In many cities during the first months of 2003, students and ordinary people held simultaneous demonstrations demanding that President Megawati Sukarnoputri resign or that the government cancel new increases in fuel, electricity and telephone charges. Demonstrations flared up in Medan (North Sumatra), Makassar (South Sulawesi), Bogor and Cirebon (West Java), Palu (Central Sulawesi), Solo (Central Java), Surabaya (East Java), Bandar Lampung, Jambi, (South Sumatra) Jakarta, Manado (North Sulawesi) and Denpasar (Bali). The price rises were in line with the neo-liberal economic policy prescriptions being pushed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Students too demonstrated about their own conditions. At the Gajah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Central Java, students declared a boycott of policies that increased education fees. The new Education Operational Fees have created a controversy covering 18 courses/faculties for year 2002 students, impacting on a total of 1,386 students from an estimated total of 2,486 students.
Among workers and the urban poor, the most militant resistance occurred in Jakarta. Those protesting the price increases to fuel, electricity and telephone charges tried to ‘seal off’ the presidential palace to prevent Megawati from entering her office until prices were reduced, although this effort to cordon off the palace did not succeed.
Fisherpeople, who very rarely demonstrate, also joined the actions. Thousands of fisherpeople arrived from a number of fishing centers in Tegal, Central Java, in trucks and open vehicles. After putting up posters they called on the members of the local parliament to forward their concerns to the central government. They said that the high price of fuel, diesel fuel in particular, was preventing them from going to sea.
The spread of consciousness against neo-liberal globalisation was also shown by an upsurge in the women’s movement. Thousands of women activists from the Women’s Demand Alliance (Aliansi Perempuan enggugat, APM) held a candlelight vigil at the presidential palace against the price increases to fuel, electricity and telephone charges. They condemned the Megawati government for its unpopular policies. It is women, especially housewives, who most feel the impact of these price increases. It was interesting that this demonstration was supported by artists, celebrities and business people.
A more permanent alliance was built by non-government organisations (NGOs). An alliance built by NGOs opposing neo-liberal globalisation which had a very clear agenda and program was the Anti-Debt Coalition (Koalisi Anti Utang, KAU), which had the central demand ‘Cancel all existing debts and reject new ones’. The Coalition Against the World Trade Organisation (Koalisi Penentang WTO, KOP-WTO) focused more on the exploitative aspects of the global trade regime. The National Alliance Rejecting the IMF (Aliansi Nasional Tolak IMF, ANTI) was similar to KAU in demanding the termination of the IMF program in Indonesia. The Anti-Imperialist Front (Front Anti Imperialis, FAI), which had emerged earlier in response to the US invasion of Iraq, had a broader program, rejecting all the neo-liberal programs applied by the Megawati government under pressure from the IMF.
But despite the demonstrations of the early months of 2003, the reaction from the government was absolutely minimal. This was because the movement resisting the agenda of neo-liberal globalisation is still not adequately organised and did not involve the masses in large enough numbers as was the case in the actions leading up to the downfall of Suharto. But these protests at least demonstrated that an awareness had started to emerge among the people that it was necessary to resist the policies which were harming them.
However, there was an advance in the tactics and methods of resistance. The protests were not just organised outside the legislatures (national and local parliaments) and executive institutions (the offices of the president, governors, regents), but they were also taken to the offices of the IMF and the World Bank, showing a new style of anti-imperialist consciousness. Politically, the people started to become aware that their future was not just determined by state institutions but are tightly linked with global imperialism. In terms of tactics, alliances started between groups which had previously been separated from each other: workers, students, farmers, fisherpeople and NGOs. Through such activities, the possibility of weaving a permanent and simultaneous alliance came onto the agenda.
It is clear that each injustice creates resistance. This is what is happening at the moment in Indonesia. The problem is how to unite these protests to become a movement that is systematic so it can effectively counter the policies of neo-liberalism. The NGO movement accompanied by mass sectoral actions, with tight organisation, could become a mass movement with clear goals. It is hoped that this resistance will prove to be the embryo of a broad anti-neoliberal globalisation front in Indonesia. Such a united front can build cooperation with people of the First World countries who desire prosperity without oppression.
Prijo Wasono (email@example.com) is the director of INCREASE, the Indonesian Centre for Reform and Social Emancipation. See .