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A Champion of Democracy and Humanity is Gone

RIP: President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie 1936-2019

Indonesia’s third President, Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, died in Jakarta at the age of 83 on Wednesday, September 11, 2019. The much-loved and respected former president, who had been in failing health for some time, had been in the intensive care unit of Jakarta’s Army Hospital for three days for treatment of a heart condition by a specialist team of physicians dispatched by the Presidential Palace.

Habibie’s death was announced to the public by his second son, Thareq Kemal Habibe, who confirmed the time of death as 6:03 pm.

Born in Parepare, South Sulawesi, Habibie traveled to the Netherlands and Germany in the 1950s to pursue a degree in the field or aviation and aeronautical engineering, receiving his engineering degree in 1960. By 1965, he had received a doctorate degree in aerospace engineering. Before returning to Indonesia in 1974, Habibie worked in a variety of positions including a period designing train stock before joining Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm - where he helped on the Airbus Project, eventually rising to the rank of a corporate Vice-president.

Persuaded to return to Indonesia in 1974 by then-President Suharto, he worked briefly with the State Oil Company Pertamina before being appointed CEO of the State Aircraft Industry (IPTN). In 1978, he was appointed Minister of Research and Technology while at the same time continuing to supervise the development of IPTN, launching the production of both fixed-wing and helicopters that were proudly “made in Indonesia.” By 1991, Habibie oversaw ten state-owned companies involved in aviation, ship building, steel, arms, communications and energy. Accordingly, Habibie was often called “Indonesia’s Father of Technology.

During his long-term of government service, Habibie identified promising young students in the fields of science and technology securing government funds for post graduate studies at leading universities in the USA, Europe, and Japan.

Habibie held a range of cabinet portfolios on six Indonesian cabinets over a time span of 20 years starting in 1978, raising to Vice-President – a post he held for one year after succeeding President Suharto following in May of 1998.

Although serving as President for little more than one year, Habibie is widely credited with removing draconian controls on the national press and political parties, setting the stage in 1999 for what was to become Indonesia’s first truly democratic presidential election since 1955.

Serving as President for only 17 months until October 1999, Habibie was succeeded by Abdurrahman Wahid.

During a three day period of officially proclaimed mourning, the former president was laid to rest on Thursday, September 12, 2019, at the Kalibata Heroes Cemetery in Jakarta. He was buried next to his wife, Dr. Hasri Ainun Habibie, who preceded him in death in 2010.

The ceremony was presided over by President Joko Widodo and attended by all surviving former presidents - Megawati Sukarnoputri and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

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