Indonesian President Suharto Resigns
Aired May 20, 1998 - 10:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to return now to Jakarta, to CNN's Jakarta bureau chief Maria Ressa who is back with us.
Maria, if you can talk to us about the significance of this handover to Habibi. Habibi, after all, was only recently hand-picked by Mr. Suharto.
MARIA RESSA, CNN JAKARTA BUREAU CHIEF: Jusuf Habibi just took office in March as vice president of the country.
At this point in time, I think it's very important to emphasize that we're seeing in a completely new political landscape for Indonesia. President Suharto in very short comments said that he understood what his people wanted and that now he is going to step down, resign immediately, effective as of that moment that he gave the announcement, about five minutes ago, and that he, in order to avoid a vacuum of leadership in Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country, that he would then begin -- we would see the swearing-in ceremony of his vice president, Jusuf -- Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibi. Vice President Habibi was then sworn in, and then we saw armed forces chief General Wiranto throw the full support of the 400,000-strong armed forces behind the move that this country is taking.
And actually, what's important here, is to note that this is according to Indonesia's constitution. If in any way at all the president, President Suharto, is incapable of carrying out his duties, the vice president would automatically step in.
Again, another interesting point is that President Suharto said that Vice President Habibi, now President Habibi, is going to take office for the entire five-year term, until the year 2003. In effect, they will not call a special meeting of the People's Consultative Assembly to elect a new president and vice president. In effect, what we're seeing is President Habibi will now finish the term that President Suharto, that these two men started in March.
This could have some very interesting ramifications for Indonesia. Vice President -- President Habibi, is a 61-year-old, German-trained, aeronautical engineer, and he's quite a controversial figure. He's been a cabinet minister for 20 years. Actually, called back from Germany by President Suharto in the 1970s to become a member
of his cabinet, and since then, he's moved through several positions in the cabinet.
But he's controversial, because he's also known as a nationalist with a vision, and that vision is to use high technology to get Indonesia beyond a labor-based economy. That kind of vision has gotten him in a little bit of trouble with the IMF and critics who say that he has thrown money -- government money into projects like IPTN -- this is his pet project, and creating a national plane program. This national plane program was one of the projects targeted to be -- that was slashed by the International Monetary Fund when they came in several months ago with a $43 billion rescue package for this economy.
So again, this could have interesting reverberations within the Indonesian people -- within the Indonesian community, but one of the most key points is that General Wiranto has thrown his support behind now-President Habibi. This is key, because at several points in the last year -- in the last couple of years, Habibi has not had the support of the military. In many situations, there has been conflict between Habibi and the military high command, but now we're seeing the military closing ranks behind what is a very constitutional process of change -- Joie.
CHEN: Maria, let me follow up on that, on a couple points here. Does it also then appear that, if there are to be no elections held, that Mr. Habibi would then serve the rest of Mr. Suharto's term? Does that mean then that the military is also supporting that move, not to have new elections, which many of the protestors have been calling for?
RESSA: Let's clarify which elections we're talking about. First of all, your first question, yes, this does mean that Habibi will serve out the next five years as president. The elections that President Suharto called for Tuesday is not the elections for president -- there seems to be a misunderstanding about this. President Suharto's proposal last Tuesday was to dismantle the existing legislative body, and then create a national reform committee which would then go about creating new laws for general elections to elect a new legislative body, which would then elect the president and the vice president.
So that kind of process, the students and the pro-reform people said was too long, and it impossible at this point in time. So what we're actually seeing is the quickest pace -- the quickest way to have political change -- Joie.
CHEN: All right, Maria, we'll ask you to stand by. Again, we want to turn now to CNN's Mike Chinoy who's on the telephone at the location where many of the protesters had gathered awaiting the announcement of Mr. Suharto.
Mike, are you with us now?
MIKE CHINOY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I am, Joie, and what we're seeing here is an explosion of jubilation. The students, the moment Suharto said, "I will resign," erupted into tears. They then burst from the room where they had gathered watching on a television set and started parading
around the grounds of the National Assembly, singing, chanting, hugging each other, exchanging high-fives. Some students in their exuberance jumped into the pond in the center of the assembly grounds, others knelt on the grounds in prayer. Some students went and exchanged hugs and high-fives with the soldiers who had been both guarding them and to some degree protecting them.
Immense relief on all sides. You can see in their faces the tension beginning to drain away. These students had felt that they had literally put their lives on the line in recent days with no weapons other than their persistence and their moral courage. Now they feel they've won an extraordinary victory, toppling Asia's longest serving leader in a process that could have been much bloodier than it has, in fact, turned out to be -- Joie.
CHEN: Mike, is there a sense also among the students -- after all, this has built starting with them over the recent days -- is there any sense of surprise that they were really able to accomplish their goal quite quickly?
CHINOY: Well, it's hard to tell. They were very, very determined and even when it looked at its grimmest on Wednesday, when tens of thousands of soldiers sealed of the city and the army appeared to have moved behind President Suharto and against the idea of forcing him to leave office due to protests in the streets, it's hard, I think, for someone to imagine that just 24 hours later, they have won.
And yet, they have been committed for a long time to the rightness of their cause. They view President Suharto as the problem in Indonesia, not the solution -- 32 years of autocratic rule, a record of corruption and croneyism, along with all the economic development we've seen here. But the students want a more modern and more open political system. And now as I watch dozens of them singing and dance waist-deep in the water of the pond here at the National Assembly, hugging each other in jubilation, a whole new deal has opened for the political future of Indonesia -- Joie.
CHEN: And Mike, as well, the question of Mr. Habibi and his close relationship with Suharto over the years, would that bring new concern to the students who are looking for reform here?
CHINOY: Well, Habibi is not a particular popular or respected figure among the students or indeed more broadly in Indonesia, but it seems quite clear from the way in which the Indonesian establishment joined forces with the protest movement that he is likely to be, at best, a transitional figure before the holding of national elections, and so, while I think a lot of the students would have preferred to see Habibi go as well, it was Suharto who always called the shots, here. Suharto was the dominant figure. Now, Suharto is gone from the scene -- the situation takes on an entirely different quality, and the fact that Habibi is something, I suspect, these students can live with, because the prospect of more fundamental change in the Indonesian political system is now real.
CHEN: Mike, gone from the scene, but as I note, in Mr. Suharto's statement, he did not make any statement regarding where he would go next, whether he would remain in the country, after all both he and
his family and his close friends, maintain key roles in some of the big businesses of Indonesia. Is there any expectation that Suharto would be able to stay in the country?
CHINOY: Well, if you look back to the way in which Suharto himself came to power, he took over from President Sukarno in 1965-66, but Sukarno was allowed to remain on in a kind of powerless titular role as president for a couple of years, so -- and Suharto has made it clear the last week or so, that if he were to step down, he would want it done in an orderly and a constitutional way. Implicit in that is that he did not want to be humiliated and driven into exile and treated like a pariah, so I would think since the army came down very strongly in favor of an ordinarily transition that his staying in Indonesia, certainly is a strong possibility, although at this stage of the game, the situation's so fluid, it's hard to tell.
CHEN: And as you note, Mike, the military has always played such a key role in Indonesia, since its independence, in what the leadership situation is. Yet there have been, as we've seen in recent days in some of the reports, some differences about the military leaders about how things should be handled. Is there now real sense, as General Wiranto said, that they are unified in supporting Habibie?
CHINOY: Well the main party is reliably reported to be divided over a great many issues; however, it has become so evident in the past few days that Suharto's base of support was literally melting in front of the eyes of the public and the military, here, I think the military concluded there was no way that Suharto could survive and that Indonesia, as a country, could survive. The military is obviously going to be key in this, because it is an extraordinarily powerful institution. However, what -- the way the milk has poured in the last couple of days has been interesting, because while making it clear -- drawing a clear line in the sand, on the issue of law and order, the military has said that it is open to orderly, gradual, constitutional reform, and that means there is now a door open, but there's no question that the military will play an absolutely critical role in shaping how this plays out.
CHEN: Mike Chinoy for us in Jakarta, Indonesia, along with CNN bureau chief Maria Ressa. CNN will continue to follow this still-developing story. We'll bring you the latest developments as they come in to us.