For all but six months the world has awaited news of the fall of President Sukarno, his position gravely threatened by the ascendancy of the army and the attempted physical obliteration of the Communist Party. Yet throughout this period Sukarno refused to surrender, deploying his persuasive diplomatic skills to baffle and brake the army commanders and permit once again hopes of the impending re-entry of the Communist Party into civic life. He even proved adroit enough to dismiss the Minister of Defence, Abdul Haris Nasution, unquestionably the most powerful of the generals, at a time when the army was loudly celebrating its grasp over power and massacre of its political opponents. Certainly the story is not yet finished. The vacuums which have been formed may be filled by still unsuspected forces; new contradictions may crystallize; new relations between fire-power and diplomacy emerge. But the time has already come when it is possible to look back on the events which triggered off the political oscillations of the last six months with some degree of detachment, the first shock past.

The mainspring of the forces which briefly seized power in Djakarta on October 1 last year were dissident officers and troops from the Seventh (Diponegoro) Division of the Indonesian Army, stationed normally in Central Java. A group of junior officers from this Central Java Division had apparently become disenchanted with the conduct of the top army command. They accused them of corruption, falling into decadent and luxurious habits and, most seriously, dragging their heels over Confrontation with Malaysia. They also suspected undue American influence. Accordingly they determined to rid the nation and the Revolution of these parasites. The junior officers concerned were not necessarily left-wing; some of them appear to have definite anti-communist records. They were however highly conscious of what they considered the proper duty of the army and its role in the Indonesian Revolution. They bore some resemblance to the Young Officers in Japan or, say, their counterparts in Turkey today.

However, it is one thing to sit and plot in Semarang or Jogjakarta, another to be in a real position to act. But opportunity presented itself. One of the junior officers, Lt. Col. Untung, was transferred to the Presidential Guard (Tjakrabirawa Regiment) in Djakarta, as a Battalion Commander. More than that. He was put in charge of arranging a historical pageant for the marchpast on Army Day. This was crucial; it enabled the plotters to move battalions sympathetic to their aims into the capital for the parade. They now had troops available on the spot, not hours away in Central Java. The plotters set about perfecting their plan. In particular, they won to their side the Commander of the Guard at the Halim Airbase, just outside Djakarta, Flight Major Sujono. Control over the Halim Base would give them both a secure operations centre and a means of keeping contact with Central Java. They also involved a Brigade Commander from the local Fifth Division of the Army, Colonel Latief. Finally they made preparations to use armed auxiliaries being trained at the Halim Airbase as part of the projected Fifth Armed Force. These auxiliaries were mostly volunteers from the Communist People’s Youth; the Fifth Armed Force, inaugurated about three months previously, was designed in effect to give the pki (Indonesian Communist Party) a military presence. In the event, this unauthorized involvement in the affair was to cost the pki dear.

The plot was put into action in the early hours of October 1. The first stage had three parts. First, action was undertaken to seize seven top army generals at their villas and bring them to Halim Base. These generals were named as members of the clandestine Generals’ Council, which had been prepared to take over the State in the event of Sukarno’s death or, indeed, should any other favourable opportunity suggest itself. There are strong signs of the existence of at least a close clique; the exclusion of the kostrad Army hq Commander, General Suharto, from the list of seven was due to the fact that such a clique did exist but he was not a member of it. His omission was to prove disastrous to the plotters; it is hard otherwise to imagine why he was overlooked. Those to be arrested included almost every other top staff officer, including the chiefs of intelligence, finance and political activity. Second, key installations in the city centre were to be seized : the Presidential Palace, the Radio Station, the Telephone Exchange, crucial road intersections. (For some reason, the kostrad Supreme Army hq was neglected). Thirdly, various other personalities, including Sukarno himself, were to be brought to Halim.

At about 3.15 a.m. seven armed groups, ranging in size from roughly twenty to a hundred men, left the Halim Base for Djakarta. They proceeded to the villas of the seven generals and, in all cases, succeeded swiftly in overpowering the guards. After that, however, they met with uneven success. Three of the generals were killed during the raids. General Yani, Minister-Commander of the Army, lost his temper when refused permission to bathe and change out of his pyjamas. He stormed back into his bedroom and was shot down through the glass door. General Harjono heard the intruders coming, switched off all the lights and tried to overpower the first man to come through the bedroom door. He was shot. General Pandjaitan lived in a two-storey house, unlike the others. After a great deal of shouting up and down the stairs he eventually agreed to come down when his family was threatened. Besides his sten-gun had jammed. However, he put up more resistance in the front yard and was shot.