Telly Nathalia & Mikael Erawan, Jakarta – The State Secretariat has announced a three-day national mourning period for former president Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, who passed away from an illness in Jakarta yesterday.
Indonesia's third president, known affectionately as B.J. Habibie, was initially seen as a mere technocrat, having held the post of Research and Technology Minister for 20 years before he replaced military strongman Suharto, who was forced to step down in 1998.
But during the shortest presidency in Indonesia's history, from May 1998 to October 1999, Habibie surprised almost everyone by presiding over a series of democratic reforms, including holding Indonesia's first free election since 1955 and allowing an independence referendum for East Timor, which led to the former Portuguese colony to secede from Indonesia in 1999.
Other important democratic reforms the German-educated aerospace engineer oversaw included releasing Orde Baru's political prisoners, ratifying an International Labor Organization convention that allowed for more workers' unions to be formed in Indonesia, issuing a presidential decree to establish the National Commission on Violence Against Women and officially apologizing for the mass rapes and murders of Chinese-Indonesian women during the 1998 May Riot, and releasing a law in 1999 to liberalize the press.
Habibie remained a popular figure after he left the presidency in 1999 even while appearing to have quit politics altogether. His memoir "Habibie and Ainun" – Hasri Ainun Besari was Habibie's wife of 48 years who died in 2010 – was turned into a blockbuster biopic in 2012, receiving three Piala Citra, Indonesia's biggest film award, and still holds down the title as the fifth highest-grossing film in Indonesian history.
"We have announced an official three-day mourning period until Sept. 14," State Secretary Pratikno said on Wednesday evening.
Indonesians are expected to fly the national flag at half-mast during a period of national mourning.
Habibie will be laid to rest at the National Heroes Cemetery in Kalibata, South Jakarta, on Thursday at 2 p.m. President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo will lead the funeral ceremony.
Jokowi, accompanied by First Lady Iriana Widodo and their eldest son Gibran Raka, arrived at the Gatot Soebroto Army Central Hospital a few minutes after the former president breathed his last breath.
"Every problem that our country faced, be it economic or political, he could always come up with a solution... He was our father of technology, a true statesman and a role model for us all," the president said.
Malaysia's Foreign Affairs Ministry announced early on Thursday that Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail will fly to Jakarta to attend Habibie's funeral ceremony.