The ‘Adopted Son’ and Successor Begins to Shape Suharto’s Legacy

The ‘Adopted Son’ and Successor Begins to Shape Suharto’s Legacy

WASHINGTON -- Indonesia's strongman Suharto was many things to many people. As the debate rages over Suharto's mixed legacy, he was ultimately an enigma to his protégé, vice president and successor Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie.

When Suharto was forced to resign on May 21, 1998, after 32 years at the helm, he did not say a word to Habibie. They had once been close. Habibie had nicknamed his mentor "SGS" -- "super genius Suharto" -- to gain his favor. Suharto, a devotee of mysticism, was drawn to Habibie's preacher-seer father whom he met quite by chance as a young military officer serving on the island of Sulawesi. Suharto was then 28. Habibie was 13. When Habibie's father died, Suharto performed the last rites. Neither Suharto nor Habibie knew then, in1950, that they were both destined to lead Indonesia at critical crossroads in the country's history. No one expected the "adopted son" -- as Habibie came to be known -- to succeed his "surrogate father" either, least of all Suharto.

Their falling out was so breathtakingly ironic that Suharto's silence was never really broken after that fateful day in 1998 when he grudgingly transferred power to Habibie in an oath-taking ceremony that was remarkably constitutional. Indonesia was in the throes of a revolution. And Suharto, who left the country in ruins, retreated quietly into his Cendana-style home in an elite neighborhood in central Jakarta, emerging only to pray, to meditate, to vote, and to keep doctors appointments while ignoring summons from state prosecutors to appear in court to face corruption charges.

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