Taking The Lead
    Category: Issues & Ideas By : Justin Doebele Read : 1375 Date : Monday, December 02, 2013 - 07:49:37

    Ahmad Zamroni / Forbes Indonesia

    Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie was the third president of the Republic of Indonesia, from May 1998 to October 1999. Although his presidency was the shortest in Indonesian history, Habibie played a critical role in the country's development into a prospering democratic nation. His administration provided a transition from the decades-old rule of Suharto, and decentralized power from Jakarta to the provinces. He instituted press freedoms and released political prisoners, as well as other reforms that boosted democratic traditions and pluralism. He moved decisively to stabilize the economy, which had gone into freefall during the chaos of the Asian financial crisis and the social unrest and rioting that rocked the country. At the closing session of the Forbes Global CEO Conference in Bali in September, Habibie spoke on stage with Forbes Chairman Steve Forbes in a special “Meeting of Minds” dialogue session, moderated by Forbes Indonesia Chief Editorial Advisor Justin Doebele. The following are edited excerpts of that session.

    Justin Doebele: In the fifteen years since you were president, how has Indonesia changed?

    First of all the people of Indonesia are more self-confident. The first decision I had to make as president, even before the cabinet was established, was that I instructed my generals that from then on no one in Indonesia would be put in jail if he supported the empowerment of people. They asked: “Are you serious?” And I said: “Yes, get them out. All the journalists, all the union leaders.” What was the first thing they did? They protested against me, but I didn't care. I never really planned to be president. I was never elected. I become president by accident. I believe in the power of people. It's the only true power that really exists. Before President Suharto stepped down I was responsible for science and technology for 25 years. I was a professor of science and engineering and suddenly I'm running a country. As president, I started concentrating on how to give power back to the people.

    Steve Forbes: Mr. President, in addition to freeing political prisoners and the media, a significant move was decentralizing power in Indonesia. Perhaps you could tell us more about that?

    In Indonesia, the provinces that contribute much to GDP are the ones that have natural resources. They also have a higher percentage of poor people. It runs against logic. For me that was never acceptable. But before I could only protest to President Suharto. He would say: “Why do you care? You have your technology and science and you can do what you want. The rest is my business.” So granting autonomy was one of the first things that I did as president.

    Indonesia is the biggest Islamic society of the world, more than 87% of Indonesians are Muslim. I am a Muslim, but I have no problem going to a church to pray. When I was studying in Germany, there were no mosques in 1954. But when I was homesick I went to the church and prayed in my own way. We have the biggest Islamic society, but we are not a Muslim country. We are a republic. Your religion is your own private matter. As such, as a result of my background, my upbringing and my education, I came to the conclusion that those provinces that are rich but whose people were poor needed the freedom to develop.