A military coup in 1965 – aimed primarily at destroying the Indonesian Communist Party – effectively ushered in a period of military rule until 1998. General Suharto formally took over as head of state from the independence leader Sukarno in 1967, and the military created a political system dominated by the ruling party, Golkar. In the 1970s demands for a more genuine democracy were spearheaded by university students, who after campaigning against the Communist Party in the mid-1960s enjoyed a somewhat privileged position. Opposition on a broader social front did not develop until the 1980s. Former prominent politicians and generals issued a critical statement in May 1980 and a degree of liberalization in the 1980s prompted wider dissent, especially by intellectuals, but including small scale protests on various economic issues and a growing number of workers strikes from 1988 into the 1990s.
By the 1990s popular dissent spilt over into the ‘official’ opposition parties (especially with widespread support for Sukarno’s daughter Megawati Sukarnoputri as leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party and a symbol of reform after she had been ousted from her post by the government in 1996). Popular discontent was manifested in the election of 1997. However, the government maintained control until 1998, when widespread popular anger sparked by the Asian economic crisis, and a militant role assumed by students coordinating opposition, prompted splits within the regime and defection of many military leaders from Suharto.