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Realizing that the Bung valued his pride above all else, Suharto has never once criticized Sukarno in public. "The Bung is our President," he has always insisted, and throughout his long campaign to tear down everything Sukarno stood for, he always made it appear that he was acting in the President's name. Nor did he argue with Sukarno. "We have to treat Sukarno like a small boy," says one of Suharto's close colleagues. "You have to say to him, 'Mr. President, you are right in your analysis of the situation and therefore this is what you should do.' That way you persuade him to do what he does not want to do." Added another officer: "If he objects, we try another pathright around him."
One of the paths led straight to Ratna Sari Dewi, the lovely young Japanese girl who is Sukarno's sixth and favorite wife.* The Bung met Dewi in 1959, when she was a hostess in a Tokyo nightclub, brought her back to Djakarta with him, and installed her in a large and pleasant villa just outside the city. When Suharto became boss, she took it upon herself to try to serve as an intermediary between the two men, and the General found that she could often talk the Bung into accepting compromises he had rejected from everyone else.
Fortunately for Suharto, he was always able to arrange pressure from backstage. Most of it came from two anti-Communist student unions, KAMI (for college students) and KAPPI (for high schools), which had been suppressed until the Communists lost control of the campuses after the disastrous October coup. Together they quickly became a lively, powerful, incessant force against Sukarno, and Suharto quietly encouraged them. "The KAMI has become a tool for social control," he said. "I like to consider them as the Parliament in the street."
Push & Pull. They were always in the street. When Sukarno, ignoring the rising national clamor to ban the P.K.I., appointed several Communist sympathizers to his Cabinet in February, the students swarmed through Djakarta, rioting, slashing car tires, and even storming Sukarno's Merdeka Palace. A special target of their ire: wily Foreign Minister Subandrio, who was widely believed to be implicated in the Communist coup.
With Suharto gently pulling and the students rudely pushing, Sukarno was obviously in trouble. The climax came in March. Half a million youngsters from all over Indonesia had arrived in Djakarta, completely paralyzing the streets. As the mood of the city grew tense, Suharto called in troops from outlying areas to reinforce the capital garrisons in the interest, of course, of protecting Sukarno. Then a curious thing happened. In the middle of a Cabinet meeting, Sukarno was handed a note saying that the palace was surrounded by rebellious troops.
The thought that even Suharto had lost control threw Sukarno into a panic. He took off immediately in a helicopter for his summer palace at Bogor, 40 miles away. Not alone. Subandrio was in such a hurry to accompany him that he left his shoes under the conference table.