Suharto or Soeharto (both: sōhärˈtō) [key], 1921–2008, president of Indonesia (1967–98). A veteran of the war for independence (1945–49) against the Dutch, he became army chief of staff in 1965. He opposed the pro-Chinese policies of President Sukarno and, while still relatively unknown, crushed a coup in 1965, which was blamed on the Communists, and then moved to replace Sukarno. Suharto assumed key civilian cabinet offices in 1966, became acting president in 1967, and assumed the office of supreme commander of the army and was elected president in 1968. With political parties severely limited, he was reelected every five years from 1973 to 1998. Under Suharto, Western investment was encouraged and Indonesia gradually recovered from the economic morass into which it had fallen, achieving economic growth and political stability. At the same time, however, dissent was suppressed and human rights violated in the name of consensus. Suharto and his family used their power to enrich themselves and their friends, gaining billions of dollars through their control of government enterprises and charities and their acceptance of kickbacks for state contracts. The collapse of Indonesia's economy (1997) along with popular discontent with Suharto's rule provoked widespread rioting and forced his resignation in 1998, and subsequently a government corruption investigation was instituted. Suharto was placed under house arrest in 2000 and was charged with corruption; however, the charges were later dismissed for health reasons.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.