JAKARTA, INDONESIA — When the histories of President Suharto's downfall are written, a footnote should be devoted to a few hours of television programming on the morning of May 19.
In an atmosphere of edgy speculation about the possible resignation of President Suharto, the world's longest-serving ruler after Fidel Castro, the state-run television network interrupted regular programming at 9 a.m. to go live to a room at the presidential palace. Announcers said Mr. Suharto would soon address the nation.
Then viewers saw him greet a dozen or so prominent Indonesians and begin speaking into microphone - but there was no sound. After several aggravating moments, an announcer explained the meeting would be private and that Suharto would speak afterward. That's when things turned surreal.
The state-run network cut to a series of musical programs - at first a four-piece combo playing songs of Indonesia's independence struggle. One was called "My Sergeant Major," with lyrics advising young women to marry a military man, since "he's every mother's favorite son-in-law."
In a country where military rule is a very live option, one had to wonder about choice of music. Then choral groups, gown-clad vocalists, and music videos followed the combo. The nation had been put on hold.
One hour stretched into the next as song followed song. "It's unbelievable," said an exasperated viewer at the country's National Assembly. "It's insanity."
"Maybe it will cool the situation," offered an aide to an Assembly member. After nearly three hours, Suharto emerged and did anything but cool the situation.