AHMED SUKARNO Biography - Royalty, Rulers & leaders


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Sukarno (1901-1970), dominant figure of Indonesia’s nationalist movement against the Dutch and the country’s first president (1945-1968). He was toppled following an attempted coup and held under house arrest until his death.



Sukarno was born in the city of Surabaya in eastern Java. At the time, Java and the rest of Indonesia were under Dutch colonial control. Although brought up in the traditional Javanese cultural world, Sukarno was educated in modern Dutch colonial schools. In 1921 he entered the Bandung Institute of Technology to study architecture, graduating in 1926. Sukarno had been increasingly involved in nationalist politics since his teens, when he had boarded in the house of H. O. S. Tjokroaminoto, a leading nationalist politician. It was in Bandung that he decided his future lay in politics, not architecture.


By 1926 Sukarno had been married twice, first to Sitti Utari, daughter of Tjokroaminoto, and then, after divorcing her, to Inggit Garnasih. He subsequently married at least four more times, having as many as four wives simultaneously. Though permitted under Islamic law, polygamy was not a common practice in Indonesia, and in the 1950s and 1960s attracted considerable criticism, particularly from women’s organizations.


In 1927 Sukarno cofounded the Indonesian Nationalist Party (Partai Nasional Indonesia, or PNI) and became its first leader. The goal of the party was to achieve independence for Indonesia through popular struggle against the Dutch. A skilled public speaker, Sukarno quickly drew a mass following for the PNI. In 1929 the Dutch jailed him for being a threat to public order, and the PNI collapsed in his absence. Released in 1931, Sukarno resumed his political activity, but he was arrested again in 1933 and exiled, first to the island of Flores and then to Sumatra. By the time of his exile, he was Indonesia’s leading nationalist politician.


When Japan invaded and occupied Indonesia in 1942, during World War II, Sukarno returned to Jakarta and worked with the Japanese regime. He argued later that his collaboration with the Japanese enabled him to advance the cause of Indonesian independence and protect the Indonesian people from the worst excesses of the occupation.