Habibie and Soeharto - and Prabowo and Wiranto

Perspektif Online
09 October 2006
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

habibie2.jpg    prabowo.jpg    wiranto.jpg

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.
15 October 2006 Update from Esai Epistoholica, blog of Bambang Haryanto
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

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  1. From Komentator on 10 October 2006 06:50:08 WIB
    This time I give one of the fhe first comments, perhaps.
    Because I am happy that WW has quoted Endy's article and add even more "spice" to it, so it is very very clear.

    Habibie's naivite has opened up the chance for us to gain something something very very important:"DEMOCRACY".

    However, several times we almost lost it again: ("bit by bit" perhaps), mainly because the presidents after him more or less spoilt the chances, "inadvertently". Several times efforts to suppress freedom of opinion has been apparent.

    The present one, for example, is very uncomfortable with his position, because he thinks he owes it to tha political parties and political and military groups.
    We just have to pray that the present one will soon see, that his real supporters are us, the people who voted for him, and not for his party.

    Otherwise, some people might lose their patience and want to follow Thailannd's example.
    God forbid.
  2. From Another komentator on 10 October 2006 07:59:59 WIB
    Interesting stuff. I haven't read Habibie's book yet, but he tells the same story elsewhere. What should be mentioned is that Habibie was already very upset with Suharto's remarks the previous day at a televised speech following the president's meeting with a handful of Islamic leaders. There he publicly questioned Habibie's abilities and his suitability as a successor. That began Habibie's break with Suharto, but it also indicated that he was not as naive as we'd believe. Habibie did not necessarily want the presidency, but he did not like to be humiliated or underestimated. And Suharto's error, among many at that time, was to underestimate him.
  3. From wimar on 10 October 2006 09:05:51 WIB
    Habibie has very good standing with westerners, maybe because he is german-oriented, educated and speaks european languages. Many Indonesians respect him for the same things also. But is is strange to see him suddenly offended by Soeharto when he has humiliated himself for decades by being the cute plaything of the soeharto regime that wasted billions of dollars on his follies. When he saw he could get the top spot, he thought he could get out from Soeharto's shadow by the easiest trick known to the underestimated assistant - betrayal.
  4. From Harison Haris on 10 October 2006 17:27:46 WIB
    Saya sepakat dengan diskusi (baca: 'khotbah') WW tentang karakteristik Habibie tadi pagi di Intermatrix. Habibie yang 'Eropa' dan 'Barat' memang membuat banyak pihak memberi tepuk tangan untuknya. Tapi Habibie berkiprah di Indonesia yang dalam batas tertentu sangat 'Jawa'. Pak Harto terlalu 'jawa' untuk dimengerti Habibie. Sementara Habibie terlalu 'Barat-Jerman-Non Jawa' untuk memahami Pak Harto. Tapi kata WW disambung dengan celetukan saya tadi pagi, bukankah naiknya Habibie membawa berkah bagi banyak orang? Sebut saja naiknya Gus Dur& Mega jadi presdien serta WW jadi jubir Presiden :).

    Dan siapa tahu cita-cita WW sebagai Wakil Presiden bisa terlaksana. Kalau itu terlaksana, bukankah itu didahului oleh Habibie yang jadi presiden?

    Saya terharu mendengar keinginan WW jadi wapres. Ini tanda kedewasaan. Karena menjadi presiden adalah cita-cita yang kekanak-kanakan. Saya waktu kecil juga punya cita2 jadi presiden kok......jadi maju terus untuk jadi wapres!

  5. From Another komentator on 10 October 2006 21:17:39 WIB
    Pak Wimar, there were many Westerners who came into contact with Habibie who saw him as a great man. Certainly in aviation engineering. But anyone who witnessed his impact on Indonesia during the New Order wasn't fooled. I don't think he saw his role under the New Order as humiliation. He believed he was doing great things for Indonesia, and he relished the chance to continue that work as president. Of course it was all very selective and no one who lived here was fooled. I agree with you that it was a conscious betrayal in the end. But I don't think it was particularly rational. The irony is that it probably haunted him more than it haunted Suharto.
  6. From pengamat on 11 October 2006 05:23:17 WIB
    Please, folks, don’t make a hero out of Habibie.
    He just happened to be there to play the role of the “transition to Democracy” without even knowing it..

    Because, if one comes up with how smart Habibie is, I can come up with opinions of prople (foreign and domestic) who do not think that he is a genius in science and technology. In contrary, ..... ah let me stop here.
    Otherwise if I come up with opinions of people (foreigm and domestic) who are more knowledgable the subject of this discussion would become “HABIBIE, HERO OR VILLAIN ?” or ‘GENUINE OR CHEAT ?”.
    There are really not so many people wgi admired his technilogical and sciemtific talents.

    To come back to the relevant issue:
    I agree with Wimar’s opinion that he has chosen the only way he could survive: BETRAYING his master, mentor and boss, who has made him rich, wellknown and (seemingly) great ..........
  7. From CL on 11 October 2006 07:25:09 WIB
    never thought that our lives were saved by pinocchio :)
    Yes.. he saved us from the whale, he escaped us from military "Stromboli" regime.

    looked like pinocchio had lied to Geppetto again. Rather than paid his debt to the creator, he prefered to follow his own will, his desire to be sombody, to trully be free.

    It's about time, said pinocchio to his loyal friend Jiminy Cricket, I've managed to build my creator an airplane, I have made him happy, I have become one of his technology success story, this time I had to asked the fairy to trully set me free. Now, all you have to do Jiminy, is whispered to my ears, when the time come before me to free myself completely.

    hehehehehe, now you know the story why Habibe got the funny voice, style and expression right :)
  8. From wimar on 11 October 2006 10:17:13 WIB

    and thanks for the comments from the scientist and the international journalist. habibie should be proud that he has taken some time from you busy schedules.
  9. From treespotter on 11 October 2006 19:25:50 WIB
    funny that really. i've been following the exchanges and i totally agree, the naivete of Habibie at the time was amazing and the shrewdness of the generals were impressive. I was reading the account on this supposedly rogue units that wiranto was reporting and now it sounds like Habibie's the only person that think it even exists.

    it all works out for the better, so i guess it's interesting to learn about it from the lesson. and well, you know, he was a pretty good prez.
  10. From Ihsan on 12 October 2006 09:26:12 WIB
    Saya mengagumi beliau (Pak Habibie) karena 'intelektualitas'nya dan mencita-citakan diri saya melebihi beliau (namanya juga cita-cita anak-anak). Sejujurnya saya sangat menginginkan negeri ini dipimpin oleh seseorang seperti beliau. Terlepas dari kebetulan atau tidak beliau menjabat RI-2 saat itu, saya salut dengan keberanian beliau mengambil keputusan tersebut. Toh, saya yakin tidak banyak orang yang akan berbuat seperti itu pada saat itu. Ini hanya komentar dari saya yang ingin suatu saat kita menjadi bangsa yang 'cerdas'. Begitulah indahnya demokrasi seharusnya, masing-masing memiliki perspektifnya (walaupun tidak harus online, he..) tapi saling menghargai untuk mencari solusi terbaik untuk semua. Salam kenal untuk Pak WW, saya baru beberapa hari ini menjadi 'pengunjung' tetap Anda. Tetap semangat dan cerdas, Pak..!!
  11. From yats on 13 October 2006 00:07:21 WIB
    ww for vice president? lets vote!!
    ww for president..? you did...
  12. From JUNARTO on 18 October 2006 13:36:46 WIB
    tiada org yg sempurna. Habibie mungkin naif, Tapi dia tidak bodoh. Semua orang toh bisa saja menjadi pahlawan krn kondisi memaksa. dan habibie berhasil menjadi pahlawan dg menanam benih2 demokrasi, suka atau tidak. tdk perlu dengki atas fakta sejarah itu. tdk perlu juga memuja habis2an dirinya. dia toh cuma manusia biasa, tp dg kualitas dirinya ia berhasil mengambil keputusan tepat. apa komentator di sini bisa bertindak sama dlm situasi yg sama pula? saya tidak yakin. omongan memang selalu lebih gampang drpd tindakan.
  13. From ASP on 26 November 2006 16:17:00 WIB
    pak wimar yth,kita mau tahu lebih lanjut mengenai pelepasan tim-tim oleh bpk.habibie,sekaligus perihal pemberian kekuasaan kembali kepada beliau untuk pemilu berikut.
  14. From Richard Mayne on 12 December 2006 19:33:17 WIB
    That was a great article to read - I am going to get the book now. Javanese political nuance is of particular interest and imagining Habibi totally wrecking Suharto's plan makes me laugh out loud.
  15. From entity on 08 August 2007 11:40:12 WIB
    Hi folks it's 2007. First I didn't have the interest at all. Recalling back. How many of us knows that BJH together with his son is the biggest, blood sucking lynch in Indonesia using IPTN and no one cares to dig deep enough to find something.
    Or perhaps the stupid party that he had with Suharto gave him the fence.
    I would find that his retreat to Germany is more like a pengecut. I am sure one day someone will get him to square of what he said about the Chinese.
  16. From teguh on 13 February 2008 13:21:40 WIB
    slamat jalan bapak soeharto. namamu gak akan dlupakan bangsamu.

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