Habibie Guessed Wrong
by: Wimar Witoelar
In the famous short story related by Frank Stockton
, a sadistic king offers a deathly choice to a subject accused of serious crimes. In the gladiators ring, were two doors, exactly alike and side by side. It was the duty and the privilege of the person on trial to walk directly to these doors and open one of them. If he opened the one, there came out of it a hungry tiger, the fiercest and most cruel that could be procured, which immediately sprang upon him and tore him to pieces as a punishment for his guilt. But, if the accused person opened the other door, there came forth from it a lady, the most suitable to his years and station that his majesty could select among his fair subjects. The words are those of Frank Stockton, but the story relates to Habibie and Soeharto. The problem was that the lady would bring problems, while the tiger would bring instant death.
Read the fascinating account by Endy Bayuni of the Jakarta Post. Sorry we cannot provide a link to the Post because their links tend to be slippery and eventually take you to the wrong place. But Endy summarizes the brouhaha over Habibie's book and the wrangling with former generals Prabowo and Wiranto. Basically, the Jakarta Post article points out that Soeharto had a Plan A for his succession but Habibie chose his own Plan B. When Soeharto gave all the signals for Habibie to resign along with him on May 21, 1998 Habibie instead naively took the Presidential position for himself, much to the chagrin of Wiranto and to the big worry of Prabowo.
Obviously Habibie was naive. He really thought as Vice President he was the appointed successor of Soeharto. Wiser people know that the VP position was just a plaything Soeharto gave his favorite guy to play with for awhile, in the same manner he gave the same position to Sri Sultan IX, Umar, Sudharmono, Try Soetrisno - am I missing anyone?
Like you often see on the train in Java, the man across from you offers you his rice box? You are supposed to politely decline, not snatch it from his hands.
Habibie did snatch the Presidency from Soeharto's designated successor, whoever it is, in an act of unbelievable naiveté. But it is a good thing that Habibie is so naive, otherwise we would have an orderly transition from Soeharto to a military regime, and everything would be calm but oppressed and much more corrupt than Indonesia is now. Had we followed Soeharto's succession Plan A, we would not have had the release of political prisoners, the free press, the emphasis on pluralism and democracy, a moderating Islamic voice in the world, a woman as president, and the largest direct presidential elections in the history of the world. So, Habibie may well be the Innocent Saint we hear about in history. The ultimate testimony to his innocence is that while we are rejoicing that he distanced himself from Soeharto, Habibie himself is still bemoaning the fact that Soeharto never talked to him after that fateful date May 21, 1998.
p.s. From my personal experience, I can only relate the many stories I listed to with fascination from the Palace Guard in the days of President Abdurrahman Wahid. Some of the commanders were on active duty that morning in May. They said more or less, "We were gathered in the Merdeka Palace under strict orders not to take instructions from anyone but our direct commanders. When President Soeharto and Vice President Habibie arrived at the palace, they were each accompanied by their security guards in full force. We all had our weapons ready and equipped with full rounds of ammunition. We watched that doorway (pointing out to me the scene of Soeharto's resignation announcement) and kept our targets in mind, ready to shoot at instant notice."
But the orders to shoot never came, and we had the peaceful transition that may be the best part of Soeharto's rule. Phew....
Now let us read Endy Bayuni's excellent article
How Soeharto schemed and Habibie botched it
The Jakarta Post Opinion and Editorial - October 09, 2006
Endy M. Bayuni, Jakarta
The row over former president Habibie's allegations about an aborted military coup on the second day of his short term is overshadowing a more interesting revelation from his memoir: the events surrounding the collapse of the New Order regime on May 21, 1998.
Habibie may not say it directly in his book Detik-Detik yang Menentukan (Crucial Seconds), but it is clear that Soeharto's carefully laid out post-retirement plan was bungled because Habibie, then his deputy, gave the president the "wrong" answer when told about Soeharto's plan to step down the night before.
According to the book, Habibie's first reaction to the news was, that going by the Constitution, he would have to succeed Soeharto. He could have responded by also offering to resign -- because the pair were "elected" by the People's Consultative Assembly on the same ticket three months earlier.
But he did not.
Soeharto, according to the book, was not pleased with the response from a man he had carefully chosen to be his running mate three months earlier.
The president abruptly ended their discussion and the two men have never spoken since.
Soeharto's contempt was so deep that "he treated me as if I never existed," Habibie writes in the memoir.
The next day, Soeharto announced to the nation he was quitting the presidency. The succession took place then and there at the presidential palace, with Habibie being sworn-in by the Supreme Court? chief justice to become Indonesia's third president.
Habibie never found out what Soeharto's retirement plan was, and since Soeharto has never revealed it publicly, people can only speculate.
But people have long known that in the hours before his resignation, Soeharto transferred almost all his executive powers to Gen. Wiranto, the chief of the armed forces. The transfer was apparently contained in a letter styled on the infamous March 11, 1966, letter supposedly given by president Sukarno to Gen. Soeharto.
Wiranto has since bragged that he could have seized power then and there with the full mandate from the legitimate president, but being the "constitutional" person that he is, restrained and allowed Habibie to become the new president.
Between Habibie and Wiranto, it seems clear Soeharto would have preferred the latter as his successor. Why else would he have transferred so many powers to the general?
Since Soeharto had not planned on this early retirement -- he had just been reelected to serve until 2003 -- neither person, least of all Habibie, had been chosen or groomed as his heir-apparent.
Wiranto's loyalty was never in doubt. Seconds after the short resignation ceremony, he took the microphone and announced to the nation that he would personally protect the safety and the dignity of the former president and his family.
But the real reason why Wiranto did not make his move to grab power, we now learn, was because Habibie had pre-empted him by giving the "wrong" answer to what was effectively a two-option multiple choice question from Soeharto.
In response to Soeharto's statement "I am going to step down tomorrow", Habibie could have answered either A: "So, I'm going to be the next president?" or B: "I had better step down with you, Pak". He picked A.
hey, really taking over? I will never speak to you again
Had the German-trained aerospace engineer answered B, then he would have paved the way for a military takeover with Wiranto in charge, but with Soeharto no doubt continuing to pull the strings.
Post-Soeharto Indonesia would have taken a greatly different historical path.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on where one stands, Habibie was not well-versed in Javanese tradition, where courtesans are expected to know, or at least guess, the correct response to a king's questions from his body language.
Regardless of the veracity of Habibie's allegations of a planned military coup the day after he assumed power, one thing is for certain, the military was confused by the unexpected turn of events.
Without Soeharto, who had been doing all the thinking for the military for 30 years or more, the generals were simply lost.
There was certainly a massive deployment of the Army's Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad) under its chief, Lt. Gen. Prabowo, then a powerful figure because he was Soeharto's son-in-law.
Habibie triggered the current controversy when he suggested the deployment around the presidential palace where he resided was an act of intimidation on the part of Prabowo to influence his decisions, which he described as amounting to an attempted power grab.
At that time, Habibie was still picking his Cabinet and those he wanted to lead the military.
Prabowo and Wiranto, whom Habibie quotes as sources of information about the Kostrad deployment, are now entangled with Habibie in very public mudslinging, with allegations and counter allegations flying.
As fascinating as it is to follow, the argument matters little to the nation. Its purpose is only to clear the names of the players who may have been besmirched by Habibie's revelations.
The Kostrad deployment is but a minor episode in the bigger story of how Soeharto's final scheme to control the direction of this country was botched.
All thanks to the naivete of one man who was supposed to have had the brains to read the mind of a Javanese king.
Habibie guessed wrong. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Penghantar kisah detik-detik menentukan dari perjalanan bangsa ini semakin kaya berkat wawasan tajam dan jenaka dari tulisan Wimar Witoelar
, mantan Juru Bicara Presiden Abdurarachman Wahid dalam blognya
, yang menjadi rujukan cerita ini.
“Seperti Anda sering lihat dalam pemandangan naik kereta api di Jawa, apa yang terjadi bila seseorang di depan Anda menawarkan kepada Anda kotak nasi yang menjadi bekalnya ? Tentu saja Anda secara sopan akan berterima kasih atas tawaran itu, lalu menolaknya. Dan bukan malah kemudian mencomotnya,” begitu Wimar Witoelar bertamsil.
Seorang Habibie justru mencomot tawaran itu. Akibatnya, rencana yang disusun Presiden Soeharto untuk memuluskan suksesi yang ia maui setelah kelengserannya, menjadi berantakan. Tak ayal, sampai kini Habibie “dijotak,” I will never speak to you again
, oleh mantan mentornya yang ia kenal sejak muda dan sering ia sebut sebagai SGS, Super Genius Soeharto tersebut.
Habibie memang naif. Ia merasa dengan jabatan sebagai Wakil Presiden dirinya otomatis berhak menggantikan Soeharto. Padahal selama ini kita tahu, tulis WW (Wimar Witoelar), Wakil Presiden adalah jabatan plaything
, tidak bermakna, yang Soeharto berikan kepada tokoh sejak Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX, Adam Malik, Umar Wirahadikusumah, Sudharmono, sampai Try Sutrisno.
Menjelang lengser saat itu kiranya Soeharto telah menyusun Rencana A. Nampaknya ia lebih memilih Wiranto sebagai penggantinya, dengan skenario mirip pengalihan kekuasaan model Surat Perintah Sebelas Maret 1966.
Tetapi Habibie memilih Rencana B.
Ketika Soeharto memberikan sinyal-sinyal agar Habibie juga ikut lengser bersamanya pada tanggal 21 Mei 1998 itu, “Habibie secara naif justru mencomot kursi presiden itu untuk dirinya, suatu hal yang sangat disesali oleh Wiranto dan menjadi kecemasan besar bagi Prabowo,” tulis WW lebih lanjut.
Itulah saat itu masa depan Indonesia digoreskan. Kalau saja yang terjadi adalah pengalihan kekuasaan yang mulus kepada rejim militer, begitu analisis WW, maka segalanya akan berjalan tenang, tetapi tertindas, dan korupsi akan lebih merajalela dibanding Indonesia sekarang ini.
Bila Rencana A Soeharto terjadi, kita tidak menjadi saksi bebasnya para tahanan politik, pers yang bebas, suburnya pluralisme dan demokrasi, munculnya suara Islam yang moderat, perempuan sebagai presiden, dan sebagai negara penyelenggara pemilihan presiden secara langsung terbesar di dunia