Former Indonesian president Habibie dies at 83

Late leader oversaw country's transition from dictatorship under Suharto to democracy
Former Indonesian president Habibie dies at 83

Former Indonesian President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie waves to supporters as he sits with the audience to hear US President Barack Obama deliver his keynote speech at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta in this November, 2010 file photo. (Photo by BARBARA WALTON/AFP)

Former Indonesian president, Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, known for leading the country into the democratic era, died on Sept. 11 in a Jakarta hospital.

The 83-year-old had been admitted to the hospital 10 days earlier suffering from a heart condition.

Born on June 25, 1936, in Parepare in South Sulawesi province, Habibie was a prominent engineer before being appointed research and technology minister under authoritarian president Suharto in 1978.

He later became vice president during the days of the New Order regime in March 1998.

In May of that same year he became Indonesia’s third president following the resignation of dictator Suharto during a student uprising and an economic crisis.

As president, Habibie oversaw the implementation of special autonomy and political party laws and the revision of a press law that abolished the requirement for press organizations to obtain a government-issued publishing license.

More notably, in August 1999, he allowed the referendum to be held that saw annexed former Portuguese colony Timor-Leste vote for independence.

He stood down as a presidential candidate in October 1999 elections after failing to win backing from the People’s Consultative Assembly.

Habibie’s body was buried in Kalibata Heroes Cemetery after a state funeral on Sept. 12.

The government also declared three days of mourning during which the national flag was to be flown at half-mast.

Vincentius Hargo Mandirahardjo, chairman of the Association of Indonesian Catholic Intellectuals said Habibie played a significant role in pushing through democratic reforms.

“He was not only seen as ‘a father of national technology’ but also a national figure who led our country to democracy. We now enjoy a democratic system thanks to him,” he told ucanews.com.

“He was a wise leader who really understood that power should not rest in the same hands forever,” he said referring to Suharto’s three decades in power.

Reverend Gomar Gultom, secretary-general of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia called Habibie “a true statesman who placed democratic principles before everything else.”

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