BJ Habibie, the leader who oversaw Indonesia’s transition to democracy, progress, dies

BJ Habibie and his wife Ainun in 2008 (Antara)

BJ Habibie and his wife Ainun in 2008 (Antara)

Jakarta: Indonesia’s third president Bacharuddin Jusuf (BJ) Habibie died on Wednesday afternoon.

He had been in intensive care at Gatot Subroto Army Hospital in Jakarta since September 1.

On Tuesday, his second son Thareq Kemal Habibie said that his father was starting to get stable after intensive treatment for exhaustion from his packed activities.

But fate had other plans for BJ Habibie. The genius who created Indonesia’s first self-made aircraft died at the age 83 surrounded by his family, national news agency ANTARA reported.

Habibie’s health had increasingly deteriorated since he underwent surgery in Munich Germany, to treat a leakage in the heart valve prosthesis early March 2018.

However, much before the surgery, he never fully recovered mentally or physically from his grief at losing his beloved wife Ainun Habibie in 2010.

He will be buried next to her grave at the Heroes Cemetery, Kalibata, in South Jakarta.

According to his biography posted by ANTARA, BJ Habibie was born in Parepare, South Sulawesi, on June 25, 1936, the fourth son of eight children of Alwi Abdul Jalil Habibie and Tuti Marini Puspowadjojo.

He was a devout Muslim, following his religious family background in Parepare where his grandfather was an Islamic figure.

Later in his life, Habibie was one of the founders of the Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals Association (ICMI) and became its patron.

During his adolescence, Habibie went to Christian Dago High School in Bandung, West Java, and then completed his higher education at the Technology Faculty of the University of Indonesia in Bandung (now Bandung Institute of Technology) in 1954.

From 1955 to 1965, Habibie went abroad to study aviation technology majoring in aircraft construction at RWTH Aachen, West Germany.

He graduated and received his Ingenieur diploma in 1960 and became an Ingenieur doctor in 1965 with the highest honors.

Habibie stayed in Germany after his graduation and worked at Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm, an aircraft company in Hamburg.

Even after he received honorary German citizenship for his achievements in aviation technology, he returned home in 1973 when second President Soeharto asked him to work and develop Indonesia with his expertise.

Back in Indonesia, his first career was with Pertamina, a state-owned oil and gas company. He was later appointed director at PT Dirgantara Indonesia — Indonesia’s state-owned aviation industry.

Soeharto appointed Habibie as Minister of Research and Technology in 1978. He occupied that position consecutively until 1997.

During his time as minister, Habibie created the first Indonesian aircraft CN 25 Gatot Kaca that had been manufactured by PT Dirgantara Indonesia.

Habibie was a pioneer in the Indonesian aviation industry as his aircraft had shown the world that Indonesia could move towards an industrial era from being mainly labelled as an agrarian country.

In 1997, his career skyrocketed when the people’s assembly (MPR) chose him to be Soeharto’s vice president.

In 1998, people’s power forced Soeharto to step down after nearly 33 years in administration.

On May 21, 1998, Soeharto announced his resignation as president, and legitimately as his vice president, Habibie took over the presidential seat.

The late 1990s was a difficult era, where Indonesia had a severe economic crisis with huge inflation coupled with unstable domestic politics and security.

But Habibie succeeded in elevating Indonesia from virtual bankruptcy to a relatively safer fundamental economy within only a year and five months in his administration.

During his rule, Indonesia had also started regulating the regional autonomy that changed a centralized system into a decentralized one.

Also in his era, a multi-party election was allowed after more than 30 years of Soeharto’s regime controlled it to only three parties.

Aside from his role in the country, Habibie was known as the loving husband of Hasri Ainun Besari (Ainun Habibie).

He wrote a long love letter to his late wife as a catharsis for his loss after she died in 2010. The letter was published and it became one of Indonesia’s best-selling books.

Their love story was also made into at least three movies that still inspire many Indonesians.

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