B. J. Habibie

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3rd President of Indonesia. In Office: 21 May 1998 – 20 October 1999

Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie (Indonesian: [baxaˈrudːin ˈjusuf haˈbibi] (About this soundlisten); 25 June 1936 – 11 September 2019) was an Indonesian engineer and politician who was the president of Indonesia from 1998 to 1999. Only two months after his inauguration as vice president on March 1998, he succeeded Suharto who resigned after thirty-some years in office. His presidency is seen as a landmark and transition to the Reformation era. Upon becoming president, he liberalized Indonesia’s press and political party laws, and held an early democratic election three years sooner than it should have been, which resulted in the end of his presidency. Initially intended to serve until 10 and 11 March 2003 in his respective offices, his eventual 517-day presidency and 71-day vice presidency are the shortest in the country’s history.

Early Life

Habibie was a native of Parepare, now of Indonesia’s South Sulawesi Province. His parents, Alwi Abdul Jalil Habibie, an agriculturist of Gorontalese descent, and R. A. Tuti Marini Puspowardojo, a Javanese noblewoman from Yogyakarta, met while studying in Bogor. Habibie’s family comes from Kabila, a village in eastern part of Gorontalo Province. He was the fourth of eight children. Habibie’s father died when he was 14 years old.

Studies and Career in Europe

Habibie went to Delft, the Netherlands, to study aviation and aerospace at the Technische Hogeschool Delft (Delft University of Technology), but for political reasons (the West New Guinea dispute between the Netherlands and Indonesia), he had to continue his study at the Technische Hochschule Aachen (RWTH Aachen University) in Aachen, Germany. In 1960, Habibie received an engineer’s degree in Germany with the title Diplom-Ingenieur. He remained in Germany as a research assistant under Hans Ebner at the Lehrstuhl und Institut für Leichtbau, RWTH Aachen to conduct research for his doctoral degree.

In 1962, Habibie returned to Indonesia for three months on sick leave. During this time, he was reacquainted with Hasri Ainun, the daughter of R. Mohamad Besari. Habibie had known Hasri Ainun in childhood, junior high school and in senior high school at SMA Kristen Dago (Dago Christian Senior High School), Bandung. The two married on 12 May 1962, returning to Germany shortly afterwards. Habibie and his wife settled in Aachen for a short period before moving to Oberforstbach. In May 1963 they had a son, Ilham Akbar Habibie

Habibie later found employment with the railway stock firm Waggonfabrik Talbot, where he became an advisor in designing train wagons. Due to his work with Makosh, the head of train constructions offered his position to Habibie upon retirement three years later, but Habibie refused the position.

In 1965, Habibie delivered his thesis in aerospace engineering and received the grade of “very good” for his dissertation, giving him the title Doktoringenieur (Dr.-Ing.). During the same year, he accepted Hans Ebner’s offer to continue his research on Thermoelastisitas and work toward his Habilitation, but he declined the offer to join RWTH as a professor per se. His thesis about light construction for supersonic or hypersonic states also attracted offers of employment from companies such as Boeing and Airbus, which Habibie again declined.

Habibie did accept a position with Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm in Hamburg. There, he developed theories on thermodynamics, construction, and aerodynamics known as the Habibie Factor, Habibie Theorem, and Habibie Method, respectively. He worked for Messerschmitt on the development of the Airbus A-300B aircraft. In 1974, he was promoted to vice president of the company.

Career in Indonesia

In 1974, Suharto recruited Habibie to return to Indonesia as part of Suharto’s drive to industrialize and develop the country. Habibie initially served as a special assistant to Ibnu Sutowo, the CEO of state oil company Pertamina. Two years later, in 1976, Habibie was made Chief Executive Officer of the new state-owned enterprise Industri Pesawat Terbang Nusantara (IPTN). (In 1985, PT. Nurtanio changed its name to Indonesian Aviation Industry and is now known as Indonesian Aerospace (Dirgantara)). In 1978, he was appointed as Minister of Research and Technology. He continued to play an important role in IPTN other “strategic” industries in this post. By the 1980s, IPTN had grown considerably, specializing in the manufacture of helicopters and small passenger planes; by 1991, Habibie oversaw ten state-owned industries including ship- and train-building, steel, arms, communications, and energy. A 1993 estimate determined that the estimates used nearly $2 billion a year in state funding, although the government’s opaque accounting practices meant that the size of the industries was not completely known.

In developing Indonesia’s aviation industry, he adopted an approach called “Begin at the End and End at the Beginning”. In this method, elements such as basic research became the last things upon which to focus, whilst actual manufacturing of the planes was placed as the first objective. Under Habibie’s leadership, IPTN became a manufacturer of aircraft including Puma helicopters and CASA planes. It pioneered a small passenger airplane, the N-250 Gatotkaca, in 1995, but the project was a commercial failure.

When Habibie was State Minister for Research and Technology, he created the OFP (Overseas Fellowship Program), STMDP (Science Technology and Manpower Development Program) and STAID (Science and Technology for Industrial Development). These three programs provided scholarships to thousands of high school graduates to earn their bachelor’s degrees in the STEM fields and for other technical professionals to continue their study for master’s and doctorate program in the United States, Europe, Japan, and other countries.

Habibie was, continuously, a member of six Indonesian cabinets for over 20 years. He was first appointed as a cabinet member by president Suharto in 1978. He then served in another five cabinets (including the Development Reform Cabinet which, as president he formed after the resignation of Suharto in May 1998):

  • 1978-1983: State Minister of Research and Technology in the Third Development Cabinet
  • 1983-1988: State Minister of Research and Technology and Chair of the Research and Technology Implementation Board in the Fourth Development Cabinet
  • 1988-1993: State Minister of Research and Technology and Chair of the Research and Technology Implementation Board in the Fifth Development Cabinet
  • 1993-1998: State Minister of Research and Technology and Chair of the Research and Technology Implementation Board in the Sixth Development Cabinet
  • 1998: Vice-president in the Seventh Development Cabinet
  • 1998-1999: President in the Development Reform Cabinet

In Suharto’s regime, as was expected of senior government executives, Habibie became a member of the Golkar organisation. He was appointed as the deputy daily coordinator for the chairman of the executive board in 1992 by Suharto, and the following year he became the daily coordinator.

Habibie(center) as Golkar Board of Patron member during the 1997 campaign in Tanah Abang, Jakarta.

Vice Presidency

In January 1998, after accepting nomination for a seventh term as President, Suharto announced the selection criteria for the nomination of a vice president. Suharto did not mention Habibie by name, but his suggestion that the next vice president should have a mastery of science and technology made it obvious he had Habibie in mind.

In that year, in the midst of the Asian Financial Crisis, this suggestion was received badly, causing the rupiah to fall. Despite this, Habibie was elected as Vice President in March 1998.

Presidency

Habibie taking his presidential oath on 21 May 1998.
On 21 May 1998, just two months after Habibie became vice president, Suharto announced his resignation, and Habibie succeeded him as president. The following day, Habibie announced the Development Reform Cabinet, which removed some of the most controversial ministers in Suharto’s last cabinet while maintaining others – with no major figures from the opposition. Within days of his appointment, he requested people related to him to resign from government positions, promised an early election, revocation of some legislations, and the release of political prisoners.

Habibie taking his presidential oath on 21 May 1998.

East Timor

Habibie was opposed to East Timorese Independence but did consider giving East Timor special autonomy.

In late 1998, John Howard, the Prime Minister of Australia, sent a letter to Habibie suggesting that Indonesia defuse the East Timorese issue by providing autonomy to be followed by the promise of a referendum in the long run, following the method used by France to settle New Caledonian demands for independence. Wishing to avoid the impression that Indonesia ruled East Timor as a colony, Habibie surprised some by announcing that a referendum, offering a choice between special autonomy and independence, would be held immediately in East Timor. Military leaders (collectively known as ABRI) were not consulted on this decision.

On 30 August 1999, the referendum was held and the East Timorese people overwhelmingly chose Independence in mostly free and fair elections. However, the retreat of Indonesian troops from East Timor created the 1999 East Timorese crisis where many were killed. Although Habibie favored the quick deployment of a UN peacekeeping force to halt violence, the military opposed this plan. On 10 September, General Wiranto allegedly threatened to stage a military coup if Habibie allowed in peacekeeping forces, causing Habibie to back down.

Suharto’s Corruption Charge

The MPR Special Session in November 1998 decried the presence of corruption in Indonesia, focusing particularly on Suharto. In response to this, Habibie then appointed Andi Muhammad Ghalib as Attorney General. A tape of a telephone conversation between Habibie and Ghalib was made public. It raised concerns about the veracity of the investigation by suggesting that the interrogation of Suharto was intended only for public appearances.

Under Habibie, the Indonesian government also began investigating and prosecuting Suharto’s youngest son, Tommy Suharto. Tommy was charged by Ghalib in December 1998 in conjunction with the Goro scandal, where the government, under pressure from Tommy, allegedly gave him a desirable parcel and below-market loan for the construction of a Goro supermarket. However, Tommy was found innocent in the case after several key witnesses, including one of Habibie’s aides – Rahardi Ramelan – changed their testimony and declared that the deal did not cause losses to the state.

In terms of economy, Habibie’s government stabilized the economy in the face of the Asian financial crisis and the chaos of the last few months of Suharto’s presidency. Habibie’s government began to make conciliatory gestures towards Chinese-Indonesians who, because of their elite status, were targeted in the riots of 1998. In September 1998, Habibie issued a ‘Presidential Instruction’ forbidding use of the terms pribumi and non-pribumi to differentiate indigenous and non-indigenous Indonesians.

In May 1999, Habibie issued a further instruction directing that a display of an ID card would suffice as proof of Indonesian citizenship, whereas previously, displaying a ‘Letter of Evidence of Republic of Indonesia Citizenship’ (SBKRI) was required, in addition to abolishing the official use of the terms “pribumi” and “non-pribumi” (i.e. “native” and “non-native”. Additionally, he lifted restrictions on the teaching of Mandarin Chinese.

Political Reform

Under Habibie, Indonesia made significant changes to its political system that expanded competition and freedom of speech. Shortly after taking office, in June 1998, Habibie’s government lifted the Suharto-era restriction on political parties and ended censorship by dissolving the Information Ministry. He also quickly committed to holding democratic elections, albeit on an initially vague timetable. In December, he proposed political reform laws that were passed by the legislature and MPR session. These laws set elections for December 1999, reduced the number of seats in parliament held by the military, and barred political activity by civil servants.

However, political opponents criticized Habibie for agreeing to give the military some seats in parliament, and taking little action on other military and judicial reforms.

Habibie’s government also passed laws which granted significant autonomy to regional governments, namely at the regency/city level. The laws resulted in indirect elections for mayors and regents, and allowed local legislatures to hold said executives accountable, though it was not implemented until after his presidency.

End of Presidency

Although he had been viewed as leading a transitional government, Habibie seemed determined to continue as president. He was initially unclear about whether he would seek a full term as president when he announced parliamentary elections in June 1998. Habibie faced opposition from many within the government party, Golkar; in July 1998, he struggled to win control of the party by appointing Akbar Tandjung as chair of the party, but was ultimately able to defeat a rival camp including former Vice President Try Sutrisno, Defence Minister Edi Sudrajat, Siswono Yudhohusodo, and Sarwono Kusumaatmadja.

However, at the same time, Habibie began to lose support from Akbar Tandjung and a faction in Golkar, composed of both reformers and hardliners, that wanted to oust him. In March 1999, Golkar put forth five presidential nominees: Habibie, Tandjung, Wiranto, Hamengkubuwono X, and Ginandjar Kartasasmita. In May 1999, Golkar announced that Habibie would be their presidential candidate after extensive lobbying, but a large faction in the party remained loyal to Tandjung and opposed to Habibie.

At the 1999 MPR General Session in October, Habibie delivered an accountability speech which was a report of what he had achieved during his presidency. Once this was completed, MPR members began voting to decide if they would accept or reject his speech. Habibie attempted to win the support of the military by offering the vice-presidency to General Wiranto, but his offer was declined. Tandjung’s Golkar faction broke with the ranks and voted against him, and his accountability speech was rejected by 355 votes to 322, and Habibie withdrew his nomination as President.

Post-Presidency, Final Years and Death

Since relinquishing the presidency, he spent more time in Germany than in Indonesia, though he was active during Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s presidency as a presidential adviser. During this time, he established the Habibie Centre.

In September 2006, he released a book called Detik-Detik Yang Menentukan: Jalan Panjang Indonesia Menuju Demokrasi (Decisive Moments: Indonesia’s Long Road Towards Democracy). The book recalled the events of May 1998 which led to his rise to the Presidency. In the book, he controversially accused Lieutenant General Prabowo Subianto, Suharto’s son-in-law (at that time) and the Kostrad Commander, of planning a coup d’état against him in May 1998.

In early September 2019, he was admitted to Gatot Soebroto Army Hospital, where he was undergoing treatments for heart problems, namely cardiomyopathy, and he died from heart failure on 11 September 2019. He was buried the next afternoon at the Kalibata Heroes Cemetery, next to his wife’s grave.

In response to his death, the Government of Indonesia announced a three-day national mourning period starting on 12 September, and announced that the Indonesian flag is to be flown at half-mast.

Family

Habibie was married to Hasri Ainun Besari, a medical doctor, from 12 May 1962 until her death on 22 May 2010. The couple had two sons, Ilham Akbar Habibie and Thareq Kemal Habibie. B. J. Habibie’s brother, Junus Effendi Habibie, was Indonesian ambassador to the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. After his wife’s death, Habibie published a book titled Habibie & Ainun which recounts his relationship with Hasri Ainun from their courtship until her death. The book was adapted into a film of the same name which was released on 20 December 2012.

BJ Habibie with Hasri Ainun HabibieBJ Habibie with

Puisi-puisi BJ Habibie untuk Ainun

Seribu
Sudah seribu hari Ainun pindah ke dimensi dan keadaan berbeda
Lingkunganmu, kemampuanmu, dan kebutuhanmu pula berbeda
Karena cinta murni, suci, sejati, sempurna, dan abadi tak berbeda
Kita tetap manunggal, menyatu, dan tak berbeda sepanjang masa
Ragamu di Taman Pahlawan, bersama para Pahlawan Bangsa lainnya
Jiwa, roh, batin, dan nuranimu telah menyatu denganku
Di mana ada Ainun ada Habibie, di mana ada Habibie ada Ainun
Tetap manunggal dan menyatu tak terpisahkan lagi sepanjang masa
Titipan Allah bibit cinta Ilahi pada setiap insan kehidupan di mana pun
Sesuai keinginan, kemampuan, kekuatan, dan kehendak-Mu Allah
Kami siram dengan kasih sayang, cinta, iman, taqwa, dan budaya kami
Yang murni, suci, sejati, sempurna, dan abadi sepanjang masa
Allah, lindungi kami dari godaan, gangguan mencemari cinta kami
Perekat kami menyatu, manunggal jiwa, roh, batin, dan nurani kami
Di mana pun dalam keadaan apapun kami tetap tak terpisahkan lagi
Seribu hari, seribu tahun, seribu juga tahun, sampai akhirat

Ainun
Hari ini,
tepat 50 tahun dan 8 menit yang lalu, kita bertatap muka
Tanpa direncanakan mata kita bertemu, bagaikan kilat menyambar
memukau, memesona ‘Getaran Cinta’, bagian dari ‘Getaran Jiwa’
Alunan getaran yang tinggi, berirama denyutan jantung dan tarikan nafas.
Tak terkendali mengkalbui diri kita sepanjang masa sampai akhirat.
Sekarang,
50 tahun dan 8 menit kemudian, berkunjung ke Taman Makam Pahlawan.
Tempat peristirahatan ragamu, getaran cinta dan getaran jiwa kita telah menyatu
Memukau, memesona berirama denyutan jatung dan tarikan nafas yang tinggi.
Memanjatkan doa kepada Allah SWT, Tuhan Yang Maha Esa telah memanunggalkan kita.
Karena cinta kita paling suci, murni, sejati, sempurna dan abadi sampai akhirat

Untuk Ainun
Tepat jam sepuluh pagi, lima puluh tahun yang lalu
Dengan ucapan Bismillahhirrahmaanirrahim, saya melangkah
Bertemu yang dilahirkan untuk saya dan saya untuk Ainun
Alunan budaya Jawa bernafaskan Islam, menjadikan kita suami isteri
Melalui pasang surut kehidupan, penuh dengan kenangan manis
Membangun keluarga sejahtera, damai dan tentram, keluarga sakinah
Tepat jam 10 pagi lima puluh tahun kemudian, di Taman Makam Pahlawan
Setelah membacakan tahlil bersama mereka yang menyayangimu
Saya panjatkan doa untukmu, selalu dalam lindungan-Nya dan bimbingan-Nya
Bersyukur pada Allah SWT yang telah melindungi dan mengilhami kita
Mengatasi tantangan badai kehidupan, berlayar ke akhirat dalam dimensi apa saja
Sekarang sudah 50 tahun berlalu, selalu menyatu dan tetap menyatu sampai akhirat

Honours and Distinctions

Habibie received several honorary degrees for his contributions in the fields of technology and science, e.g. he was awarded an Honorary DSc degree from the Cranfield Institute of Technology (United Kingdom) and Dr.h.c. degrees from Chungbuk National University and Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (South Korea) for his services to aircraft technology. In 2010, Habibie was honored with an Honorary PhD degree in Technology by the University of Indonesia for his contribution to science in practice as a technocrat.

Habibie was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering (FREng) in 1990. In 1993, he was awarded an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society (HonFRAeS).

In Popular Culture

  • In the movies Habibie & Ainun (2012) and Rudy Habibie (2016), Habibie is portrayed by Reza Rahadian, while Bima Azriel and Bastian Bintang Simbolon portrayed Habibie during his childhood, and teenage years in Rudy Habibie respectively.
  • In the movie Habibie & Ainun 3 (2019), young Habibie was portrayed by Jefri Nichol.
  • In the movie Di Balik 98, Habibie was portrayed by Agus Kuncoro.