Suharto (born June 8, 1921) is an Indonesian military strongman and was the second President of Indonesia, from 1967 to 1998. During the 1980s, he was an adherent of the concept of Asian values, but the Asian financial crisis of 1995 severely weakened his position. After being forced out of office, his family fortune was estimated at US$ 15 billion, placing him in the exclusive pantheon of billionaire kleptocrats, along with Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire.
Suharto has also been referred to as Bemusu, Soeharto, Mohamed Suharto, or Thojib N.J Suharto.
Suharto was born in Kemusu Argamulja, central Java, Indonesia. He joined the Dutch colonial forces and studied in the Dutch-run military academy. During World War Two, he became a battalion commander in the Japanese-sponsored local military.
During the following years he mainly served as an army officer in Java. In 1959 he was accused of smuggling and transferred to the army staff college in Bandung in west Java. In 1962 he reached the rank of major general and took charge of the Diponegoro division. During the Indonesian Confrontation, Suharto was a commander of Kostrad, a special alert force, and apparently gathering support.
By 1965, Suharto was the army chief of staff when the army split into pro- and anti-communist factions. After an apparent coup attempt by the Coomunist Party of Indonesian on September 28, Suharto lead the countercoup that crushed the communists. By the end of the conflict, he had regained the control of the army. He purged army of pro-Sukarno elements and forced Sukarno to give up all executive powers to him on March 11, 1966. There is a suspicion he received CIA backing in this. The confrontation with Malaysia ended.
Suharto established what he called the Order Baru (New Order). He purged the parliament of communists, crushed labour organizations and even increased press censorship. He also cancelled diplomatic ties with the People's Republic of China and re-established those with western countries and the United Nations. He became the final arbiter of all political decisions.
Suharto increased military funding and established two intelligence agencies - the Operational Command for the Restoration of Security and Order (Kopkamtib) and the State Intelligence Coordination Agency (Bakin). Perhaps 2 million people died in the post-coup purges and he had 200,000 arrested on suspicion of being involved with it. Most communists were sentenced to death (although some of the executions were delayed to 1990).
On March 12, 1967 Suharto became the acting president. On March 21 he was formally elected for the first of his five-year terms as a 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.
He also instituted repression against anything Chinese from newspapers and organizations to Chinese pictographs on packing crates because of their alleged communist sympathies.
In 1970 Suharto banned student protests after widespread protests against corruption. A commission found out that corruption was very common. Suharto approved only two cases and then closed the commission. Corruption would become endemic.
He ruled through military control and media censorship. He controlled the finance by giving easy deals and monopolies to his relatives, including his six children.
In 1973 he won another five-year term. The same would happen in 1978, 1983, 1988, 1993 and 1998.
In 1975, he ordered Indonesian troops to invade East Timor after the FRETILIN movement seized power there. Later the puppet government installed by Indonesia requested the area be annexed to the country. It was estimated that a third of the local population was killed by the genocidal Indonesian army. On July 15, 1976 East Timor became the province of Timor Timur.
Corruption became a significant burden in the 1980s. On May 5, 1980 a group petition of fifty demanded more political freedom. 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.
Suharto's human rights record also became steadily worse over the years. In 1993 the UN Human Rights Commission made a resolution that expressed deep concern over Indonesian human rights violations in East Timor. US president Clinton backed it.
In 1996 Suharto ousted Sukarno's daughter Megawati Sukarnoputri from the leadership of the Indonesian Democratic Party, one of the three legal parties. In June, her supporters occupied the party headquarters. After security forces arrested them, riots broke out in Jakarta.
In 1997, according to the World Bank, 20-30% of Indonesia's development budget had been embezzled over the years. The Asian financial crisis of the same year did not bode well for Suharto's rule when he was forced to apply for loans, which also meant increased IMF scrutiny.
Despite his previous promise to step down, Suharto had himself reinstalled as a president for the seventh time in March 1998. After numerous demonstrations and political and army pressure against him he was forced to resign on May 21. His successor was his deputy Jusuf Habibie.
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, 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 32-year rule.
On May 29, 2000 Suharto was placed under house arrest when Indonesian authorities begun 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. Though unable to prosecute Suharto, the state prosecuted his son Hutomo Mandala Putra, more widely known as Tommy Suharto.
He was sentenced to 15 years 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 maintains his innocence but says he will not appeal the verdict or the sentence. He is incarcerated in Cipinang Penitentiary in a comfortable three-room cell. He has the protection of his own bodyguards and the services of a personal secretary. His wife, family and friends are free to to come and go.