News Article

International IDEA remembers President B. J. Habibie’s contribution to democracy in Indonesia

Image credit: Adek Berry/Scanpix

Image credit: Adek Berry/Scanpix

International IDEA is saddened by the death of B. J. Habibie, president of Indonesia from 1998 to 1999.

As President Habibie passed away in Jakarta today, we recall his dedication and strength in introducing democratic principles in Indonesia.

Habibie as a young man, had a close personal relationship with Soeharto, who served as the country’s authoritarian president for 32 years. From 1978 to 1998, Habibie served as minister of state for research and technology, after which he was elected vice-president in 1998. Habibie was a member of the governing Golkar Party.

In 1998, Habibie reached the presidency through constitutional succession, endorsed by Parliament, which averted a dangerous power struggle among senior military leaders. Habibie authorized the formation of new political parties, brought forward the date for new national elections by three years, and removed Soeharto family supporters and several military officers from Parliament. Habibie ended his presidency in 1999 after his accountability report was rejected by a close vote in the People’s Consultative Assembly.[1]

Sergio Bitar, Vice Chair of the Board of Advisers for International IDEA, interviewed Habibe years ago and reflected on his life.

"When comparing democratic transitions around the world, the role of Dr Habibie appears as a distinctive case. He showed a unique capacity to transform himself from an engineer, with a passion for building airplanes, to a skillful and determined politician. He was able to navigate in turbulent waters and lead his country  from an authoritarian regime to a new democracy." 

Bitar adds, "As a politician and intellectual he was able to transmit his teachings and wisdom to other countries, that were facing similar challenges. Undoubtedly,  his convictions strengthened his character and allowed him to confront adversity, without weakening his resolve to build a democracy. He often referred to his religious principles as a source of inspiration for tolerance and trust in his fellow citizens.  He was a generous man who changed the history of Indonesia. His reflections  are well registered in the book Democratic Transitions, that we edited  with Professor A. Lowenthal."

Habibie’s work and key role in strengthening democracy for a nation are captured in the International IDEA initiative, Democratic Transitions: Conversations with World Leaders, in the chapter: Indonesia’s Democratic Venture: Problems, Prospects, and Remaining Challenges by Bahtiar Effendy and Mutiara Pertiwi.

Indonesia is an International IDEA Member State, supporting democracy worldwide, since 2013.

[1] This biography is an excerpt from the Democratic Transitions: Conversations with World Leaders, co-edited by Sergio Bitar and Abraham F. Lowenthal, and co-published by Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015.