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Sukarno (June 6, 1901June 21, 1970) was the first President of Indonesia. He helped the country win its independence from the Netherlands and was President from 1945-1967, presiding over mixed success in the country's turbulent transition to independence. Sukarno was forced from power by one of his Generals, Suharto, who was granted the formal title of President in March 1967.

Sukarno's name is sometimes spelled Soekarno (pre-1972 spelling), and Indonesians also remember him as Bung Karno. Like many Javanese people, he had just one name.



The son of a Javanese nobleman and his Balinese wife from Buleleng regency, Sukarno was born in Surabaya (although several sources said he was born in Blitar, East Java) in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). He was admitted into a Dutch-run school as a child. When his father sent him to Surabaya in 1916 to attend a secondary school, he met Tjokroaminoto, a future nationalist. In 1921 he began to study at the Technische Hoogeschool in Bandung.

Sukarno was fluent in several languages, especially Dutch. He once remarked that when he was studying in Surabaya, he often sat behind the screen in movie theaters reading the Dutch subtitles in reverse, because he could not afford the regular front seating's price.

Independence struggle

Sukarno became a leader of an Indonesian independence movement party, Partai Nasional Indonesia when it was founded in 1927. He also promoted his belief that Japan would commence a war against the imperialist Western powers and that Java could then gain its independence with Japan's aid. He was arrested in 1929 by Dutch colonial authorities and sentenced to two years in prison. By the time he was released, he had become a popular hero. In the 1930s he was again arrested several times and was in jail when Japan occupied the archipelago in 1942.

World War II and the Japanese occupation

During World War II, indigenous forces across both Sumatra and Java aided the Japanese against the Dutch, but would not cooperate in the supply of the aviation fuel which was essential for the Japanese war effort. Desperate for local support in supplying the volatile cargo, Japan now brought Sukarno back to Jakarta.

Sukarno refused to ever talk about his actions during the war. However, several historians noted that he helped the Japanese in obtaining its aviation fuel as well as Romusha (volunteer work units) and Peta and Heiho (Javanese volunteer army troops) by use of Sukarno's speech broadcast on the Japanese radio and loud speaker networks across Java. By mid-1945 these units numbered around two million, and were preparing to defeat any Allied forces sent to re-take Java.

On November 10, 1943 Sukarno was decorated by the Emperor of Japan in Tokyo. He also became head of Badan Penyelidik Usaha Persiapan Kemerdekaan Indonesia (BPUPKI), the Japanese-organized committee through which Indonesian independence was later gained.

Early independence

Following the Japanese surrender, Sukarno, Mohammad Hatta, and Radjiman Wediodiningrat were summoned by Marshal Terauchi, Commander-in-Chief of Japan's Southern Expeditionary Forces in Saigon. Sukarno initially hesitated in declaring Indonesia's independence. He and Mohammad Hatta were kidnapped by Indonesian youth groups to Rengasdengklok, west of Jakarta. Finally Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta declared the Republic of Indonesia in August 17, 1945.

Sukarno's vision for the 1945 Indonesian constitution comprised the Panca Sila. (Sanskrit - five pillars). Sukarno's political philosophy was guided by (in no particular order) elements of Marxism, nationalism and Islam. This is reflected in the Panca Sila, in the order in which he originally espoused them in a speech on June 1, 19451:

  1. Nationalism (as in national unity)
  2. Internationalism (one nation sovereign amongst equals)
  3. Representative Democracy (all significant groups represented)
  4. Social Justice (Marxist influenced)
  5. Belief in God (with a secular)

The Indonesian parliament, founded on the basis of this original (and subsequent revised) constitutions, proved all but ungovernable. This was due to irreconcilable differences between various social, political, religious and ethnic factions2.

Sukarno's government initially refused to form a national army, for fear of antagonizing the Allied forces and their doubt in whether they will be able to form an adequate military apparatus. The various militia groups at that time were encouraged to join the BKR -- Badan Keamanan Rakyat (The People's Security Organization) -- itself a subordinate of the "War Victims Assistance Organization". It was only in October 1945 that the BKR was reformed into the TKR -- Tentara Kemanan Rakyat (The People's Security Army) in response to increasing Dutch presence in Indonesia. In the ensuing chaos between various factions and Dutch attempts to re-establish colonial control, Dutch troops captured Sukarno in December 1948, but were forced to release him after the ceasefire. He returned to Jakarta in December 28 1949.

Sukarno's government was not universally accepted in Indonesia. Indeed, many factions and regions attempted to separate themselves from his govenment, and there were several internal conflicts even during the period of armed insurgency against the Dutch. One such example is the Leftist-backed seccessionist attempt by elements of the military in Madiun, East Java in 1948, in which many accused supporters of the separatists were allegedly executed.

There were further attempts of military coups against Sukarno in 1956, including the well-publicized separatist movement in Sulawesi supported by the CIA, during which conflict an American aviator operating in support of the separatists was shot down and captured.

In an effort to restore order, Sukarno established what he called guided democracy, in which he wielded progressively more executive powers, whilst maintaining a multiparty parliament.

'Guided Democracy' and Increasing Autocracy

During this later part of his presidency, Sukarno came to increasingly rely on the army and the support of the PKI - the Communist Party of Indonesia.

On November 30, 1957, there was a grenade attack against Sukarno when he was visiting a school in Jakarta. Six children were killed but Sukarno did not suffer any serious wounds. In December he ordered the nationalization of 246 Dutch businesses. In February he began a breakdown of PRRI (Pemerintah Revolusioner Republik Indonesia) rebels at Bukittingi.

These PRRI rebels, a mix of anti-communist and Islamic movements, received arms and aid from Western sources, including the CIA. Until an American pilot was shot down after a bombing raid in northern Indonesia in 1958, the CIA sent arms to rebel movements on Sumatra as well as Sulawesi. The downing of this pilot, together with impressive victories of government forces against the PRRI, evoked a shift in US policy, leading to closer ties with Sukarno as well as Nasution, the head of the army and the most powerful anti-communist in the Jakarta government.

Over the following years Sukarno established government control over media and book publishing, and laws discriminating against Chinese Indonesian residents. The infamous PP/10 (Government Directive 10) of 1959 banning "foreign citizens" from operating in rural areas forced the Chinese Indonesian residents to move out of rural areas and relocate to urban areas. In July 5 1959 he reestablished 1945 constitution, dissolved the parliament, molded it to his liking and assumed full personal power as a prime minister. He called the system as government-by-decree Manifesto Politik or Manipol. He sent his opponents to internal exile.

In the 1950s he increased his ties to China and admitted more communists to his government. He also began to accept increasing amounts of Soviet bloc military aid. This aid, however, was surpassed by military aid from the Eisenhower Administration, which worried about a leftward drift should Sukarno rely too much on Soviet bloc aid. However, Sukarno increasingly attempted to forget a new alliance called the New Emerging Forces, as a counter to the old superpowers whom he accused of spreading "Neo-Colonialism, Colonialism and Imperialism". His political alliances gradually shifted towards Asian powers such as the PRC and North Korea.

The Bandung Conference was held in 1955 in Bandung, with the goal of uniting developing Asian and African countries into a non-aligned movement to counter against the competing superpowers at the time. In order to increase Indonesia's prestige, Sukarno supported and won the bid for the 1962 Asian Games held in Jakarta. Many sporting facilities such as the Senayan sports complex, and supporting infrastructure were built to accommodate the games. There was political tension when the Indonesians refused the entry of delegations from Israel and Taiwan.

In March 1960 Sukarno dissolved the elected Assembly and replaced it with an appointed Assembly, and in August he broke off diplomatic relations with the Netherlands over Dutch New Guinea (West Papua.) After West Papua declared itself independent in December of 1961, Sukarno ordered raids to West Irian (Dutch New Guinea). There were more assassination attempts when he visited Sulawesi in 1962. West Irian was brought under Indonesian authority in May 1963 under the Bunker Plan. In July of the same year Sukarno had himself proclaimed President for Life.

Sukarno also opposed the British-supported Federation of Malaysia, claiming that it was a neocolonial plot to advance British interests. In spite of his political overtures, Malaysia was proclaimed in September 1963. This led to the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation (Konfrontasi) and the end of remaining US military aid to Indonesia. Sukarno withdrew Indonesia from the UN Security Council in 1965 when with US backing, the nascent Federation of Malaysia took a seat. Sukarno also became increasingly ill and collapsed in public in August 9, 1965. He was secretly diagnosed with kidney disease.

Removal from power

On the morning of October 1, 1965, some of Sukarno's closest guards kidnapped and murdered six anti-Communist generals and a guard. One survivor, who was not targeted in the suspected coup attempt, was Lieutenant-General 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 10th of October.

This brought an immediate retaliation from Suharto and the rest of the military, sparking a crackdown on the Communist Party (The PKI or Partai Komunis Indonesia) and a nation-wide killing of some 500,000 suspected Communists, most of whom were peasants. The army encouraged anti-communist organizations and individuals to join in killing anyone suspected of being a communist sympathizer. The murders were concentrated in Sumatra, East Java and Bali. By the time they petered out in 1966, an estimated half a million Indonesians have been slaughtered by soldiers, police and pro-Suharto vigilantes. The ethnic Chinese were also targeted, primarily for economic and racial reasons. The embasssy of the PRC was overran by demonstrators and looted.

An official CIA report called the purge "one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century."2 American diplomats 25 years later revealed that they had compiled lists of Indonesian "communist operatives" and had turned over as many as 5,000 names to the Indonesian military. Robert Martens, former member of the US political embassy in Jakarta said in 1990: "It really was a big help to the army. They probably killed a lot of people, and I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that's not all bad. There's a time when you have to strike hard at a decisive moment." Howard Fenderspiel, the Indonesia expert at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research in 1965: "No one cared, as long as they were communists, that they were being butchered. No one was getting very worked up about it"3

Sukarno's grip on power was weakened in the crisis, and eventually, pro-Western Lieutenant-General Suharto forced Sukarno to hand over executive powers on March 11, 1966 in a Presidential Order called 'Supersemar (Surat Perintah Sebelas Maret -- The March 11 Order) in which Sukarno yielded all executive powers to Suharto in order to restore peace. In 1991 a government minister admitted that the national archives only possessed a copy of this letter, and 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.

There is much speculation about who triggered the crisis that led to Sukarno's removal from power. While the semi-official version claims that the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) ordered the murders of the six generals, others blame Sukarno, and some believe Suharto orchestrated the assassinations to remove potential rivals for the presidency4.

There are also the strong evidence for the possibility that Sukarno was toppled by the United States because of his perceived Communism and ties to China and the Soviet Union. The PKI was the largest communist party at the time outside the Soviet Bloc and China, and was growing in influence. The Americans did not want the PKI to come to power in Indonesia, so in any case, they were happy with the outcome of the coup.

Sukarno was stripped of his presidential title by Indonesia's provisional parliament on March 12, 1967 and he remained under house arrest until his death at age 69 in Jakarta in 1970.

Megawati Sukarnoputri, the former Indonesian president, is his daughter.

Presidents of Indonesia
Preceded by:

Followed by:
Politics of Indonesia


To the US ambassador: "Go to hell with your aid!"

See also


  1. Kahin, Audrey R. and George McT. "Subersion as Foreign Policy: The Secret Eisenhower and Dulles Debacle in Indonesia", The New Press, 1995.
  2. Smith, Roger M (ed). Southeast Asia. Documents of Political Development and Change, Ithaca and London, 1974, pp. 174-183.
  3. Blum, William. Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, Black Rose, 1998, pp. 193-198
  4. U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Research Study: Indonesia -- The Coup that Backfired, 1968, p. 71n.
  5. Robert Cribb, ‘Nation: Making Indonesia’, in Donald K. Emmerson (ed.), Indonesia Beyond Suharto: Polity, Economy, Society, Transition. Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1999, pp.3-38bg:Сукарно

de:Achmed Sukarno es:Achmed Sukarno eo:Soekarno fr:Sukarno id:Soekarno it:Sukarno ms:Sukarno nl:Soekarno ja:スカルノ su:Sukarno fi:Sukarno zh:苏加诺


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