President Suharto's three decades of personal control in Indonesia are almost over. Now the world must support ushering him to the door in as quiet and orderly a fashion as possible.
Suharto announced to his 200 million people May 19 that he would not run for reelection. Subsequent statements from a close crony promised a vote will be held in the next three to six months.
University students, whose angry protests have done so much to push Suharto to the brink, are skeptical. They see his pledge as a stalling tactic and plan to go ahead with new, even larger, demonstrations May 20.
Worldwide, heartfelt sympathies are with the students and their calls for real democracy, respect for human rights, and an end to the Suharto family's corrupt manipulation of the economy for its own gain. Members of the United States Congress are calling for Suharto to step down now and want to cut ties with his government.
But Indonesia needs transition without chaos. It will benefit from an orderly process using steps allowed for in its Constitution. Comparisons are being made between today and Suharto's own rise to power in the mid-1960s. But that military coup cost 500,000 lives, a tragedy that cannot be allowed to be repeated.
The US and other governments must insist Suharto follow through on his promise to leave, as well as continue their calls for restraint in using violence against protesters.
Suharto may want to use coming months to work out a safe exit for his family with at least some of its wealth. Indonesia should use the time to begin hearing from those who would like to lead it into the 21st century. In a country in which political debate has been suppressed, this in itself could release much of the pent-up tension.