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Living Dangerously

Suharto was brutal, corrupt, but staunchly pro-Western. His ruthless military regime brought comparative stability and steady economic growth for more than two decades. As his country prospered, he also used his power to enrich himself. It was said that all major business contracts in Indonesia flowed through companies directly controlled by his family and friends.

The Asian financial crisis, which began in mid-1997, spread quickly to Indonesia. Within a year, Indonesia's currency, the rupiah, had lost more than 80 percent of its value, nearly one fifth of the nation's workers were unemployed, and the price of food and basic necessities had skyrocketed.

Suharto, insensitive to the nation's mood, tried to quell the growing economic and political unrest through military repression. On May 12, 1998, four university students were shot following a peaceful demonstration. These killings sparked a popular rebellion. Massive riots shook the country's six largest cities, and within a week thousands of protestors had occupied the legislature in Jakarta, calling for Suharto to resign.

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Suharto's fall.

Under extreme pressure, Suharto did resign from the presidency in May 1998. He had ruled the nation for 32 years. Although there was pressure to bring Suharto to trial for his role in the massacres in East Timor, as well as on charges of corruption, he was shielded by the successor he appointed, President B. J. Habibie, who served for many years as Suharto's Vice President. Habibie issued an order blocking any investigation into the origins of Suharto's wealth.

When Abdurrahman Wahid was elected Indonesia's fourth President in 2000, he quickly rescinded Habibie's order; Suharto was placed under house arrest in June 2000 and officially charged with corruption several months later. The newspapers had a field day publishing estimates that he had stolen between $500 million and $30 billion from government foundations and state-run companies. Suharto wasn't entirely powerless, however, and the case against him was dismissed in 2001, when he was deemed too sick to stand trial.


"Timor Truth Commission Sworn in to Document Quarter-Century of Abuses." AGENCE FRANCE PRESS, January 21, 2002.


"Indonesian History." TheJakartaPost.com, March 13, 2000.

Moreau, Ron. "Indonesia v. Suharto." NEWSWEEK, September 11, 2000.

Mydans, Seth. "Suharto Is Formally Charged with Corruption." THE NEW YORK TIMES, August 4, 2000.

Spaeth, Anthony. "Don't Cry for Suharto." TIME Magazine, June 19, 2000.

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Photo of Suharto in a car

Suharto, like Sukarno before him, received the political support and camaraderie of many Western nations.
Suharto was brutal, corrupt, but staunchly pro-western. His ruthless military regime brought comparative stability and steady economic growth for more than two decades.

Suharto's propaganda films contained graphic and convincing imagery.
Photo of Suharto's propaganda films which contained graphic and convincing imagery
Photo of Abdurrahman Wahid

Indonesia's new democracy has arisen abruptly, and is unsteady. Suharto's resignation not only provided new opportunities for openness in the nation, but also created a power vacuum that must be filled before stability can be achieved.

© 2002 Educational Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

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