Timeline: Key events since fall of Indonesia’s Soeharto
An economic crisis as well as mass protests brought down Indonesia’s longtime leader and brought new freedoms.
This week marks 25 years since Indonesia’s former leader General Muhammad Soeharto stepped down amid mass protests and an economic crisis.
Soeharto resigned on May 21, 1998, handing power to Vice President Jusuf Habibie after weeks of student-led protests.
Hundreds of thousands were jailed, killed or simply disappeared during the 30 years Soeharto led Indonesia as he cracked down on opponents and enforced Indonesian rule on restive territories as far apart as Aceh in the west, to Timor and Papua in the east.
Soeharto, who died in January 2008, never faced court over his actions or allegations that billions of dollars in state funds were channelled through his accounts.
For many older Indonesians, Soeharto is still remembered as the “Father of Development”, who expanded access to education and health and was able to take advantage of the oil boom of the 1970s and 1980s to transform the Indonesian economy.
According to the World Bank, under Soeharto’s rule, the size of Indonesia’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew exponentially from $7.5bn in 1968 to $242bn in 1996, the year before the country was hit by the Asian financial crisis.
However, his 32-year tenure was marred by corruption and nepotism as his family members and cronies built massive business empires.
Below is a chronology of the key developments in Indonesia since his fall.
May 21, 1998
Following weeks of student-led protests, Soeharto announces his resignation. The final death toll from the unrest reaches nearly 1,200 people. Ten days later, the attorney general orders a probe of Soeharto’s wealth amid allegations of corruption.
Free elections are held across Indonesia and Abdurrahman Wahid, popularly known as Gus Dur, becomes president. After East Timor votes for independence, pro-Indonesian militias go on a rampage and the territory comes under United Nations administration.
August 31, 2000
Soeharto fails to appear for the first day of his corruption trial. The next month, the court declares Soeharto too ill to stand trial.
Parliament impeaches Gus Dur over allegations of corruption and incompetence. Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of Indonesia’s founding President Sukarno, becomes the country’s new leader.
Irian Jaya province in the far east of the archipelago, where rebels want independence from Indonesia, is given greater autonomy by Jakarta and allowed to adopt the name of Papua.
May 20, 2002
East Timor, also known as Timor-Leste, becomes Southeast Asia’s newest nation and the first newly independent country of the 21st century. A former Portuguese colony, East Timor had a few brief days of independence in 1975 before Indonesia invaded and took control.
Soeharto’s son Hutomo “Tommy” Mandala Putra is sentenced to 15 years jail for masterminding the murder of a judge who had previously convicted him of corruption.
More than 200 people are killed as hardline groups attack two bars in Kuta on the island of Bali.
A car bomb explodes outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta, killing 11 people.
Former general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono wins the presidential elections, unseating Megawati.
More than 220,000 people are killed after a powerful undersea earthquake off northern Sumatra generates a massive tsunami that engulfs Aceh and devastates coastal communities around the Indian Ocean.
Soeharto is admitted to hospital in Jakarta suffering from intestinal bleeding and breathing problems. A year later, he is admitted to the same hospital with similar conditions.
Explosions rip through three restaurants in Bali, killing at least 20 people and injuring more than 100.
The scale of the devastation caused by the Indian Ocean tsunami leads to peace talks between separatist rebels and the Indonesian government after a decades-long armed uprising. A peace accord is signed in August, 2005 and the first direct elections take place in December 2006. Former separatist rebel leader Irwandi Yusuf is elected governor.
The attorney general’s office announces it will sue Soeharto in a civil action in a bid to recover state funds.
The Supreme Court rules in favour of Soeharto in a libel suit against Time magazine, ordering it to pay more than $100m in damages for a 1999 story alleging that Soeharto and his family had amassed a fortune of about $15bn.
Soeharto is admitted to hospital with heart, kidney and lung problems.
January 27, 2008
Soeharto dies in hospital at the age of 86 after suffering multiple organ failure.
Indonesia executes three men convicted over the attacks in Bali in 2002.
Twin explosions hit the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta, leaving several dead and dozens injured.
Police shoot dead Indonesia’s most-wanted hardliner Noordin Mohammad Top, thought to be responsible for a series of deadly attacks across the archipelago.
More than 1,000 people are killed and buildings flattened after a magnitude 7.6 earthquake off Sumatra.
Two churches are set alight in central Java during a protest by hundreds of Muslims against blasphemy. Three members of the Ahmadiyah sect, a minority Muslim group, are bludgeoned to death in a mob attack in West Java.
Cleric Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the group behind the Bali bombings and other attacks, is jailed for 15 years for running a training camp for hardline groups.
A Jakarta court sentences bomb maker Umar Patek to 20 years in prison for his role in the 2002 Bali attacks. He had been extradited from Pakistan in 2011.
Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is declared the winner of the presidential election.
Jakarta’s Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, is jailed for two years for blasphemy over comments made while campaigning for re-election.
A series of bombings hit Indonesia’s second city of Surabaya and are found to have been carried out by families of suicide bombers, including their children.
Twenty years after the fall of the Soeharto, his youngest son announces he will lead a new political party into the 2019 elections.
A major earthquake triggers a tsunami and liquefaction killing more than 4,000 people on the island of Sulawesi. Nearly half the fatalities were in the coastal city of Palu.
A new Boeing 737 Max 8 plane operated by Indonesia’s Lion Air crashes into the Java Sea shortly after taking off from Jakarta, killing all 189 people on board. A similar crash in Ethiopia the following March leads to the grounding of the 737 Max 8 around the world.
Presidential and legislative elections are held simultaneously across Indonesia for the first time. More than 192 million citizens register to vote and Jokowi is returned for a second term.
Schools are closed and people in Sumatra and Kalimantan urged to stay at home as air pollution reaches hazardous levels amid toxic smog caused by fires set to clear land for plantations or new crops. The smog, known as “the haze” which has blighted the region for years, also envelops Malaysia and Singapore.
The excessive and indiscriminate use of tear gas by police is found to be the main cause of a deadly crush at a football stadium in East Java that left 135 people dead.
A Jakarta court rules that elections set for 2024 cannot take place until at least 2025, a decision that seems to go against the constitution.