THE Ikeya-Seki comet appeared on Indonesia’s eastern horizon early one morning last October.
From the base of the volcano Agung, navel of creation and home of the Great Gods, the mystic prophets of the island of Bali watched it streak through the sky for ten days and were alarmed. It was an omen, they warned, of much death and change of government in the land.
The prophecy was all too accurate. Amid a boiling bloodbath that almost unnoticed took 400,000 lives, Indonesia, the sprawling giant of Southeast Asia, has done a complete about-face. It changed not only its government but its political direction, fundamentally, radically and unexpectedly. President Sukarno, after 20 years of egotistical misrule, has been stripped of almost everything but his palaces and women. A new regime has risen, backed by the army but scrupulously constitutional and commanding vociferous popular support.
“Indonesia is a state based on law not on mere power,” says its new leader, a quietly determined Javanese general whose only name is Suharto.
Under Suharto, the nation that last year was a virtual Peking satellite has become a vigorous foe of Red China. It has called off its senseless, undeclared war against Malaysia and revived its friendships with other neighbors. It has halted the economy-wrecking prestige projects that Sukarno so dearly loved. And in an orgy of flashing knives and coughing guns, it has virtually wiped out the Partai Komunis Indonesia (P.K.I.) —which under Sukarno had grown to be the third largest Communist Party in the world.
The Yellow Jackets. Last week in Djakarta, the fall of Sukarno was made complete. Gone were the giant billboards that once portrayed him as a people’s hero kicking Uncle Sam in the tail. Instead, the city’s fences and walls were covered with neatly scrawled slogans such as “Go to Hell, Marxism.” Gone were the Communist mobs that had made the U.S. embassy their favorite battleground, gone too the armed youth cadres that had marched daily through Djakarta, singing America, Satan of the World. Demonstrators still surged through the streets, but they wore the yellow jackets of the Anti-Communist Students Action Command, and the song they sang—to the tune of Michael Row the Boat Ashore—was “Sukarno should be pensioned off.”
The most dramatic scene of all was in the Moscow-built Bung Karno Sports Palace. There, under the silent, smiling gaze of General Suharto, the Provisional People’s Consultative Congress had been in session since the middle of June to put the final seal of legality on the great change. It had already confirmed Suharto’s authority to act “on behalf of” Sukarno. Last week, without a dissenting voice, it revoked Sukarno’s authority to issue decrees in his own name. It also formally outlawed any form of Marxism, approved Suharto’s moves to end the Malaysia conflict and his decision to reapply for membership in such world organizations as the United Nations, which Bung Karno had contemptuously abandoned. Then, in the unkindest cut of all, the Congress stripped the Bung of his lifetime presidency and ordered national elections within two years.
Me Bow? And what did Indonesia’s first and only President think of it all? “I have no desire to be a king, a king of kings, a shah-in-shah,” he told the Congress. “I want to participate in the leadership.” Fortunately, the Congress had agreed to let him help Suharto select a new Cabinet. It was “help” that Suharto was not likely to make much use of, but still it gave the participation the Bung needed to save face. “When I heard this, my heart felt like going ‘plong-plong,’ ” he said.
Thus spoke the man who less than a year ago was a snarling, swaggering demagogue whose hatred for the West made the Kremlin seem a neutralist. True enough, the Bung himself was not a Red (“Me bow down to Moscow? Anybody who ever came near Sukarno knows he has too much ego to be a slave to anybody”). Nor was Indonesia a member of the Communist bloc. Sukarno had his own ideas. His government, he constantly proclaimed, was based on the principle of NASAKOM—the happy union of Nationalism, Religion and Communism. The world was divided into NEKOLIM (neocolonialist imperialist powers) and NEFOS (the Newly Emerging Forces that would destroy imperialism). To speed the destruction, Sukarno was building a costly headquarters for a new “U.N.” to be known as CONEFO (Conference of Newly Emerging Forces). To promote the general cause, the Bung last year proposed a new Asian power bloc, a Djakarta-Peking axis, which he said was just the thing “to meet the demands of history.”
False Hopes. Everything, in fact, seemed to be going the Reds’ way. Under the skilled hand of Secretary-General Dipa Nusantara Aidit, the P.K.I, had risen from virtual oblivion after a 1948 coup attempt to a membership of 3,000,000—not including the 14 million members of its labor and youth fronts. At the suggestion of Chou Enlai, Sukarno had given the green light for a massive People’s Militia, which the Communists intended to use to contain the army—their only possible rival in any struggle for power. In addition, they were infiltrating the army. On the teeming island of Java, home of 65% of the population, the military was estimated to be 40% proCommunist.
From the Communists’ point of view, just about everything went wrong. It turned out that the great majority of their card carriers were simple peasants who had joined the party because it promised them land. Moreover, Indonesia’s Moslems, 90% of the population, were becoming increasingly resentful of the cavalier treatment they were getting at the hands of the confident Reds. Finally, the party ignored its basic tactical doctrine: that it would never try to seize power so long as Sukarno was alive.
Late in September, three Chinese acupuncturators summoned from Peking to treat Sukarno for a kidney ailment reported that the Bung was failing fast. Immediately, the party swung into action, advising the President that they were trying to forestall an army coup. Sukarno apparently gave the plotters his blessing. In any case, on the morning of Oct. 1 the youth cadres, a battalion of mobile police and two renegade army battalions set out from Halim Air Force base near Djakarta to launch the coup. Led by Colonel Untung, commander of Sukarno’s own palace guards, they quickly seized the government radio station and the telephone office, took over the presidential palace, and rounded up six leading anti-Communist generals, executed them and stuffed their bodies down a well. They missed the most important officers of all.
Unmarked Grave. General Abdul Haris Nasution, the man who had built the army’s power, leaped out of a rear window when his would-be kidnapers stormed into his home (they killed his six-year-old daughter, instead). General Suharto, who as chief of KOSTRAD (Strategic Reserve Command) was commander of all combat troops, was aroused by firing when the Reds apparently barged into the wrong house. Suspecting the worst, he drove to army headquarters to organize a counterattack.
It was not difficult to manage, for the Reds’ supposed millions ignored the party’s call to rise, and Sukarno got cold feet and refused to come out publicly on the side of the rebels. Together, Nasution and Suharto regained control of Djakarta within 24 hours, wiped out the last resistance in the Red strongholds of East and Central Java in less than six weeks. Party Boss Aidit, who was found hiding in the closet of a friend’s house in Solo, was executed in a military jail and buried in an unmarked grave.
Amok is a Javanese word, and it describes what happened at the collapse of the Communist coup. In a national explosion of pent-up hatred, Indonesia embarked on an orgy of slaughter that took more lives than the U.S. has lost in all wars in this century. The army was responsible for much of the killing, but Nationalist and Moslem mobs took the greatest toll. The slaughter began on Oct. 15 in Sukarno’s home town of Blitar, quickly spread through Java and the other major islands, and did not end until last month in the rubber plantations of the Sumatran rain forest. During the eight months the terror lasted, to be a known Communist was usually to become a dead Communist.
There was little remorse anywhere. “The Communists deserved the people’s wrath,” said Hadji Makrus AH, 57, the Kiai (Imam) of Kediri (pop. 250,000), a town that was about 60% Commu nist before the coup. To the Kiai, the slaughter was a “holy war,” and he told his flocks that by killing Communists they were serving both the state and Islam. The flocks responded by hauling 25,000 suspected Communists out of their homes. Many were decapitated, their heads impaled on poles outside their front doors for widows and children to see. So many bodies were thrown into the Brantas River that Kediri townsfolk are still afraid to eat fish —and communities downstream had to take emergency measures to prevent an outbreak of the plague.
Wavering General. While the slaughters went on around the country, Sukarno and the military were gingerly beginning their delicate dance for power in Djakarta. Quite naturally, the army looked for leadership to General Nasution, its Minister of Defense and highest ranking officer.
Nasution wavered. The murder of his daughter had left him profoundly shocked. One day he would demand that Sukarno outlaw the P.K.I, or resign, the next declare his undivided loyalty to the “Great Leader of the Revolution.” “General Nasution,” observes one leading politician, “is the Hamlet of Indonesia. He believes he is destined to save the country. But he vacillates in a moment of crisis.”
Nasution understood all too well that the army could not simply throw Sukarno out of office, for the Bung had remained a hero to millions of Indonesians. It was Sukarno, after all, who proclaimed independence in 1945, and Sukarno again who made Indonesia a name among the nonaligned nations by sponsoring the Bandung Conference in 1955. His pretty girl friends, fancy uniforms, lavish palaces and expensive monuments are a salve for a people whose colonial masters called them “ignorant, dirty natives.”
Part of his hold on Indonesia is mystical. In a land that believes fervently in spirits, sorcerers and prophets, he has become a genuine folk hero, identified in Java with a 14th century Prime Minister who built a great empire, and in Bali with Vishnu, the god of rain. Many of his countrymen believe that Sukarno is blessed with kesaktian, a supernatural magic power that protects him from evil and makes him superhuman. Palace servants used to sell bottles of his bath water to peasants, who hoped that by drinking it they would inherit some of his magic.
Double Six. Sukarno believes in some of the hocus-pocus himself. He always hides on his birthday, the sixth of June, because it is an unlucky number (“double six”). This year obviously was the worst of all. His birthday was 6/6/66. Long before the dreaded double double six, however, Sukarno’s luck had run out. He made his biggest mistake in February. He fired Nasution as Defense Minister and brought in two proCommunists to take his place. In the confusion that followed, the army had to come up with a new leader to fight the Bung. It chose Suharto.
Lieut. General Suharto, 48, is a stocky (5 ft. 6 in., 150 Ibs.) professional officer with wavy black hair, alert brown eyes, and an open, almost innocent face. He never had more than a high school education. At the time of the coup, he was virtually unknown outside the army. Whereas Sukarno has had at least six wives and seven children, Suharto has only one wife and six children. Sukarno drove around in a motorcade of screaming sirens (which Djakartans refer to as his “mating call”), while Suharto went about his duties in a Japanese Jeep. Suharto was more than the President had bargained for.
The second son among the eleven children of a Moslem merchant named Notoredjo, Suharto was born in the Central Javanese village of Sedaju-Godean near Jogjakarta. As a child he played soccer and attended a local secondary school, then went to work briefly as a bank clerk. It bored him, so in 1940, when he was 23, Suharto joined the Dutch colonial army. With Japanese occupation during World War II, he was sent to officer-training school for the Japanese-sponsored home-defense forces —which quickly became the secret plotting ground for the postwar independence revolution. Recalls a classmate: “Suharto was a serious man. He always did his best, and he had no time for relaxing. He was always training, always working.”
A Girl Named Titi. When independence was declared in 1945, the home-defense forces became the Indonesian army, and Suharto served with guerrilla units fighting the Dutch in Central Java. He rose fast. By 1949 he was military commander of the vital Jogjakarta area and led a brazen attack which drove the Dutch out of the city for four hours, just long enough to give the sagging independence movement a victory it badly needed.
The days of Dutch occupation in Jogjakarta had special personal significance for the young officer. During a lull in the war, he found time to marry a local girl named Titi, but when their first daughter, Siti, was born, the fighting had resumed and Suharto was back with his troops. Anxious to see his child, he sent a courier to arrange a secret meeting right under the noses of the Dutch. They met for one hour, in the cook’s quarters of the palace of the Sultan of Jogjakarta. He did not see his family again for nearly two years.
As a dedicated soldier, Suharto became deputy chief of staff of the army shortly after the Dutch finally withdrew, went on to command the forces charged with “liberating” West Irian from the Dutch. In 1964, Defense Secretary Nasution named him head of KOSTRAD, the powerful headquarters from which he rallied the army to crush last October’s Communist coup.
Throughout his career, Suharto has earned great respect as a professional military officer. Fellow officers say he has always had an uncanny feel for the instincts of his subordinates. “When he was a regimental commander, his decisions were right in line with the views of battalion commanders,” says one of his generals. “He’s tough as hell,” observes a Western military man, “a hard commander with a one-track mind.”
Matter of Pride. Suharto had the Bung’s number from the start. As a fellow Javanese, he understood Sukarno as the Sumatran Nasution never could. Like Sukarno, he consults his guru. And like Sukarno, he has become identified with a Javanese folk hero of the past—Wrekudara, the legendary Wajang warrior who preferred to walk to battle rather than ride in a chariot.
Realizing that the Bung valued his pride above all else, Suharto has never once criticized Sukarno in public. “The Bung is our President,” he has always insisted, and throughout his long campaign to tear down everything Sukarno stood for, he always made it appear that he was acting in the President’s name. Nor did he argue with Sukarno. “We have to treat Sukarno like a small boy,” says one of Suharto’s close colleagues. “You have to say to him, ‘Mr. President, you are right in your analysis of the situation and therefore this is what you should do.’ That way you persuade him to do what he does not want to do.” Added another officer: “If he objects, we try another path—right around him.”
One of the paths led straight to Ratna Sari Dewi, the lovely young Japanese girl who is Sukarno’s sixth and favorite wife.* The Bung met Dewi in 1959, when she was a hostess in a Tokyo nightclub, brought her back to Djakarta with him, and installed her in a large and pleasant villa just outside the city. When Suharto became boss, she took it upon herself to try to serve as an intermediary between the two men, and the General found that she could often talk the Bung into accepting compromises he had rejected from everyone else.
Fortunately for Suharto, he was always able to arrange pressure from backstage. Most of it came from two anti-Communist student unions, KAMI (for college students) and KAPPI (for high schools), which had been suppressed until the Communists lost control of the campuses after the disastrous October coup. Together they quickly became a lively, powerful, incessant force against Sukarno, and Suharto quietly encouraged them. “The KAMI has become a tool for social control,” he said. “I like to consider them as the Parliament in the street.”
Push & Pull. They were always in the street. When Sukarno, ignoring the rising national clamor to ban the P.K.I., appointed several Communist sympathizers to his Cabinet in February, the students swarmed through Djakarta, rioting, slashing car tires, and even storming Sukarno’s Merdeka Palace. A special target of their ire: wily Foreign Minister Subandrio, who was widely believed to be implicated in the Communist coup.
With Suharto gently pulling and the students rudely pushing, Sukarno was obviously in trouble. The climax came in March. Half a million youngsters from all over Indonesia had arrived in Djakarta, completely paralyzing the streets. As the mood of the city grew tense, Suharto called in troops from outlying areas to reinforce the capital garrisons —in the interest, of course, of protecting Sukarno. Then a curious thing happened. In the middle of a Cabinet meeting, Sukarno was handed a note saying that the palace was surrounded by rebellious troops.
The thought that even Suharto had lost control threw Sukarno into a panic. He took off immediately in a helicopter for his summer palace at Bogor, 40 miles away. Not alone. Subandrio was in such a hurry to accompany him that he left his shoes under the conference table.
Suharto had not lost control at all. That night he dispatched three generals to Bogor to advise the Bung that the army could no longer guarantee his safety from the mobs—unless he turned over emergency powers to Suharto. Finally convinced that he was in danger, Sukarno signed a decree authorizing Suharto to take, on behalf of the President, “all necessary measures for the security and tranquillity as well as the stability of the government.”
The President’s Name. That was all Suharto needed. On behalf of the President, he banned the P.K.I, and arrested Subandrio. In the name of the President, he also disbanded the presidential guard, installed his own troops to keep the President a virtual prisoner and denied him the right to speak in public without prior military consent. However, he rejected repeated student demands that Sukarno be fired alto gether. The Bung still had a strong following in Java, which would make such a step far too risky. Besides, said a fellow officer, “how could we write in our history books that the country’s only President was bad?”
With victory, Suharto inherited problems as vast and unmanageable as the nation of 3,000 islands he now has to control. One basic headache is transportation. After years of neglect, the roads are shockingly potholed, and many are simply impassable. In Java, road crews never bother to fill a hole until it becomes an unmistakable axle smashing hazard. In Sumatra, the holes are so large that as many as five palm logs must be dumped into them before even a Jeep can get through.
Museum Pieces. Indonesia’s railroads are creaking and unreliable. Most of the engines are so ancient that the government is trying to sell them back to Germany’s Krupp, their manufacturer, as museum pieces.
More serious is the problem of regionalism. Many of the islands resent the fact that Java holds most of the political control. In the 21 years since independence, Djakarta has had to put down at least six separatist revolts.
The greatest problem of all—and the one that Suharto is most immediately concerned about—is Indonesia’s shattered economy—if it can be called an economy. On the books, Indonesia went bankrupt years ago. It owes $2.4 billion to foreign creditors, and its exports bring in nowhere nearly enough money even to meet the interest payments. It has no foreign currency reserves, almost no foreign credit. The rupiah is literally not worth the paper it is printed on. The cost of living quintupled during the first six months of this year, and there is little hope of stopping its rise. No one knows how many people are on the government payroll, but the estimates range from less than 2,000,000 to more than 5,000,000—not including the army’s 500,000 men. Since for all practical purposes there is no income tax (all payments are voluntary), and since the government receives little revenue of any kind, it is forced to print almost all the money it needs.
Four Machines, Four Crews. The lack of foreign currency has left Indonesia’s industrial plant in a shambles. There is no money to import either the spare parts or the raw materials necessary to keep its antiquated machines running. Indonesian industry currently runs at 30% of normal production.
In his “nonaligned” stance, Sukarno took equipment from any country willing to lend him the money to pay for it. As a result, the electricity plant at Makasar, for example, operates on generators from four different countries, making it impossible to cannibalize one machine to supply spare parts for the rest —and requiring the services of four separate groups of maintenance men.
In a nation as lush and warm as Indonesia, life goes on. The skies of Java are dotted with bright kites flown by bright-eyed barefoot boys. In Makasar, spotted deer tethered to trees keep the grass cut short beside the boulevards; while, on the waterfront, Buginese sailmakers squat on the docks sewing large squares of canvas together. The spicy aroma of cooking fires drifts lazily in the twilight haze on the Musi River in Palembang, and the evening sun casts a warm orange glow on the great white mosque of Banda Atjeh. In Padang, the bustling bazaars are piled high with a rainbow of fruits and silks.
In the countryside, where 80% of the population still lives, the ravages of the world’s worst chronic inflation are scarcely felt. Most families can grow enough food to get along and often have enough left over to barter for clothes and even bicycles. In the cities, life for most is not so easy. The monthly wage of an average white-collar worker would barely buy a round of drinks in the Hotel Indonesia bar. To make ends meet, city dwellers have invented a sort of guerrilla economy. Almost everyone has a racket.
Rice for Teacher. Civilservants appear at the office only long enough to sign in, spend most of the day doing other jobs, such as driving taxis or peddling their influence. Clerks and secretaries cart away office supplies to sell on the black market. Chauffeurs and bus drivers put in extra hours hauling passengers for themselves, pick up extra pocket money by siphoning gasoline from their tanks and selling it. Soldiers set up roadblocks to exact a few rupiahs from every passing vehicle. Schools are supposedly free, but teachers expect donations of money or rice from their students. At ports, longshoremen and police openly loot incoming cargoes; one favorite ploy is to remove the vital parts of imported machinery and sell them back to their desperate owners shortly after delivery.
The result is unbounded chaos. Ports are hopelessly clogged, government services all but paralyzed, businesses wildly inefficient. A visiting American economist recently warned that the time may soon arrive “when a person spends all his time and energy going from one job to another, so that he gets almost nothing done on any of them.”
On with the Job. It is General Suharto’s intention that things will never get that bad. Economic recovery is the principal goal of Suharto’s administration. “He personally doesn’t understand the complexities of the economic problems facing the country,” says a foreign diplomat who knows him well, “but he inspires confidence and has clear objectives. He wants to get on with the job of nation building.”
Suharto works in league with two civilians, the Sultan of Jogjakarta and Adam Malik, who with him form a triumvirate that combines the best of power, brains and traditionalism—with a maximum of dedication and a mini mum of personal ambition. Suharto provides the power of army backing. Malik, a Sumatran with practical diplomatic experience, provides the brains. And Hamengku Buwono IX, the Sultan of Jogjakarta, adds the traditionalism and prestige.
The Sultan, 54, is Deputy Premier for Economic Affairs. As traditional ruler of Jogjakarta, to whom most Central Javanese attribute mystical as well as governmental authority, he stands slightly aloof from the murky power struggles. Even General Suharto believes to an extent in the Sultan’s cosmological powers, which, according to Javanese tradition, were transmitted to him through his family kris, an ornate, curving dagger. The Sultan’s kris is special. It was once owned by his ancestor, Prince Diponegoro, whose 19th century revolt against the Dutch made him one of Indonesia’s foremost heroes.
Despite his mysticism and nobility, the Sultan is regarded by his fellow citizens as a genuine Indonesian revolutionary. One of the first Javanese royal princes to study abroad, Hamengku Buwono was educated at the University of Indology at Leiden in The Netherlands, hurried home to become Sultan when his father died in 1940. He immediately joined the 1945 independence movement and, from his position as both spiritual leader and governor of the city of Jogjakarta, provided a powerful political foe for the Dutch—who were afraid to remove him, afraid to allow him to stay and ended up by confining him to his palace. It was then that Suharto and the Sultan first met, and throughout the revolution they kept in regular touch with each other through couriers.
The Sultan’s ancient roots and prestige, as well as his Western education and reputation as a revolutionary, make him a likely successor to President Sukarno in the elections now scheduled for 1968. For now, however, he labors long hours in a neat white building next to the American embassy in Djakarta.
The Sultan is desperate to reschedule foreign debts and get emergency credits. He flew to Japan in May to start the ball rolling with a $30 million emergency loan to buy spare parts, takes off next week to put his case before Indonesia’s creditors in Western Europe. Once those emergency steps are completed he might be able to get on with the urgent task of rebuilding exports and imposing rigid austerity at home.
At the same time, Deputy Premier for Social and Political Affairs Adam Malik, 48, a no-nonsense Sumatran who is the third member of the triumvirate that Suharto heads, will be touring Eastern Europe in search of the same kind of aid. Malik, who was once Sukarno’s Minister of Trade, is well liked in Moscow and hopeful of getting results.
A former newspaperman, Malik from the beginning took a hard line against Sukarno, daring to stand up and argue with him while Suharto preferred to keep silence. And from the moment he took office, Malik was a vocal advocate of an end to konfrontasi, led the Indonesian delegation to Bangkok last month for the talks with Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Razak that halted the three-year-old war.
It is quite possible that both Malik and the Sultan, working together, will be able to get Indonesia off the hook for the $450 million in payment on foreign loans coming due this year. Even that will be little more than a start, for to get the economy moving again will require an enormous package of $500 million of fresh aid, and that kind of money is not easy to find. Before dumping good money after bad, the U.S. is cautiously waiting to see whether the stabilizers mean business.
The Sultan believes that if all goes well, the economy can be stabilized within three years. That is probably overoptimistic. Foreign economists say that it will take five years at the very least to stop the printing presses and halt the rise of prices and that only then can Indonesia afford to spend any money on the industrial development it so badly needs. In the meantime, if Suharto sticks to his guns, there will inevitably be a long, lean, and politically perilous period of belt tightening. Suharto appears to mean business. At a meeting of Indonesia’s Perwari Women’s Club last month, he warned his admiring audience that “before this is all over, you all may be out in the streets demonstrating against me.”
Chain Reaction of Peace. Whatever its problems, the very fact that Indonesia is under new management has already brought important changes in the outlook of the whole Far East. The end of its aggression against Malaysia, which had disturbed Southeast Asia for three years, was followed by a chain reaction of peace movements throughout the area. The Philippines finally decided to make friends with Malaysia, as well, and there has been much discussion about forming a regional economic community that might include Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Burma. In Seoul last month, foreign ministers of nine non-Communist Asian lands got together to talk about the possibility of forming a sort of Asian Common Market.
Though cordiality has returned to Indonesia’s relations with the West, no one should imagine that Indonesia has become a cold-war ally. The Suharto regime is basically nationalistic, and intends to maintain strict neutrality between West and East. “It is hoped that America will not try to orbit us as an American satellite,” Suharto said last week. That bit of Indonesian humor could be accepted with grace by the U.S., which, of course, has no need to try any such orbiting. Indonesia’s dramatic new stance needs no additional push to make it more than what it is: the West’s best news for years in Asia.
-Of the six, the other two best known are Fatmawati, whom he met in Sumatra in 1938, and Mme. Martini Suwondo, a young divorcee whom he married in 1954. Indonesians were scandalized by his marriage to Hartini, which, although legal under Islamic laws, defied the nation’s custom of monogamy. They never accepted her as their First Lady, forcing Sukarno to send her to live in his summer palace at Bogor. Fatmawati, whom he has never divorced, lives quietly in a Djakarta suburb, rarely sees him.