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Thursday, May 21, 1998 Published at 13:41 GMT 14:41 UK

Suharto: a political obituary

Preference for economic development over the protection of individual rights

President Suharto has been forced from office at the age of 76, with the Asian economic model he helped to construct in ruins. The BBC's regional analyst, James Miles, looks back.

President Suharto always embraced the widely held idea in the region that Asians have their own distinct value system.

[ image: Civil servants queue for cheap cooking oil during the economic crisis]
Civil servants queue for cheap cooking oil during the economic crisis
This meant a preference for economic development over the protection of individual rights and a preference for dictatorship over chaotic democracy.

Suharto's problem became that as the economy crumbled many Indonesians felt their country was edging towards chaos, with or without Suharto in power.

Power base

The president derived his power from the armed forces, where he began his career.

Brian Hanrahan looks at three decades of Suharto's presidency
After the Japanese invaded, he became a batallion commander in the Japanese-controlled military.

At that time, some in Southeast Asia saw the Japanese as potential liberators from Western colonial rule.

After the Japanese defeat, Suharto played an important role in the independence movement against the Dutch, who wanted to reassert their pre-war control.

Coup attempt

A decade-and-a-half after Indonesia's formal independence from the Netherlands in 1949, Suharto took advantage of the political and social chaos under Indonesia's founding president, Sukarno, to seize power.

archive reports of 1965 abortive coup

The abortive coup against President Sukarno, blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party, prompted a military crackdown and a mass slaughter of hundreds of thousands of suspected Communist sympathisers and ethnic Chinese.

[ image: Food stocks ran out as the rupiah fell in value]
Food stocks ran out as the rupiah fell in value
The following year, Suharto, then a major general, forced Sukarno to surrender power.

Suharto successfully quelled occasional bouts of anti-government unrest, but it was the financial crisis that struck Indonesia last year that presented him with the gravest political crisis of his rule.

The crisis made glaringly obvious the fundamental flaws in Suharto's style of leadership.

Family businesses

He had failed to foster robust independent institutions that could keep the economy healthy.

He had secured lucrative business contracts for his friends, his six children and their families. Indonesia's economy had come to resemble Suharto, Inc.

Despite these shortcomings, the president's age and achievements still commanded respect among many Indonesians.

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