the mass killings, the
breathtaking corruption, the refusal to step aside until his position
became untenable, the suffocating paternalism
that brought a nation to its knees.
Suharto is an embodiment of all that
is worst in Asian despots of the 20th Century. He combines the bloodthirstiness
Pol Pot and the greed of the Philippines'
Indonesia - A Country Study (Library of Congress Country Studies Series)
24 May 1999 - The Family Firm
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