Indonesia’s former president B J Habibie dies at 83

Indonesia’s former president B J Habibie passed away on Wednesday, 11 September at 83, according to reports. Al Jazeera reported that Habibie’s son, Thareq Kemal Habibie made the announcement to Metro TV.

Habibie served as Indonesia’s president from May 1998 to October 1999, taking over for President Suharto and leading the country in a time of transition into democracy. In his later years, Habibie was placed under intensive care at the Fatot Soebroto Army Hospital in Jakarta, battling several health issues, including heart problems.

In a speech, current president Joko Widodo described Habibie as “a world-class scientist and the father of technology in Indonesia”.

The late Mr Habibie had studied aviation and aerospace engineering in Germany and the Netherlands in the 1960s. Soon after, he went back to Indonesia to chair the state-owner Industri Pesawat Terbang Nusantara before becoming Minister of Research and Technology. He was later appointed as Suharto’s deputy shortly before becoming President himself.

During his 17 months as president, Habibie allowed a referendum on the independence for East Timor which had been annexed by Indonesia in the 1970s.

In 1999, the people of East Timor voted for independence which triggered months of violence, necessitating the deployment of UN peacekeepers. The territory is now an independent country called Timor-Leste.

Habibie is also famously known for describing Singapore as a “little red dot” back in 1998. At the time, Singaporeans found his remark disparaging but Habibie later said he was misquoted.

In 2006, he told reporters that he was trying to inspire the youth of Indonesia to take Singapore as an example of being a small country that performs excellently.

He added, “’I said… they have vision. Come to Changi; they are hardworking, disciplined, and so on. They are based on human resources. You have everything but are fighting each other. You should be ashamed.”

Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean said on Facebook that he was ‘deeply saddened’ by Habibie’s passing while on his way to Jakarta for a working visit.

He said, “He will be remembered for leading Indonesia during a difficult period, his love for country, passion for aircraft engineering & steadfast belief in public service.”

Following the announcement of his death, the government of Indonesia has announced a 3-day mourning period starting 12 September.

The late president is survived by his two sons.