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The first President of Indonesia

The son of a Javanese nobleman and his Balinese wife from Buleleng regency, Sukarno was born in Surabaya (although several sources said he was born in Blitar, East Java) in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). He was admitted into a Dutch-run school as a child. When his father sent him to Surabaya in 1916 to attend a secondary school, he met Tjokroaminoto, a future nationalist. 1921 he begun to study at the Technische Hoogeschool in Bandung.

Sukarno was fluent in several languages, especially Dutch. He once remarked that when he was studying in Surabaya, he often sat behind the screen in movie theaters reading the Dutch subtitles in reverse, because he could not afford the regular front seating's price.

Sukarno became a leader of a Indonesian independence movement party, Partai Nasional Indonesia when it was founded in 1927. He also promoted his belief that Japan would commence a war against the imperialist Western powers and that Java could then gain its independence with Japan's aid. He was arrested in 1929 by Dutch colonial authorities and sentenced for two years in prison. By the time he was released, he had become a popular hero. In the 1930s he was again arrested several times and was serving a Island sentence when Japan assumed power in Jakarta in 1942.

Forces across both Sumatra and Java aided the Japanese against the Dutch, but would not cooperate in the supply of the aviation fuel which was essential for the Japanese war effort. Desparate for local support in supplying the volitile cargo, Japan now brings Sukarno back to Jakarta.

Though Sukarno refused to ever talk about his actions during the war, it should be noted that upon his return and use of the Japanese radio and loud speaker networks across Java; that Japan recieved its aviation fuel as well as Romusha (volunteer work units) and Peta and Heiho (Javanese volunteer army troops) which by mid 1945 numbered around two million ready to defeat any US forces sent to re-take Java. On the 10th November 1943 Sukarno was decorated by the Emperor of Japan in Tokyo. He also became head of Badan Penyelidik Usaha Persiapan Kemerdekaan Indonesia (BPUPKI), the Japanese-organized committee through which Indonesian independence was later gain.

After the Japanese defeat, Sukarno and Mohammed Hatta declared the Republic of Indonesia in August 17, 1945.

Sukarno's vision for the 1945 Indonesian constitution comprised the Panca Sila. (Sanskrit - five pillars). Sukarno's political philosophy was guided by (in no particular order) elements of Marxism, Democracy and Islam. This is reflected in the Panca Sila, in the order in which he originally espoused them in a speech on June 1, 19451:
1. Nationalism (national unity, not ultranationalist supremacy)
2. Internationalism (one nation sovereign amongst equals)
3. Representative Democracy (all significant groups represented)
4. Social Justice (informed by Marxist philosophy)
5. Belief in God (however state remained secular)

The Indonesian parliament, founded on the basis of this original (and subsequent revised) constitutions, proved all but ungovernable. This was due to irreconcilable differences between varios social, political, religious and ethnic factions2.

In the ensuing chaos between various factions and Dutch attempts to re-establish colonial control, Dutch troops captured Sukarno in December 1948, but were forced to release him after the ceasefire. He returned to Jakarta in December 28 1949. There were further attempts of military coups against Sukarno in 1956.

In an effort to restore order, Sukarno established what he called guided democracy, in which he wielded progressively more executive powers, whilst maintaining a multiparty parliament.

During this later part of his presidency, Sukarno came to increasingly rely on the army and the support of the PKI - the Communist Party of Indonesia.

On November 30, 1957, there was a grenade attack against Sukarno when he was visiting a school in Jakarta. Six children were killed but Sukarno did not suffer any serious wounds. In December he ordered nationalization of 246 Dutch businesses. In February he began a breakdown of PRRI (Pemerintah Revolusioner Republik Indonesia) rebels at Bukittingi.

Over the following years he established government control over media and book publishing and purge against Ethnic Chinese residents. In July 5 1959 he reestablished 1945 constitution, dissolved the parliament, molded it to his liking and assumed full personal power as a prime minister. He called the system as government-by-decree Manifesto Politik or Manipol. He sent his opponents to internal exile.

In the 1950s he increased his ties to Communist China and admitted more Communists to his government. Thus he also received Soviet military aid.

In March 1960 Sukarno dissolves the elected Assembly and replaces it it with an appointed Assembly; in August he breaks off diplomatic relations with the Netherlands over Dutch New Guinea (West Papua) and after West Papua decalres itself independent in December 1961 Sukarno ordereds raids to West Irian (Dutch New Guinea). There were more assassination attempts when he visited Sulawesi in 1962. West Irian was brought under Indonesian authority in May 1963 under the Bunker Plan. In the same year in July Sukarno had himself proclaimed President for Life.

Sukarno also opposed the British-supported Federation of Malaysia, claiming that it was a "neo-colonial plot" to advance British interests. In spite of his political overtures, Malaysia was proclaimed in September 1963. This led to Indonesian Confrontation and the end of remaining US military aid to Indonesia. Sukarno withdrew Indonesia from the UN Security Council in 1965 and Malaysia took the seat. Sukarno also became increasingly ill and collapsed in public in August 9, 1965. He was secretly diagnosed with a kidney disease.

On the morning of October 1, 1965, some of Sukarno's closest guards kidnapped and murdered six anti-communist generals. One survivor, who was not targeted in the suspected coup attempt, was Lieutenant-General Suharto.

This crisis sparked a crackdown on the communist party and a nation-wide purge of suspected communists (mostly peasants). The murders were concentrated in Sumatra, East Java and Bali. By the time they petered out in 1966, an estimated half a million Indonesians have been slaughtered by soldiers, police and pro-Suharto vigilantes. Ethnic Chinese were also targeted, primarily for economic and racial reasons. An official CIA report called the purge "one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century."

Sukarno's grip on power was weakened in the crisis, and eventually, pro-American Lieutenant-General Suharto forced Sukarno to hand over executive powers on March 11, 1966.

There is much speculation about who triggered the crisis that led to Sukarno's removal from power. While the official version claims the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) ordered the murders of the six generals, others say Sukarno himself, and some think Suharto orchestrated the assassinations to remove potential rivals for the presidency.

There are also claims that Sukarno was toppled by the United States because of his nationalism and policy of non-alignment.

Sukarno was stripped of his presidential title by Indonesia's provisional parliament on March 12, 1967 and he remained under house arrest until his death at age 69 in Jakarta in 1970.

Last revised on December 01, 2009
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