For three decades, President Suharto delivered on pledges of economic growth, and few Indonesians challenged his authoritarian grip. Those who did were often muzzled or thrown in jail.
But now that the economy is in a shambles, the government faces its deepest crisis of credibility since Suharto, who turns 77 next month, swept to power on a wave of social and political turmoil in the 1960s.Thousands of student protesters clamor almost every day for his ouster and often skirmish with police. Once reluctant to talk politics, Indonesians ranging from doctors to street vendors to construction workers now openly say there is a need for new leadership.
Even a few normally obedient legislators of the ruling Golkar Party suggested the energy minister resign after the government raised the prices of fuel, transport and electricity last week.
The increases sparked three days of rioting in Medan, Indonesia's third-largest city. Two people were killed. Since, a bystander has been killed in student-police clash in Yogyakarta and an undercover military officer stoned to death by students in Bogor. Campuses were largely quiet Monday, a national holiday.
Despite all this, Suharto is in firm command of his Cabinet and the military and signaled as much by flying off to a summit of developing nations in Cairo.
For now, the opposition is too weak and splintered to pose a serious threat to Suharto's authority. A "people's power" movement like the one that brought down dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines in 1986 does not exist.
A former army general, Suharto can rely on the loyalty of armed forces chief Gen. Wiranto and his commanders, some of whom were former presidential aides.
But the unrest won't help Indonesia's economy, battered by the Asian financial crisis and the main reason unrest is spreading off campus.