Former president Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie died at the age of 83 at the Gatot Subroto Army Hospital (RSPAD) in Central Jakarta on Wednesday.
Habibie had been in intensive care at the hospital for a heart condition for 10 days.
“Allow me on behalf of all the Indonesian people and government to express my deep condolences on the passing of Bapak Professor BJ Habibie at 6:05pm at RSPAD Gatot Subroto,” President Joko Widodo told reporters at the hospital on Wednesday night.
“I think he was a statesman that we should take as an example and role model in life.”
The prominent engineer, born on June 25, 1936, served as research and technology minister under Soeharto for 20 years, before being thrust into the role vice president during the dying days of the New Order regime in March 1998.
Renowned for his intelligence and known as “the golden son” of Soeharto for his close relationship with the country’s longest-serving president, he became the first, and shortest-serving, president of the Reform Era, assuming the office after Soeharto’s resignation in May 1998 and relinquishing it after fresh legislative elections held in October 1999.
Habibie is known for leading the country to embrace a democratic and open era after Soeharto’s authoritarian rule.
Before the 1999 general election, he oversaw a bevvy of democratic reforms, the release of political prisoners and a revision of the Press Law that abolished the requirement for press organisations to obtain government-issued publishing licenses (SIUPP).
He passed two laws for decentralisation, thereby paving the way for regional autonomy in the country and putting an end to the centralized governance of Soeharto’s New Order regime.
He also allowed the then-Indonesian province of East Timor to hold a referendum and choose between special autonomy and independence in August 1999.
Only last month, the government of Timor-Leste commemorated the 20th anniversary of the referendum by inaugurating a new bridge named after Habibie in the country’s capital of Dili.
Besides his political career, Habibie is known for his engineering prowess as well as his deep love for his wife Hasri Ainun Besari.
The Sulawesi native left Indonesia to study engineering at the RWTH Aachen University in Germany in 1955, obtaining an engineer’s degree in 1960 and a doctorate in aerospace engineering in 1965.
In 1962, Habibie returned to Indonesia on sick leave, during which he became reacquainted with high-school classmate Ainun, whom he married in May 1962. The two left for Germany shortly afterwards. The couple had two sons, Ilham Akbar Habibie and Thareq Kemal Habibie.
Ainun’s death in 2010 was a heavy blow for the former president, and he is set to be buried beside her at Kalibata Heroes Cemetery in South Jakarta on Thursday.
Two movies have recently been made about Habibie’s youth and relationship with Ainun: Habibie and Ainun in 2012 and Rudy Habibie in 2016.
After concluding his doctoral studies, Habibie accepted a position with German aerospace manufacturer Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm in Hamburg, where he worked until 1974.
He returned to Indonesia in 1974 after being recruited by then-president Soeharto to take part in the government’s development drive and was made chief executive officer of the new state-owned aerospace manufacturer PT Industri Pesawat Terbang Nusantara (IPTN), now known as PT Dirgantara Indonesia. He was appointed to the Cabinet in 1978.
Condolences have poured in from politicians and foreign leaders, who have hailed Habibie for his role in the democratisation of Indonesia.
Former president Megawati Soekarnoputri and Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) secretary-general Hasto Kristiyanto offered their condolences on Habibie’s passing.
Megawati added that the death of Habibie was a great loss of an inspiring leader who had pushed for Indonesia to master technological know-how as a way to advance the country.
“Ibu Megawati was impressed with Habibie’s passion to fulfil his dream of technological progress in an archipelagic country like Indonesia. Ibu Megawati hopes the Jokowi administration will give its best and pay utmost respect to Habibie, who is an icon of technological advancement,” Hasto said.
Agus Harimurti, Democratic Party executive and son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, offered his family’s condolences on Habibie’s passing through an Instagram post.
“Indonesia has once again lost one of its greatest sons; all your efforts and service for the nation and its people, including your advice and guidance for the next generation, we will remember forever,” Agus wrote.
“Under his leadership, the Republic of Indonesia was able to weather the storm of fragmentation and dissolution. During his short stint as president, he provided a strong democratic foundation and saved the economy during the crisis,” Ace said in a statement.
Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad offered his condolences as well, calling Habibie’s passing a heavy loss for Indonesia.
State Secretary Pratikno said the government would declare a three-day mourning period and called on all Indonesians to fly the flag at half-mast until Saturday. The JaKARTA POST/ANN