General Soeharto (commonly known as Suharto in the English-speaking world) (born June 8, 1921) was an Indonesian leader 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. He constructed a strong, centralized national government that maintained political stability in the diverse Indonesian archipelago through suppression of political dissent and regular use of the military to preserve control.



Suharto was born in Kemusuk Argamulja, Yogyakarta. 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. He first became widely known in the military for his surprise attack which seized Yogyakarta from them on March 1, 1949. Yogyakarta was held for only one day, but this manoeuvre was widely seen as symbolic of continuing Indonesian resistance against the Dutch forces.

During the following years he served as an Indonesian National Army, primarily stationed on Java. In 1959 he was accused of smuggling and transferred to the army staff college in Bandung, West Java. In 1962 he reached the rank of major general and took charge of the Diponegoro division. During the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation, Suharto was a commander of Kostrad (Strategic Reserve), a sizeable Army combat force, which most importantly had significant presence in the Jakarta area. 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

On the morning of October 1 1965, some of Sukarno's closest guards kidnapped and murdered six of the right-wing anti-Communist generals. One survivor, who was not targeted in the suspected coup attempt, was Suharto. Sukarno's guards claimed that they were trying to stop a CIA-backed military coup which was planned to remove Sukarno from power on "Army Day", the 5th of October.

The assassinations brought swift retaliation from Suharto and the rest of the right-wing military, who purged the Indonesian armed forces of pro-Sukarno and pro-Communist elements. General Suharto and his followers called this group the "30th of September Movement" (commonly referred to in its Bahasa Indonesia abbreviation, "G30S" or "Gestapu") . The presence of Suharto's Kostrad units in the Jakarta area allowed his allies to quickly mobilize and seize control of the capital.

Establishment of the "New Order"

Soon after seizing the capital and surrounding areas, the faction of the military loyal to Suharto (along with allies in Islamic and student groups) demanded Sukarno's ouster. They acted as vigilantes against alleged Sukarno-loyalists, communist sympathizers, and the Indonesian Chinese minority throughout the country.

On March 11, 1966 the ailing Sukarno wrote a letter (the "Surat Perintah Sebelas Maret" or "Supersemar") that formally granted Suharto emergency powers over the nation.Template:Mn Through this, Suharto established what he called the Orde Baru (New Order). He consolidated his power by banning the Communist Party of Indonesia and its alleged front groups, purging the parliament and cabinet of Sukarno-loyalists, eliminating independent labor unions and instituting press censorship.

Internationally, Suharto put Indonesia on a course toward improved relations with Western nations, while ending its friendly relations with People's Republic of China. He dispatched his foreign minister, Adam Malik to mend strained relations with the United States, United Nations, and Malaysia and end the Confrontation.

On March 12 1967 Suharto was named President by Indonesia's provisional parliament. On March 21 he was formally elected for the first of his five-year terms as 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.

To maintain order, Suharto greatly expanded the funding and powers of the Indonesian state apparatus. He established two intelligence agencies—the Operational Command for the Restoration of Security and Order (KOPKAMTIB) and the State Intelligence Coordination Agency (BAKIN)—to deal with threats to the regime. Suharto also established the Bureau of Logistics (BULOG) to distribute rice and other staple commodities granted by USAID. These new government bodies were put under the military regional command structure, that under Suharto was given a "dual function" role as both a defense force and as civilian administrators.


Due to a number of factors (chiefly Suharto-era censorship), the numbers of casualties from the 1965–67 civil war are heavily disputed. Estimates of the death toll of the conflict range from over 100,000 to 1.5 million.

It is known that with Suharto's rise, those Indonesian dissidents who survived were branded tapol (short for tahanan politik or "political detainee"). During Suharto's reign, tapol were given harsh prison sentences and their property seized by the government, and upon release carefully monitored and banned from public life. The status of tapol equally tainted the reputations of their spouses, children, and relatives.

These included prominent figures from the Sukarno years, including Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Indonesia's best known literary author. He was accused of belonging to a communist-led intellectual group LEKRA and sentenced to a penal colony on Buru. When restrictions on tapol's communication were eased Pramoedya published a book of memoirs, The Mute's Soliloquy, with detailed accusations of forced labour, starvation, and other abuses within the colony. ("Tapol Troubles" 1999)

Both supporters and critics of Suharto acknowledge that the period of the civil war was marked by human rights abuses. Supporters of Suharto claim that these were justified due to the imminent threat of a PKI-led coup, as was attempted in 1948. Critics of Suharto note that the PKI at 1965 had an inclination that was similar to Eurocommunism and preferred electoral politics to armed insurrection. They contend that Suharto's actions from 1965-67 were motivated solely by personal ambition.

The change in regime from Sukarno to Suharto, though brutal, brought a shift in policy that allowed for USAID and other relief agencies to operate within the country. The short-term result was the alleviation of famine conditions due to shortfalls in rice supply and Sukarno's reluctance to take Western aid.

Western support

Despite a longtime veil of Cold War secresy that still remains over this time period, there is archival and anecdotal evidence of Western (primarily American, British, and Australian) assistance in Gen. Suharto's seizure of power. These countries had each taken an interest in regime-change from Sukarno, viewed as belligerent due to his embrace of the People's Republic of China and because of the Confrontation in Malaysia, to a more Western-friendly leader.

Beginning in 1990, American diplomats divulged to the Washington Post and other media outlets that they had compiled lists of Indonesian "communist operatives" had turned over as many as 5,000 names to military and intelligence loyal to Gen. Suharto.(Kadane 1990)

In 2001, the National Security Archive at George Washington University obtained several internal documents of the U.S. Department of State, bolstering the ambassadors' claims of American collaboration with Gen. Suharto. However, the National Security Archives claim that communications between Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency have been heavily redacted.

The role of the United Kingdom's Foreign Office and MI6 intelligence service has also come to light, in a series of exposs in The Independent newspaper beginning in 1997. The revelations included an anonymous Foreign Office source stating that the decision to unseat Pres. Sukarno was made by Prime Minister Harold MacMillan then executed under Prime Minister Harold Wilson. In particular, it was alleged that the Foreign Office's Information Research Department coordinated psychological warfare efforts along with the British military to spread propaganda that cast the PKI, Indonesian Chinese, and Sukarno in a bad light.

The role of MI6 in Suharto's rise, while strongly implicated by the use of the Information Research Department, is denied by the UK government and papers relating to it have yet to be declassified by the Cabinet Office. (Lashmar and Oliver 2000)

Height of the New Order

The two decades immediately following Suharto's wresting of power were marked by an expansion of Indonesia's military and economic power, as well as the assertion of Indonesian identity over regional or ethnic identities. Conversely, Indonesia under Suharto had little tolerance for dissent, and is generally thought of as an abuser of human rights.

Indonesia as "Asian Tiger"

On economic matters, Pres. Suharto relied on a group of American-educated economists, nicknamed the "Berkeley Mafia," to set policy. Soon after coming to power, he passed a number of reforms meant to establish Indonesia as a center of foreign investment. These included the privatization of its natural resources to promote their exploitation by industrialized nations, labour laws favorable to multinational corporations, and soliciting funds for development from institutions including the World Bank, Western banks, and friendly governments. ("Indonesia Economic" 2005)

As unchecked forces in Indonesian society under New Order, however, members of the military and Golkar Party were heavily involved as intermediaries between businesses (foreign and domestic) and the Indonesian government. This lead to a great deal of corruption in the form of bribery, racketeering, and embezzlement. Funds from these practices often flowed to foundations (yayasan) controlled by the Suharto family. The system became so pervasive that Berlin-based NGO Transparency International named Suharto as the most corrupt politician, and so entrenched that Indonesia has been consistently rated among the most corrupt nations.

Unitary state and regional unrest

From his assumption of office until his resignation, Suharto continued the policy of his predecessor Sukarno in asserting the Republic of Indonesia's sovereignty. He acted zealously to stake and enforce territorial claims over much of the region, through both diplomacy and military action.

In 1969, Suharto moved to end the longtime controversy over the last of the Netherlands East Indies colonies, West Papua. Working with the United States and United Nations, an agreement was made to hold a referendum on self-determination, in which participants could choose to remain part of the Netherlands, to integrate with the Republic of Indonesia, or to become independent. Though originally phrased to be a nationwide vote of all adult West Papuans, the "Act of Free Choice" was held JulyAugust 1969 allowed only 1022 "chiefs" to vote. The unanimous vote was for integration with the Republic of Indonesia, leading to doubts of the validity of the vote. (Simpson)

In 1975, after Portugal withdrew from its colony of East Timor and the Fretilin movement momentarily took power, Suharto ordered troops to invade the country. 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.

In 1976, the regime was challenged in the province of Aceh by the formation of the Free Aceh Movement, or GAM, who demanded independence from the unitary state. Suharto quickly authorized troops to put down the rebellion, forcing several of its leaders into exile in Sweden. Prolonged fighting between GAM and the Indonesian military and police led Suharto to declare martial law in the province, by naming Aceh a "military operational area" (DOM) in 1990.

Underpinning Suharto's territorial ambitions was the rapid development of Indonesia's traditional urban centers. The rapid pace of this development had vastly increased their population density. In response, Suharto pursued the policy of transmigration to promote movement from crowded cities to rural regions of the archipelago where natural resources had not yet been exploited.

Suharto with
Suharto with William Cohen

Politics and dissent

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 criminalising 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 party; the Islamist United Development Party ( PPP), and the Democratic Party of Indonesia (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 May 5, 1980 a group Petition of Fifty (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 shifted allies from the former to the latter, leading to the rise of B.J. Habibe 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 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.Template:Mn In 1993, under President Bill Clinton, 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.Template:Mn

Reformation protests and the fall of Suharto

In 1996 Suharto undertook efforts to pre-empt a challenge to the New Order government. The Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI), a legal party that had traditionally propped up the regime had changed direction, and began to assert its independence. Suharto fostered a split over the leadership of PDI, backing a co-opted faction loyal to deputy speaker of Parliament Suryadi against a faction loyal to Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of Sukarno and PDI's proper chairperson.

After the Suryadi faction announced a party congress to sack Megawati would be held in Medan June 20 - 22, 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 lead 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 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 July 26, officers of the military, Suryadi, and Suharto openly aired their disgust with the forums. (Aspinall 1996)

On July 27, 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)

In 1997 Asian financial crisis had dire consequences for the Indonesian economy and society, and Suharto's regime. The Indonesian currency, the rupiah, took a sharp dive in value. Suharto came under scrutiny from international lending institutions, chiefly the World Bank, IMF and the United States, over longtime embezzlement of funds and some protectionist policies. In December, Suharto's government signed a letter of intent to the IMF, pledging to enact austerity measures, including cuts to public services and removal of subsidies, in return for receiving the aid of the IMF and other donors.

Beginning early 1998, the austerity measures approved by Suharto had started to erode domestic confidence in the regime. Prices for goods such as kerosene and rice, and fees for public services including education rose dramatically. The effects were exacerbated by widespread corruption.

Suharto stood for reelection by parliament for the seventh time in March 1998, justifying it on the grounds of the necessity of his leadership during the crisis. The parliament approved a new term. This sparked protests and riots throughout the country, now termed the Indonesian 1998 Revolution. Dissension within the ranks of his own Golkar Party and military finally weakened Suharto, and on May 21 he stood down from power. He was replaced by his deputy Jusuf Habibie.

On  , after enormous political pressure and numerous demonstrations, the revolutionaries gained their prize: Suharto announces his resignation on Indonesian TV
On 21 May 1998, after enormous political pressure and numerous demonstrations, the revolutionaries gained their prize: Suharto announces his resignation on Indonesian TV

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, jewelery 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 km² of real estate in Indonesia, including 100,000 m² of prime office space in Jakarta and nearly 40 percent 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. He has since been hospitalized repeatedly for stroke and heart problems.

Unable to prosecute Suharto, the state prosecuted his son Hutomo Mandala Putra, more widely known as Tommy Suharto. He was sentenced to 15 years in 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.

On May 6, 2005, Suharto was taken to Pertamina Hospital in Jakarta with intestinal bleeding, believed to be from diverticulosis. The political elite of Indonesia, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Jusuf Kalla, visited his bedside. He was released and returned home, May 12, 2005.

On May 26 2005, the Jakarta Post reported that amid an effort by the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to crack down on corruption, Indonesian Attorney General Abdurrahman Saleh appeared before a Parliamentary commission to discuss efforts to prosecute New Order figures, including Suharto. Attorney General Abdurrahman remarked that he hoped Suharto could recover so that the government could begin inquiries into New Order human rights violations and corruption for purposes of compensation and recovery of state funds, but expressed skepticism that this would be possible. The Supreme Court of Indonesia also issued a decree making the office of the Attorney General responsible for supervising Suharto's medical care.

Presidents of Indonesia
Preceded by:

Followed by:
Jusuf Habibie
Politics of Indonesia


Template:Mnb In 1991 a government minister admitted that the Indonesian national archives possessed only a copy of this letter and not the original. In 1992 another government minister called for whomever is in possession of the original document to submit it to the national archives. However, there are several testimonies from eyewitnesses who claim that such a document did exist, and that the copy in the archives is a faithful reproduction of the original.

Template:Mnb See United States Cong. House of Representatives. 102nd Congress, 2d Session. H.R. 5368, 2nd Session Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 1993 ( Title III - International Military Education and Training: "[N]one of the funds appropriated under this heading may be made available for Indonesia unless the Secretary of State certifies to the Committees on Appropriations that [. . .] special emphasis is being placed on education of Indonesian military personnel that will foster greater awareness of and respect for human rights and that will improve military justice systems."

Template:Mnb See UN Commission on Human Rights resolution 1993/97, "Situation in East Timor ("


External links

eo:Suharto fr:Suharto id:Soeharto it:Suharto ms:Suharto nl:Soeharto ja:スハルト pl:Suharto zh:蘇哈托


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