Medan, Indonesia – On the morning of May 21, 1998, then-Indonesian leader Suharto stood in the presidential palace and addressed the nation.

For weeks, protesters have filled the streets amid soaring prices of fuel, cooking oil and rice as a result of the Asian financial crisis.

the Unrest spread to cities across the country. Shops and shops of Chinese origin in the country were attacked and violent clashes took place between demonstrators – mostly students – and security forces. On May 12, four students were shot dead during a demonstration at Trisakti University in Jakarta. In all, more than 1,000 people were killed, and there were reports of rape of ethnic Chinese women.

After 30 years in power, the military strongman sometimes called the Smiling General, has announced that he is resigning immediately.

Suharto announces his resignation.  His deputy chief BJ Habibi is standing nearby, with an Indonesian flag behind him.  Suharto reads from a piece of paper
Indonesian President Suharto announces his resignation as Vice President BJ Habibie looks on at the presidential palace in Jakarta [File: Agus Lolong/AFP]

Standing next to Suharto would be his deputy, PJ Habibie, who would assume the top job and allow Indonesians freedoms denied during Suharto’s decades in power – at a time when activists had disappeared and the military was deployed in troubled regions of Aceh Papua.

The charismatic Sukarno administration, which led Indonesia to independence from the Dutch in 1945, became increasingly chaotic and in 1965 a failed coup attempt led to Millions killed suspected communists.

Amidst this chaos, the emergence of Suharto in 1968 was greeted with optimism at first. Many hoped that his administration would bring the new regime calm and prosperity.

But despite its early promise, the new regime’s modernization eventually came to embody a hyper-centralized government focused on consolidating power, an emboldened military bent on propping up Suharto and his determination to stay in the presidential palace, whatever the cost.

Since his sudden resignation, Indonesia has embraced democracy, albeit imperfectly, and has had five different presidents chosen through free and independent elections.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo casts his vote during elections in Jakarta, Indonesia on April 17, 2019. REUTERS/EDGAR SO/FILE PHOTO
President Joko Widodo was elected for a second term in 2019. Indonesia will choose its next president in 2024 [File: Edgar Su/Reuters]

The economy has also recovered from the 1998 crisis and is now the second fastest growing in the G20, after India and ahead of China. Indonesia hosted the group’s annual gathering in Bali last year, where its current president, Joko Widodo, better known as Jokowi, attempted to broker peace between Russia and Ukraine.

However, there were challenges and concerns that the legislation including the new legislation Criminal Law And omnibus law Plus the rise of hardline religious groups could erode the hard-won freedoms of the past 25 years. There were also accusations that some of the corruption, nepotism, and nepotism that plagued the Suharto years were still rife across the country.

In remembrance of one of Indonesia’s most important historical moments and with presidential elections scheduled for February 2024, Al Jazeera has asked activists, academics and human rights advocates how the country has changed in the 25 years since Suharto’s dramatic fall from power. .

Andreas Harsono, researcher for Human Rights Watch in Indonesia

“We weren’t naive when we were trying to overthrow Suharto rule in the 1990s, but we didn’t really expect that we would see the rise of Islamism and religious fanatics in post-Suharto Indonesia with discriminatory regulations inspired by Sharia law against gender, gender, and religious minorities.

“There have been 45 anti-LGBT regulations and no fewer than 64 mandatory veil regulations, out of more than 700 rules in post-Suharto Indonesia. Obviously, the biggest is the new criminal code.”

Damai Pakbahan, feminist activist

“Indonesia changed dramatically for at least the first five years after 1998. A lot of laws and policies that focused on women and women’s agenda changed. We got the Elimination of Sexual Violence Act in 2004 under former President Megawati Soekarnoputri, and in 2007, we got the Anti-trafficking law during the presidency of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

“We also had the presidential directive on gender mainstreaming in 2000 under President Abdul Rahman Waheed (Gus Dur). We also changed the marriage age from 16 for women and 18 for men to 19 for both women and men in 2019, after pressure from Feminist groups.Last year, we got a new Sexual Violence Elimination Act.

“Women’s interests are now heard by the state at the legal level. But we also face a backlash where women and girls are not able to freely choose what they want. The rise of conservative Islam has forced some women, girls and even children to wear the hijab. We also have a backlash in the form of laws discriminatory or unconstitutional domestic violence throughout Indonesia that mostly targets the rights of women and minorities.”

Yohannes Suleiman, Lecturer in International Relations at Genderel Ahmet Yani University

“At the time, I was in Madison, Wisconsin, in the United States. I remember more when I found out about 9/11, but if I’m not mistaken, I read about the fall of Suharto on the Internet.

“In those days, when people were demonstrating or public protests, cities were eerily quiet in Indonesia. Shops were closed and students were told to go home quickly and quietly. We feared the army a lot. They were basically the kings as they were in power.

Nowadays, I think they are much less arrogant, friendlier and more law-abiding. When I was a kid, I saw an officer stuck in a traffic jam. He simply got out of his car, slapped a traffic policeman and told him to move his car. I was stunned. I think that position of the Chinese He has also changed a lot, and to some extent for the better. I think people are less discerning nowadays, though, of course, except for the usual suspects.”

Ian Wilson is Lecturer in Politics and Security Studies at Murdoch University

I was doing my PhD at Murdoch University in Perth and watched Suharto’s resignation on campus TV in excitement, but also apprehension. We’ve just seen this wave of people saying, “No, we’ve had enough.” It happened quickly.

“There was no basic electoral democracy in Indonesia before 1998 and we have seen significant structural reform in that region that was imperfect but important. More regional autonomy means that a new generation of Indonesians has grown up with a different set of political expectations about power. There is an expectation now That the government be clean and serve the common good.

While there has of course been some Democratic backsliding, public support for electoral politics has remained high and people support the general election. This prevents the political parties from wanting to take over the system so that they can control it. It is difficult now for the elites to move things forward. The next few years after the 2024 elections will be fundamental for Indonesia.”

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