Nov 17, 2018 Last Updated 12:17 PM, Nov 15, 2018

Jakarta's May Revolution

How did Jakarta in May compare with people movements against dictatorships elsewhere in world history?

Aboeprijadi Santoso

Analysts watching Indonesia in May were reminded of two models of change: the 1989 Chinese Tienanmen model and the 1986 Philippine People Power model. Some also thought of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The events in Jakarta turned out to be different to each of them. They were perhaps more bloody than in China. And unlike the total change in the Philippines, transition in Jakarta was quick, but less than total, and filled with tragedy.

In Tienanmen on June 4, 1989, the state's repressive apparatus used a heavy hand to resolve the crisis. The Chinese authorities managed to preserve the bases of the state, which had been challenged by the students. After making some changes within the elite, they restored stability while limiting further social and economic damage from the three month revolt. Despite five to seven years of diplomatic pain, at the end of the day, a monolithic regime was able to restore the status quo by bloodily crushing opposition forces.

Philippines

The People Power on the Edsa highway in Manila in February 1986, on the other hand, was the reverse of the Chinese solution. Popular anger against Marcos' dictatorship burst out at every social level. Mrs Corazon Aquino, widow of the popular assassinated senator Benigno Aquino, and Cardinal Jaime Sin provided political and spiritual leadership. The left wing National Democratic Front (NDF) and other movements provided popular opposition platforms. Marcos' decades of dictatorship had radicalised Philippine society. All that was needed to oust him were some generals to change sides. And this happened at a crucial moment when General Fidel Ramos did just that.

The People Power movement also opened up, and was soon threatened by, internal military rivalries and rebellions. The Rambo game of Colonel Gringo Honasan is the most well known example.

Both revolts were supported at least passively by most sections of society. But the mainly urban student revolt in China was too small and weak to face the state apparatus. In the Philippines, by contrast, the revolt was truly mass based, while the state apparatus was too weak and divided to act against it.

Mixed

Jakarta's 'May Revolution', as the student protests and the fall of Suharto are now called, contained mixed elements. As in China, the imbalance between the student movement and state apparatus in Indonesia was obvious. As in China too, the student rebellion was widely supported by society. However, the Indonesian state leadership - both before and after the fall of Suharto - suffered from a much more serious crisis than their counterparts in China.

The symbolism emanating from student power in Jakarta and Beijing provoked a quicker act of the state than it did in Manila. Like the Chinese, the Indonesian students chose the very locus of the power they challenged as their place of protest. Demonstrations at parliament house in Senayan, Jakarta, signified their opposition to what they saw as the illegitimacy of existing representative bodies. A similar protest at the National Monument had to be cancelled. The symbolism of the Indonesian student protests echoed among movements around the world - from Burma to Zimbabwe, Nigeria and elsewhere.

Much the same way, Chinese students seriously challenged the legitimacy of the 'Heavenly Peace Mandate' supposedly resting upon the government and parliament when they occupied Tienanmen, 'The Great Square of Heavenly Peace'. No state government could tolerate such a pointed humiliation before the eyes of the world one minute longer than was needed. In Beijing, as in Jakarta, the government was desperate to act quickly to end the international embarrassment: five days in the case of Jakarta, a few months in Beijing.

In China, however, moral anger was not so specific and deep as to awaken popular and middle class movements, as happened in Manila and Jakarta. Certainly, the Chinese students and urban masses' struggle for freedom was motivated by a general protest against a monopolistic communist regime. But Tienanmen lacked the great and specifically directed moral force manifested in the Philippines after the cold-blooded killing of the popular senator Benigno Aquino, and in Indonesia after the tragic death of students at Trisakti University in Jakarta.

Army

But if China's model lacks certain crucial ingredients, the role its armed forces played could have happened in Indonesia too. Indonesian opposition leader Amien Rais claimed that the reason he called off a mass gathering at the National Monument on the early morning of May 20th was that one Indonesian general had seriously warned him: 'We too can do a Tienanmen'. In the post-Suharto transition, uneasy and uncertain as it is, the 'Chinese way' remains a real threat.

Indonesia's Armed Forces (Abri) played a decisive, yet very cautious role. Lt-Gen Syarwan Hamid, as vice chairman of parliament, gave permission to the students to stage a big protest at the Senayan complex. He would not have done this without consent from the top.

However, top level Abri leaders only moved reactively during the crucial weeks in mid-May. Abri commander General Wiranto seemed to play a waiting game. He agreed to ask President Suharto to step down only after the people's protest had gathered momentum, and after some politicians - notably Coordinating Minister for Economy and Finance Ginanjar Kartasasmita, who had IMF leverage at his disposal - boycotted Suharto's last attempt to save his regime by reshuffling the cabinet.

With Suharto gone, Abri got its first chance in years to act independently. But General Wiranto, once Suharto's second longest serving aide, could only do so by trial and error. He did it with a lot of hesitation and, possibly, still under Suharto's shadowy influence. A worsening economic crisis did not help Abri to act decisively.

Rivalry

As a big ally and key powerholder during the three decades of Suharto rule, it was only natural that Abri should face an internal crisis in step with the national leadership crisis. As in the Philippines, People Power in Jakarta tended to intensify already existing military rivalries.

The racial riots and the burning of Jakarta on 13 and 14 May, following weeks of student protests, clearly suggested the intensity of those rivalries. Massive looting and burning left some 1200 dead. Hundreds of Indonesian-Chinese women were barbarically raped.

The tragedy was engineered, at least partly, by elements within the state, who hired hooligans known as preman from outside Jakarta. Some within the military elite clearly wanted to counter the reform movement by manipulating public frustration. They evidently hoped that, as in 1965 and early 1966, a strong man would arise out of the chaos to restore order, not necessarily to challenge the president immediately, but to open the way for a new leader with fresh legitimacy.

It became clear that Suharto's son-in-law Lt-Gen Prabowo Subianto, commander of the Army Strategic Reserve (Kostrad), had tried to gain power only a day after Suharto resigned. He had civilian allies among Muslim radicals associated with the group Kisdi.

However, General Wiranto called his bluff by hastily moving him from his command post to the staff college. Following this sudden demotion, Prabowo tried that same evening to move 'his' Kostrad men to the palace, apparently to pressure President Habibie into taking sides against Wiranto. But this attempt too failed.

It has also been confirmed that elements of Kopassus, a special corps then led by the same Prabowo, was responsible for the kidnapping of activists in March. The purpose was to ensure that Suharto was reappointed as president. The state terror in May -the Trisakti killings and the racial riots - should perhaps be interpreted as acts of the same military faction and its civilian allies to defend Suharto, or at least to manipulate his succession for their own purpose. So Prabowo was Jakarta's version of Gringo Honasan. Fortunately both failed. Although the Honasan-like game in Jakarta could not be played out openly, the essential ingredients, as in Manila, were there.

Both Honasan-like acts of state terrorism and the threat of massive Tienanmen-like reprisals will remain alive as long as the Habibie government or its successor fails to restore its domestic and international credibility and its ability to guarantee the people's basic needs.

Moreover, as soon as Suharto resigned, Abri made it clear it wanted to avoid a power vacuum, and that it continued to claim a stake in the national leadership. 'The most important prerequisite to reform is efficient and capable national leadership,' said Abri chief of Socio-political Affairs Lt-Gen Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono recently. The message was delivered before a thousand top military officers only a week after Prabowo's indisciplinary acts, the first such meeting since Wiranto took command.

More than anywhere else, pro-democratic civil society in Indonesia has to compete with the state apparatus to take the lead and decide on the agenda of reformasi.

East Germany

Lastly, Jakarta's May Revolution exposed weaknesses within Indonesia's own democratic movement. At the end of Annus Mirabilis, the European 'Year of Miracles' of 1989, a great number of students, joined by human rights- and church-affiliated organisations, marched in the East German cities of Leipzig and Dresden chanting Wir sind Das Volk (We Are The (sic!) People). This famous march led to the fall of Erich Honnecker's communist regime in East Germany. The call effectively targeted a regime that had claimed to be the only true representative of the people.

The call for 'Reformasi Total' from Senayan against a regime which refused to do real reform, could have had deeper effects - not only the fall of Suharto, but also real action to fulfil the needs of the people and to start a democratisation process as in East Germany. If only Jakarta's 'May Revolution' had not suffered so much from a Chinese-like imbalance between state and society, and from a Philippine Honasan-like internal military game.

Moreover as in Beijing, but unlike Manila and Leipzig, the pro-democracy movement in Jakarta lacked a solid political platform to lead the momentum of change. The student protest was too much insulated as 'a moral force'. The politicians were too divided, the masses too little organised, and the state leadership crisis in May resolved too quickly to allow People Power to present an alternative force.

No single power was able to carry the new legitimacy from Senayan to its full consequences. Jakarta's 'May Revolution' - including its weaknesses - was a direct consequence of Suharto's three decades of repressive policies.

Aboeprijadi Santoso is an Indonesian journalist based in Amsterdam. He watched closely the recent events in Jakarta, in Manila in 1986-87 and in Eastern Europe in 1989-90.

Inside Indonesia 56: Oct-Dec 1998

Cleansing the earth

In the weeks leading up to 21 May, Indonesia experienced a cultural explosion of new life.

  

Marshall Clark 

On the humid evening before the riots of Jakarta's Black Thursday, May 13, Pramudya Ananta Toer, Indonesia's leading novelist who has spent much of the last twenty years under house arrest, was participating in what in hindsight can be regarded as the 'Last Supper' of the Suharto era.

The occasion drew a large crowd of students, activists, writers and literary critics. It marked the launch of Saman, a best-selling novel by Ayu Utami, an attractive 27-year old journalist. (See the review of it elsewhere in this issue of Inside Indonesia). The novel had already gone through its first edition in two weeks, and there were even rumours that its blatant political message was strong enough to bring down Suharto's New Order regime.

Although hard of hearing and now both unable and unwilling to read works of literature, Pramudya's presence at the launch, at considerable personal risk, said a lot. He was there as much out of respect for Ayu Utami as out of defiance to the New Order powers-that-be.

In the chaos of the last months of the regime, Indonesia's extensive intelligence network could evidently no longer cope with the rising tide of anger. Undercover spies had often been wheedled out of crowds and dealt with violently. In an act of self-preservation, even policemen had taken to wearing civilian clothes on their way home from work. Thus once again Pramudya could roam the streets of Jakarta, unwitnessed and unknown.

To open proceedings at the book launch, Sitok Srengenge, a well-known Jakarta-based poet, read out a proclamation signed by a number of leading writers, poets and playwrights. It denounced the military's shooting of six students at Trisakti University the day before.

After a communal prayer and a sombre rendition of Hymne darah juang, one of the student 'anthems' for what was later to be labelled the 'velvet revolution', the next few hours were spent in communion with Ayu and Saman. Almost as a weary backlash against the highly charged political atmosphere of the previous few months, politics were avoided. Instead, animated discussion of literature, language, feminism, style and form proceeded well into the night.

Yet in the previous month or so, the Indonesian literary scene was - as it has tended to be in a nation where the mass media suffer from strict self-censorship - highly political. What's more, in the midst of the country's greatest turmoil since the 1960s, the arts scene was literally on fire.

Exorcism

Apart from the appearance of Ayu's award-winning novel that evening, hundreds of artists and performers united under the banner of Ruwatan Bumi '98 (Earth Exorcism '98), a cultural movement designed to heal the nation's woes. Not unlike the Chinese 'cultural fever' accompanying the democracy movement in Beijing in the late 1980s, the Earth Exorcism was designed to use art as the medium of liberation, to reinvigorate the badly bruised political consciousness of the Indonesian people.

Historically, cultural exorcisms are a relatively common phenomenon in Indonesia. In ancient Javanese kingdoms, whenever the royal court was faced with a calamity of one form or another, all the court's writers, poets and puppeteers were sent out into the neighbouring villages to rid the kingdom of its defilement.

Over the space of one month - between the start of April and the start of May - at least 170 performances occurred in almost every major city. The performances included drama, music, video, pantomime, prayer, wayang shadow puppet theatre, poetry, dance and installation art. The cultural explosion was organised by a number of regional committees linked through the internet.

With the steady increase in Indonesia's economic fortunes over the last few decades, a highly educated, urbanised and western- oriented middle class has emerged. Consequently their children, the driving force behind the student movement, have long been accustomed not only to computers but also to the internet and email.

Just as the mass media played such a crucial role in bringing down the Berlin Wall, the internet in Indonesia proved a godsend not only for communicating the latest political rumours and analyses, but also for mobilising cultural and political activism. Unable to even keep a check on the whereabouts of celebrated dissidents such as Pramudya Ananta Toer, the authorities couldn't possibly monitor the millions of messages criss-crossing the borderless horizons of cyberspace.

Earth Exorcism performances were advertised primarily via the internet, email and the mass media, radically 'postmodernising' what is essentially an ancient ritual. According to its internet web-page 'manifesto': 'The Earth Exorcism is a number of small steps on the way to the path of a beautiful dream, the very beginning of a brave move to break free from the dead-end which has pinned down [Indonesians]. The Earth Exorcism rejects all the calamity that we have been burdened with. It is an effort to reinvigorate social cohesion, which can release the creative energies of the individual and society.'

Another characteristic of the exorcism was its highly democratic nature. For once Indonesia's artists managed to forget their artistic and ideological differences and participate as a unified, yet diverse, cultural movement.

Whilst Indonesia's more established cultural icons such as Emha Ainun Najib and Y B Mangunwijaya lent their considerable intellectual influence to writing essays in the mass media and addressing student rallies, the exorcism was also a chance for Indonesia's younger artists to come to the fore.

Fringe artists such as Jalu G Pratidina, Afrizal Malna, Erick Yusuf and Slamet Abdul Syukur were suddenly prominent. Music- drama was a common performance medium used by each of these artists, with dialogue at a minimum. Jalu's performance used almost 60 types of percussion instruments. Slamet Abdul Syukur's 'Wanderer' used a simple bamboo reed and a recording of a woman making love.

Afrizal Malna collaborated with choreographer Boi G Sakti in 'A Panorama of dad's death', a minimalistic performance involving dance, violins and poetry. As in many of the Ruwatan Bumi performances, in this drama sounds and movements often jarred, defying cohesion. Yet one unifying element was an almost overpowering sadness, with each dancer and darkly robed foot soldier expressing an existential angst that words couldn't possibly express.

Another performance without any coherent dialogue, Erick Yusuf's 'Bread and circuses', also used image and music to reflect the fragile state of Indonesia's collective psyche.In this unsettling drama, a soldier, a public servant and a sarong-clad villager sat at a table greedily eating bread and Pepsi. Naturally, as soon as the bread ran out, chaos took over. The public servant crouched into a foetal position, the soldier waved his gun around threateningly, and the villager circled the table, gesticulating angrily for more. Eventually, accompanied by a terrifying cacophany of synthesisers, each character was dragged off the stage to an unknown fate.

According to Erick Yusuf: 'Indonesia's present problem is a problem of bread and circues. As the people's access to their "daily bread" is hampered by the government's inability to provide economic equality, and as the circus comes to an end, it's only a matter of time before the people's anger will explode.'

  

Prostitutes and princesses

In the largest student city of Indonesia, Yogyakarta in Central Java, the performances were strongly oriented towards 'the common people', both in terms of the artists and their audiences. Popular pantomime artist Jemek Supardi brought his silent protest to the streets, and beside the Code River the Girli street people performed drama. Elsewhere some prostitutes performed their own play, humorously bemoaning the lack of business since the onset of the monetary crisis.

On buses it was not unusual to hear buskers singing self- penned songs venting their frustration and anger. In Jakarta unemployed actors walked bus aisles with outstretched hats, reciting poetry not only to criticise the government but also to pay for their next plate of rice.

Throughout Java the traditional wayang shadow puppet theatre thrived, using Java's much-loved puppets to present sharp satire. Many performances depicted stories from the Indian epic the Ramayana, which tells of the kidnapping of beautiful Sinta, Prince Rama's wife-to-be, by the evil king Rahwana. The political allegory was clear. Somehow the Indonesian people had to try and rescue the kidnapped nation from the clutches of their very own evil king, commonly perceived as President Suharto.

As with much of Indonesia's day-to-day politics, the student struggle was often seen in wayang terms. Two of the first students killed by the military happened to be named after wayang characters who had similarly unfortunate fates despite fighting for the 'good side': Moses Gatotkaca and Elang Lesmana. This fact added a certain element to the despondency that gripped the nation in their deaths.

Yet just as significantly, one of the student leaders, Rama Pratama, was, like his mythical namesake, eventually successful in rescuing his kidnapped beauty from the evil ruler.

  

Ascension

It is well known that May 20th 1998 was a highly significant date for the 'velvet revolution'. It was a national holiday charged with political significance. National Awakening Day marks the day in 1908 when student nationalist movements were born, dedicated to independence from Dutch colonial rule. Eventually, at 11pm on the 20th, Suharto decided to resign from his position as president.

What is not as well known is that the following day was also a national holiday, to mark the ascension of Jesus Christ. Whether Suharto deliberately chose May 21st to resign formally as opposed to another, less auspicious date is yet to be seen. Yet if the world is a stage and the last few months of the New Order were following a script to be played out, one could not ask for a more symbolic - nor more ironic - denouement.

Marshall Clark is writing a PhD on Indonesian literature at the Australian National University.

Inside Indonesia 56: Oct-Dec 1998

Day of no laws

Amid the arson and looting last May, one Australian makes a strange discovery. Jakarta is still worth calling home.

  

Vanessa Johanson.

It was a day for the flaunting of all laws. There was considerable glee in it, the giddiness of leaping through shattered shop windows hugging electricals. Electricals you could never have afforded even the electricity for, and couldn't even resell these days.

Then the ripping reckless arson of the very same shops afterwards. The torchers and petrol-pourers - who only a few hours before had been mere bajaj drivers and unemployed builders with no claim to fame or power - said afterwards that they'd found hoarded goods in these shops, which belonged to Chinese traders notorious for heinous practices such as hoarding, especially in times of economic strain.

My household helper's husband said the same thing about the shop which he had helped torch, but when I asked him what the difference was between hoarding and keeping stock out the back of the shop, he didn't know.

Wasn't it the president who first used the word 'hoarding' when prices of everything started their upward spiral and people rushed the shops to buy like there was no tomorrow? Wasn't it he who linked it subtly with Chinese traders and suggested that it was a subversive act?

Iwan and I drove past the colourful bonfire of a Golden Truly supermarket on the way home from my office. It was Truly Golden as it threw flames and debris. Teenagers threw stones back at it, their waifish waists extending as they leapt like thin fleshless puppets into the air.

I shivered in fear inside the only motor car on the road. 'You catch bajajs from now on!' said Iwan, referring to the noisy little orange three-wheeler taxis of the poor. 'It's what the people use so it's the only safe way to travel.' Two long- haired boys jiggled madly at my car window. 'Hallo mister!', they yelled hysterically and ran away laughing. Just like any other day.

Glee

Around the front of the cigarette and lolly shop on the bend in our street on that Thursday 14 May, the day of no laws, there was the usual collection of neighbourhood folk coming, going, and those with nowhere really to go at all. Telling each other that they had been at home all day, anxious under an acrid brown sky, a sky plagued by pyromania along with the usual excess of flatulent vehicles. Anxiously waiting for their children on their way home from school.

The glint of glee in their eyes and a few white shiny-new bits of gadgets by their feet told it was only partly true.

For Iwan and me it was not the laws of property that shed us that day like clothing shed in a public place. It was the laws governing affection in a Muslim land. To be more precise we Came Out, publicly flaunting the laws which we had flaunted privately for ages by living together as best friends and friends only, a single man (Muslim) and a single woman (Western).

We walked out the door for the first time a duo, hand tightly gripped in hand. Morally immune as we walked up the bend past a couple of friends from the kampung, also hand-in-hand in a threesome with a heavy basket full of the spoils of the looting orgy, their faces starting to betray guilt and bemusement at the enormity of their actions.

Later we found out that in lots of neighbourhoods stolen goods had been carried back to their place of origin, after the protest was over, after the hate had been extinguished. And later again that some of the goods had been taken by police and soldiers with rank.

Friends on the phone told us that the law had gone out like electricity over the entire metropolis, resulting in thousands of shops and banks gutted and burnt in the sudden, momentary freedom to protest. Like a major shutdown the law stopped, blew out. We didn't think to ask the question till later: did someone flick the central switch to off? Who paid who to slice the wires of the superstructure, to cut the security grid that had buzzed through the city day and night for weeks before the Trisakti shootings?

Home

Iwan was taking me up the narrow street to find a bajaj, to find a People's Vehicle for the first leg of my trip which would end in a special government-chartered 747. The Embassy had finally used the words 'mandatory evacuation.' I decided that they must really mean 'get the hell out' because they knew something that we didn't know.

Which was odd because we felt safer at home than anywhere else. Iwan and I had both been home the night before. We'd cooked corn and tempeh and made pecel and talked passionately about where the reformasi should be headed. We could sense that the president's days were numbered - three months maximum, we gave him. Iwan supported the replacement of Suharto with Habibie because Habibie was brilliant, a civilian, and because he mixed with the Muslim intellectuals, some of whom were good community leaders and 'clean'.

I demanded that Iwan have more imagination than that. I argued that we shouldn't be so individualist in our discussions of the succession, expecting that Indonesian democracy and prosperity was all going to be embodied in the right leader, and that that noble saviour would make everything all right. The problem with that argument is that any real leadership talent has been repressed for three decades or more, I said. Not to mention the political structure which needed to be completely dismantled and a constitution which was long atrophied.

Iwan lay on the couch as we talked. Great machines thundered out on the main road - tanks, helicopters, trucks, planes - but we felt safe as fire-warmed cave men well-hidden from the predatory dinosaurs.

So when the embassy rang and said the words 'mandatory evacuation' we were sure that the West's superior intelligence agents had gotten wind of a coup attempt, an assassination, or something worse. I had an hour to pack two small bags of what turned out to be useless clothes and objects, and ring five or six friends.

Evacuees were told to gather at the American Club at midnight. I left Iwan outside the gate in the bajaj and it was like I'd climbed a gigantic wall into the West, never to return as far as he was concerned, never in the form of a true and loyal friend of him and his country, who stuck around through thick and thin.

Breaking another unwritten law, we hugged. He said: 'This isn't necessary'.

'It's for my family, they're dying of worry,' I replied, knowing that family unity was a good reason for doing all kinds of odd things in Indonesia, having been asked a million times why on earth I lived so far from my own - just for experience and work.

Wondering whether it was just for my family or whether an apocalypse really was nigh.

Then I crossed the Wall and saw what I never thought I'd see: American refugees.

Club

Big heavy expensive cases, heaped messily and black like the debris of a big blaze. The Club bar, bubbling with beer and the latest coup theories. Fashionable teenagers excited and speaking their International School gang's slang, flirting, and smoking at the dark end of the humming chlorine swimming pool. Someone on a megaphone in the Kijang-and-Mercedes-packed car park, telling the hundreds of us to move inside, outside, over here, over there.

Little plump blonde kids rubbing their eyes, running, and crashing out on aerobics mats in the aerobics hall.

I mooched. Chatted to a Kiwi who worked in the US Embassy. The only other non-American I could find. Would they let us on without a US passport, I asked? 'Yeah', he replied, breathing beer, 'Ye know, we do work for 'em'. 'So do a few thousand Indonesians,' I replied. 'Stick with me', he said. And I didn't.

At three a.m. the megaphone moved to the aerobics hall and announced, above the sprawled bodies, that tonight's flights were full and that we'd have to come back in 24 hours. There was a massive groan as a hundred anxious coup theories - the only thing now keeping the adults awake - sank a few metres. Maybe this was all just an outrageously tedious and expensive precautionary evacuation after all.

I stayed the night at a colleague's, knowing Iwan had gone off to a political meeting which would probably go all night, and not wanting to go home to an empty house and a tense neighbourhood.

Friday 15 May 1998

The city was silent the next day. My colleague and I had no cash or petrol and went out to search. The skies were blue, protected from pollution by a tank on every street corner which deterred most everyone from taking out their cars.

A few plumes of smoke danced like cobras against the sky.

Empty

Blok M had been, if anything, busier than ever since the collapse of the economy. Even the expensive department stores and supermarkets had been increasingly crowded every week. Did people go there to take in the magic show that was inflation, the unbelievable daily disappearance of prices and their replacement by new and preposterous ones? Or did they really come to buy things, to consume while they still had a little cash and a skerrick of security?

Blok M that Friday was eerily empty, the department stores chained up and guarded. Only a few orange People's Vehicles puttered through gaping empty intersections belching smoke at the tanks. As we sailed through the intersection in our bajaj we wondered about the latest chilling rumour - which already, at 9 am, had been corroborated by six phone calls with friends -that some of the tanks were controlled by Wiranto's men and some of them Prabowo's. That the two generals sought to battle it out in the dusk of Suharto's control. I looked past the tanks at the vast empty tracts of black bitumen and imagined the footpaths heaped with the terror of 1965.

Over the course of an hour we found out that ATMs all over South Jakarta were kicked in, torched, and empty. One burnt one had a polite sign on the door apologising that this ATM was out- of-service today and indicating where the nearest ones were located. Now that's service, we laughed.

We tried looking in Jalan Fatmawati. Why were Fatmawati's small side streets barricaded with bamboo and old chairs like the fences of village goat pens?

Then we saw Mitra supermarket. Or what had been Mitra and was now an enormous black fossil, burnt back to its cement bones. Dead black, no flames. No smoke. People wandering around, tiny below the black horror. They carried small white plastic-covered boards holding crumpled piles of carbon. Too small. Too small for the tiniest corpse other than one already cremated. Too small for the nightmare of the day before.

We gave up on the idea of cash.

In the light of that day, head aching from the late night at the Club, I decided on a different escape route. Plan #2 was on the Australian government. At least, logistically speaking.

'No more money for Tutut!' cried the triumphant taxi driver as we sailed through the three airport toll gates without paying. But I was glad the toll gates had been abandoned not just because the president's daughter would lose our Rp 7,000, but because I didn't have a spare Rp 7,000.

'Welcome Home!'

The Qantas chartered flight turned out to be the same as any other - except that it was 'fly now, pay later'. They made us sign a letter to promise we'd pay them a hefty sum of money, and that we wouldn't attempt to leave Australia again before doing so. Sounded like a dodgy deal but rumours were buzzing again in the neon-lit terminal and there was no bar to help make them seem funny.

The flight attendants grinned at us extra hard and treated us like we were all rather frail. Rather than saying 'thankyou' as we got off the plane in Sydney, they cried 'Welcome Home!'

Home was left behind me in Jakarta. And ahead in Melbourne. But I was too confused by the orderliness and space at Sydney airport to correct them.

Two hours later there were three people, three generations of my family, sooner than expected in the Melbourne airport. Looking a million times more relieved than I felt.

And a week later the president resigned. Three weeks later the Mandatory Evacuation order was lifted and I went home. To Jakarta.

Iwan came to get me. Jakarta seemed calm and the traffic was light. Leaving the airport we made way for school boys riding on the roofs of four speeding buses, brandishing banners. Iwan didn't even turn his head at the demonstration. These days you go past more demos than bakso vendors, he said.

At Radio Dalam he played porter, carrying on his small wiry shoulders my bag full of kilos of powdered milk for friends, and the bottle of port to celebrate my homecoming. Of which he'd only drink a little because it wasn't allowed (for a Muslim); while I'd smoke only one of his clove cigarettes because that too (for an Australian) was also in breach...

Vanessa Johanson is a writer living in Jakarta. Other names have been changed to protect their privacy.

Inside Indonesia 56: Oct-Dec 1998

Raising the West Papua flag

An eyewitness watches the Irian Jaya independence movement grow.

  

Andrew Kilvert

Raising the West Papua flag is one of the key forms of resistance to Indonesia's 30 year rule over the province of Irian Jaya. Usually done in remote areas out of sight of the authorities and with all the trappings of nineteenth century colonialism, flag raisings are considered to be spiritual as well as political events by many Irianese. Reminiscent of the Papua New Guinea cargo cults which treat the symbols of colonial wealth and power as the actual key to that power, many Irianese people vest the West Papua flag with the power to influence the Indonesian occupation of their country.

Flag raisings are also taken very seriously by the Indonesian authorities. In 1996 Thomas Wanggai died in a Jakarta prison after receiving a life sentence for raising the West Papua flag in Jayapura. His wife received eight years for making the flag.

Jayapura

This year with Suharto gone and the military in flux, flag raisings took place for the first time in many of the urban centres in the province: Jayapura, Nabire, Sorong, Wamena, and Biak.

On July the 1st about 3,000 people assemble in central Jayapura in front of the provincial government building, whilst riot police and the military (Abri) take up positions around the town. The demonstrators begin making speeches and singing the independence anthem Papua Merdeka, 'Free Papua'.

The atmosphere is extremely tense as the flag is paraded up and down the street in front of the government building. Everybody is expecting the shooting to start at any minute. There are false alarms as either a warning shot is fired into the air or a policeman hits his riot shield with his baton. When this occurs the crowd panics and begins to flee. These people are then called back and the demonstration resumes. This happens three times during the afternoon.

As I move among the circle of supporters and spectators surrounding the demonstration, many of those standing close to cover ready to duck the shooting ask me to take pictures of the riot police and Abri. They are asking me to tell the outside world about their desire for independence. Some come up to me and whisper about how good life was under the Dutch and how difficult life is under Indonesian rule.

This rally is comprised of a big mixture of Irianese people, old, young, men and women. Some are educated white collar workers from Jayapura, but many are villagers who have come in for the event. There are even a few people born in Irian Jaya but of Javanese descent, here supporting the demonstrators.

One of the key problems in Irian Jaya is associated with land use and ownership. The Indonesian authorities have refused to recognise indigenous land use. Just as Australia was colonised on the basis of terra nullius, so too the Indonesian authorities consider land not being actively cultivated to be unused, even though it may be being used as part of a cycle of shifting agriculture, or for hunting or medicinal purposes.

The Indonesian response to questions of indigenous land rights is always: 'We are all indigenous Indonesians'.

This was highlighted in last year's Jakarta Festival, where cultural groups from all over Indonesia appeared in their traditional dress and performed dances. The group representing Irian Jaya were not Melanesian at all but Javanese migrants to Irian Jaya, dressed in a crude parody of traditional Papuan costume.

Papua

This confusion over culture and identity leads to the ambiguity of the term 'Irianese'. Indigenous Melanesians use it to describe themselves, as opposed to the Javanese. Other terms such as 'Papuan' and 'West Papuan' are considered treasonous and certainly cannot be used in public, although they are used in private.

The term 'Irianese' is supposed to include all people who live in Irian Jaya, including recent Javanese migrants. But in common usage it now means Melanesian. West Papuans who live outside Irian Jaya are much more likely to call themselves West Papuan than people inside. This is not because of differing sympathies but purely for reasons of personal safety.

After the first demonstration in Jayapura, Abri and the officially controlled local media blame the trouble on 'wild terrorist gangs' (GPK) from Black Water, a refugee camp on the Papua New Guinea side of the border.

As the protests continue Abri turn this blame onto the churches of this predominantly Christian territory, whom they accuse of inciting dissent within their congregations.

On July the 2nd there is to be a similar rally in Jayapura exclusively for white collar workers. However the town had been sealed off with barricades and lines of riot police. Jayapura, usually a bustling city, is silent and deserted except for police and Abri.

The following day another rally takes place at the Cenderawasih (Bird of Paradise) University. During the rally an undercover military intelligence agent who has infiltrated the crowd is identified by the students and beaten. After this the military open fire on the crowd, killing third year law student Steven Suripatti and wounding high school student Ruth Omin.

In the days prior to the demonstration many people had been talking about East Timor and its campaign for independence. Some believe that East Timor has already achieved independence. The general sentiment is that if East Timor can secede then Irian Jaya deserves independence as well.

Military

Support for secession from Indonesia is extremely widespread amongst the Melanesian population. A number of factors drives this desire. The history of large scale military action against Irianese villagers in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s has left long standing resentment. This is despite the fact that in the past decade these operations have decreased in scale, although they do still occur, most notably in the remote area where the foreign hostages were taken by independence rebels (Organisasi Papua Merdeka) in early 1996. Even the Red Cross has recently publicly criticised the Indonesian authorities because it has been excluded from providing drought aid to this area.

This military oppression is coupled with a growing resentment against the transmigration projects, which the Irianese see as land theft. So far over a million hectares of lowland sago swamp and rain forest have been cleared to make way for the transmigrants. There are plans to clear another million hectares in the next ten years.

At the current rate of expansion of the Javanese population in Irian Jaya it is believed that the Irianese will be a minority by the year 2010. Jayapura is already an Indonesian city in Melanesia.

A further factor which drives resentment in urban areas is that Melanesians are treated as second class citizens within the social hierarchy, with different rates of pay for the same work often set on the basis of race. At the heart of the resistance though is the simple and extremely widespread belief that Irian Jaya belongs to the Irianese.

Even many Irianese within the police and military support the independence movement. This was certainly evident on the island of Biak, where demonstrators kept the West Papua flag aloft for six days.

Biak

During that time the police unsuccessfully negotiated with the protesters to remove the flag. They brought in some of the elders of the community to try to persuade the protesters to remove the flag but they refused, despite the fact that Abri had brought in another battalion from Ambon Island.

At 5:30am on the 7th of July, Abri opened fire on the demonstrators with a combination of rubber bullets and live ammunition. Probably 24 people were killed in the initial shooting. An accurate figure as to the total number of casualties is impossible to get, because on the day following the shooting, Abri went from door to door arresting people and in some cases killing them in their homes.

Some of those arrested by Abri have since been found floating in the ocean, others were seen being put on Garuda flights to Jakarta.

The other contributing factor to the uncertain death toll is that Abri occupied the hospital, and the wounded were unable to seek proper medical treatment. There were also reports that the wounded detained in the hospitals were being denied treatment.

There is a popular belief throughout Irian Jaya that white people are going to come and rescue the Irianese from the Indonesians. This belief can be traced back to Biak mythology which holds that when a person dies they become white. Dutch colonialists unwittingly perpetuated this myth by coming along with remarkable technology (in the eyes of the locals) and an often superior attitude.

Because of their sea-faring history, the people from Biak Island have had the most outside contact of any of the peoples in Irian Jaya. They tend to be fairly sophisticated, often taking the white collar or teaching jobs in the towns. They also tend to travel more, which could account for the spread of the white myth throughout Irian Jaya.

Regardless of the unlikely event that white people will intervene in Irian Jaya, the Irianese themselves have seen a window of opportunity with the departure of Suharto and the resulting confusion within Abri. They are pressing it hard.

November contains another significant date for the West Papua independence campaign, and will likely produce more demonstrations. The issue will continue to ferment until either independence is achieved or until a compromise is reached which recognises indigenous land ownership and goes some way towards redressing the human rights abuses which continue to occur in the province.

Andrew Kilvert is a media student at Southern Cross University, Lismore, Australia.

Inside Indonesia 56: Oct-Dec 1998

Ballot ballet

In May 1999 Indonesians take part in the first democratic elections in over forty years. How will they be run?

  

Kevin Evans

One of the first tasks President Habibie set for his administration was to revise Indonesia's political machinery. This includes revising three of the five political laws of 1985 (the pinnacle of Suharto's integralist vision for the state), as well as laws on the presidency, local authorities, government ethics and national security.

Government drafts of the laws governing political parties, elections and the legislature were being prepared for submission to parliament by early August. The public response to these draft laws will give an early indication of how far the Habibie administration is believed willing to push for substantive reform of the political system.

Among the proposed changes three are core.

District

First, a 'district' system of single member constituencies will replace the current 'proportional' system. Instead of being chosen by votes based on each province as a multimember regional block, as now, each member will be chosen only on the basis of votes in a single district, as in Australia's Lower House. The system will deliver 420 elected members to the national parliament (DPR), and others to the provincial and local DPRs.

There will be some exceptions. Abri wants to be given 10% of all seats at each level. Also, district members in the national DPR will be joined by some 75 other members elected on the basis of a single national 'district'. These extra parliamentarians will be chosen by consolidating losing party votes from each district into a national tally and dealing them out.

The purpose of incorporating a modified version of a proportional system is to overcome the 'winner take all' outcome of the district system. Parties which may have significant support nationally but insufficient in each district will be able to secure representation in the house.

There remains some opposition to adopting a district system, including the usual old lines about 'Indonesia is not ready for this sort of change' to 'this will encourage money politics in Indonesia'! The Indonesian Academy of Sciences (Lipi), one of the think tanks producing reform plans, and particularly the armed forces (Abri), remain somewhat unsure of moving to a district system.

A mixed system blending districts with proportionality is the most popular form of electoral reform around the world this past decade. Countries from New Zealand to Tunisia, and most in East Asia which have reformed their electoral system, have moved to a mixed pattern, with each adopting various modes of voting and percentages to be elected under each system.

Electoral commission

Second, the new General Elections Commission (Komisi Pemilihan Umum - KPU) will be independent. It will contain representatives from government, but also from the political parties eligible to join in the elections. Members of the community agreed to jointly by the first two groups will also be there. The commission chair need not be a government representative.

Provincial and local KPUs will also be established. Provincial KPUs will be permanent and independent of government.

The national KPU will propose the boundaries of district seats for the national DPR. In general, these will correspond with local authority boundaries. However, heavily populated local authority areas will have more than one district. Those with over 900,000 will gain two seats, 1,500,000 will gain three seats, 2,100,000 will gain four seats and so on. For example the regency of Bogor with about four million persons will be divided into seven separate districts.

Parties

Third, political parties may be freely established, providing they abide by the national ideology Pancasila. Should they wish to incorporate other ideological/ philosophical elements, these may not be opposed to Pancasila.

Political parties will be established by notarial act lodged at the courts, not at the Department of Home Affairs. This means that any legal issues will be settled by the law, and not by the government unilaterally.

Political parties seeking to participate in general elections need to demonstrate public support. They must have a presence in over half the 27 provinces, and have a certain minimum number of local branches.

Any party seeking to enter elections for the first time will also need to demonstrate popular support with a petition of one million signatures. This proposal is somewhat controversial.

Other issues

Members of the People's Assembly (MPR), which appoints the president, will not be elected directly but will be drawn from or appointed by lower parliaments.

Every province will send three representatives, each elected by the provincial DPR from among their own number. There will be no more provincial governors representing provinces in the MPR. A newly elected national DPR will determine how many members of what social and other groups (utusan golongan) should be appointed to the MPR. Groups considered to represent these groups will be asked to select an agreed number of representatives for the MPR. The executive will no longer be responsible for appointing regional representatives and utusan golongan.

Unlike today, the leaders of the DPR and MPR will be different people.

Moreover, the elections will be held on a holiday. Consequently people will be able to vote from home. This is generally considered to lead to less coercion to support particular parties than is the case when people have to vote at work.

Members of the armed forces may not vote, seek election or join a political party. Public servants may vote but may not join political parties or seek election. To do so will mean dismissal. The intent behind this provision is to encourage the emergence of a more professional, less politicised, bureaucracy.

There will also be strong measures to contain the commercialisation of political parties. Personal and corporate campaign donations will be subject to rigorous restrictions, and regular public audits of political parties will be reported to the KPU. This will encourage transparency and allow the public to know the financial support base of the political parties. Political parties must be not-for-profit organisations and may not own more than 10% equity in any commercial activity.

Most of these developments are clear steps in the direction of an open, competitive and responsive political format. However, there has already been debate from the community on certain government proposals:

The armed forces will still have representation (albeit reduced) in all the parliamentary assemblies as well as in the crucial MPR; Some (although much fewer) restrictions will still apply on former followers of the communist party (PKI) and other outlawed organisations - specifically the right to be elected.

The result?

Over 40 new political parties have made themselves known in recent weeks. This has become a source of great fear to many people in Indonesia. They are beginning to fret that the 1950s pattern will reappear, when 130+ parties contested elections, and some 26 actually gained representation in either the DPR or the Constituent Assembly of the time.

Frankly, such concerns are silly, for three reasons. Firstly, a district-based system ensures that only dominant parties are capable of winning seats. In 1955, the last time a genuinely free election was held, only four parties secured over 80% of the vote. These were the nationalist PNI (23%), the Islamic Masyumi (22%), the Islamic Nahdatul Ulama (19%) and the communist PKI (17%). The PSSI, another Islamic party, was at 3% a long way back in fifth position.

Secondly, most of the new parties are really interest groups. They will be better placed if they were to act as lobbies rather than parties. An ideal example is the Indonesian Women's Party, which could secure vastly more influence as an Indonesian Women's Electoral Movement. It could pressure the political system through lobbying, encouraging, cajoling and threatening the major parties into taking account of their interests. No doubt some of these parties will discover this in time.

Thirdly, the number of parties will diminish through a process of absorption and merger. The political system will not come to resemble the banking system - there will never be 239 political parties!

Four parties

I expect the emerging party structure to consist of four large parties, broken into two pairs of coalitions, plus a plethora of small parties most of which will ultimately be absorbed into the larger parties. I do not expect to see the emergence of a single dominant party.

The first pair of coalition partners would consist of a Megawati party and a Nahdatul Ulama (NU) type party. This would mean the combination of a pluralist nationalist party with a rural Muslim oriented party.

The second coalition partners will consist of Golkar and urbanised and educated/ activist Islam. This would combine a corporatist nationalist party with an urban based Muslim oriented party.

The existing Islamically coloured party PPP is likely to split between supporters of either of the two Muslim oriented parties, although it may organisationally move closer to the Golkar coalition partner.

The existing secular party PDI, led by Megawati until Suharto ousted her in 1996, is likely to be retaken by Megawati this year. If not, it will die and some new political vehicle will be established from elements of the PDI which desert it to join with Megawati.

Golkar will obviously have an impossible task trying to sustain a result within cooee of what it has secured in the past six elections.

Where will the votes come from for these four major parties?

District

Megawati party: Urban areas of Java, Sumatra, Balikpapan, Menado, plus urban and rural areas of South Sumatra, Bali, West Kalimantan, West Nusa Tenggara (eastern half), East Nusa Tenggara, East Timor, Irian Jaya, plus one seat in Maluku. NU related party: Rural areas in Java, also Madura and Southern Sumatra, Banjarmasin, Samarinda, rural South Sulawesi, West Nusa Tenggara (western half). Golkar: Parts of rural Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi, and perhaps in parts of the two Nusa Tenggara provinces. Icmi, Amien Rais, Muhammadiyah linked party: Urban and rural Aceh, West Sumatra, South Sulawesi, Gorontalo. It may pick up seats in urban and north coast Java (particularly western half), including South Jakarta through to Bogor.

In its most oversimplified form, the Megawati party and the modernist Muslim party will do battle for the urban and sub-urban regions while Golkar and the NU type party will battle for the rural areas. The Megawati party might also do battle with Golkar in the non-Muslim regions of eastern Indonesia and North Sumatra.

Among the possible additions to the party camps could be a Protestant and Catholic party, which could secure results in the largely Christian eastern regions especially in West Nusa Tenggara (eastern half), East Nusa Tenggara, Maluku, perhaps Irian Jaya and East Timor plus in the eastern parts of North Sulawesi. Such a group is more likely to feel comfortable with the Megawati/ NU camp, but going with the Golkar/ modernist coalition can not be totally dismissed.

1 August, 1998. Kevin Evans is a Jakarta-based political economist.

Inside Indonesia 56: Oct-Dec 1998

Learning to talk

Unlike Suharto, Habibie is too weak to ignore the people.

Gerry van Klinken

B J 'Rudy' Habibie, thrust into the presidency when Indonesia's elite deserted Suharto after the May riots, cuts a slightly ludicrous figure. While newspapers endlessly repeated demands to end nepotism, Habibie, to mark Independence Day, proudly pinned the nation's highest medal on his wife. As far as most people knew, she had been distinguished only by service to her husband.

Yet the world of the post-Suharto elite is transformed. The mansion in which they live has had a bomb through the roof. The peasants are banging at what's left of the door. And the elite can no longer agree among themselves what to do next. Once they could dismiss the clamour from below as so much noise. Today they are learning to talk.

Overwhelming

The nation's crisis is overwhelming. In July the economic slide that triggered it all went into its second year. Inflation was set to soar to 80% or higher. Growth, a robust 6-7% for years, may plummet to -15%. The rupiah's value against the US dollar wallows at a fifth what it had been in better times. 'No country in recent history, let alone the size of Indonesia', said the World Bank in a report, 'has ever suffered such a dramatic reversal of fortune'.

The number of Indonesians unable to buy basic necessities will quadruple to 80 million by year's end. Everywhere they are taking justice into their own hands. They scooped prawns out of commercial ponds and joyously looted coffee plantations. They staked out vegetable plots on the 'unused' lands of the rich, including Suharto's famous Tapos farm. In August some of the nation's best economists lambasted Habibie for lacking a crisis plan.

Meanwhile pressures multiplied on other fronts. Suharto left mass graves scattered from end to end of this vast archipelago. Regions long plagued by military operations now took advantage of the lifting of press controls to speak out.

Horrific stories of human rights abuse surfaced for the first time in the mainstream press as National Human Rights Commissioners in August opened the first of the graves in Aceh, one of Indonesia's most ignored trouble spots.

Persistent demonstrations in East Timor in June, obviously backed by the entire community, and then in Irian Jaya in July, threatened to make those regions ungovernable. Jakarta responded by offering 'autonomy' to East Timor, by withdrawing combat troops from there and from Aceh, and by mumbling less coherently about improving things in Irian.

On yet another front, ethnic Chinese Indonesians who had fled abroad after becoming the target of riots in May were reluctant to bring their money back. Habibie made soothing sounds but could offer them no guarantees of security.

Kissing babies

For years Habibie told people how Mr Suharto had promised he would one day be president. But when he was made vice- president in March he could not have guessed his slight frame would have to fill the top job within two months.

Once sworn in, he was a president with no political base. He initiated generous gestures in all directions. Many high profile political prisoners were released, including Ratna Sarumpaet, Sri Bintang Pamungkas, and Muchtar Pakpahan. (East Timor's Xanana Gusmao and the PRD's Dita Sari were among those to remain in gaol).

He recognised several independent unions - SBSI for workers, AJI for journalists. He lifted restrictions on new print media licences. He invited new political parties to register with the Interior Ministry. Hoping to forestall further riots, he persuaded the IMF to allow him to restore subsidies on several key items of food.

He abandoned Suharto's remote image and began kissing babies. If at times he was accorded less than the respect he desired, he was in no position to wield Suharto's favourite onomatopoeic threat to gebuk, or 'thump' opponents.

Yes, Habibie remained unconvinced that Suharto was corrupt. He also wore New Order methods of controlling opposition like an old cardigan. But persistent 'guerrilla' tactics by Megawati supporters made him back down from plans to attend the congress of the Suharto puppet version of the PDI. The backdown proved he would never be another Suharto.

Best of all, he promised elections by May 1999 and set in motion legislation to reform the draconian New Order electoral laws.

Army

Contrary to many predictions, also in this magazine, Abri showed no interest in taking over power. Armed forces commander Wiranto needed all his energies to combat a popular backlash against New Order militarism.

Wiranto also faced deep divisions within the forces, created by an anxious Suharto in recent years. Main troublemaker in this regard was Lt-Gen Prabowo Subianto. Suharto had pushed his ambitious son-in-law up through the ranks till he was far ahead of his class-mates.

Prabowo is a Shakespearian Richard III figure, his cruel rage perhaps derived from his well-known impotence, the result (many say) of a war injury. But his fascination with covert methods, first demonstrated as a captain in East Timor in the late 1980s, proved his undoing. In late August an internal military investigation resulted in his dismissal for kidnapping anti- government activists earlier in the year. But was it enough?

Even if Wiranto's own house had been in order, he might have argued the way soldiers did in Brazil and Argentina during the 1980s - let civilians take the rap for failing to halt the economic nosedive.

Indeed, the world is now less friendly to military regimes than it was when General Suharto took over in 1965. The Cold War is over. The price of oil, which fuelled Suharto's regime, collapsed years ago. Globalised information makes it more difficult to impose oppressive ideologies.

Golkar

To win his elections, Suharto had relied on a big bureaucratic machine. Now Golkar is a shadow of its former self.

Habibie's man in Golkar, executive chairman Akbar Tanjung, only just fought off an internal challenge by retired soldiers allied with Suharto himself in early July. Incredibly, Suharto still controls the vast slush funds Golkar always used to win elections, and he seems keen to use them against his successor. A Golkar without Abri support appears likely.

Golkar, in other words, has become a nice little mud wrestling pit, like an Eastern European communist party after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Nothing, but nothing, is off the agenda. None of the sacred symbols of the New Order are any longer taboo - not the Pancasila ideology, not the 1945 Constitution, not even a united Indonesia. Where once to speak of human rights was un-Indonesian, now everyone from Suharto's children up talks human rights as if the nation's future depends on them, which indeed it does.

Learning curve

Suharto's very strength invited oppositionists to focus on him as the source of the nation's troubles. But Habibie's weakness means those who want change have had to look away from the presidency towards Indonesian civil society itself. The learning curve, not just for the elite but also for a society kept dumb by sheer terror for half a lifetime, seems impossibly steep.

One reason for the only dim euphoria among many activists is that they don't always like what they see. Many of the new political parties appeal to religious sentiment rather than to more universal as well as more pragmatic considerations of social justice and welfare. Shadowy elite figures still get away with dirty tricks like fomenting riots. Too much public discourse focusses on individuals rather than on the why and how of revitalising institutions that will outlive them.

However, the reality is that Habibie's weakness is creating a negotiating culture not seen in the New Order before. Suharto had a murderous army in his personal grip. Habibie does not. He came to power amidst riots so severe they brought down his venerated master. He has a salutary fear of the chaos the masses can cause if he displeases them. What else can he do but placate?

It is possible that calls for law-and-order by those hankering after the fleshpots of the New Order may yet cut short this window of opportunity. More likely is that, even if Habibie does not last much longer, the next president will be little different to Habibie. For now, this may be the new Indonesia.

The onus is now on civil society to stop craving for a strong president and start negotiating the constitutional shape of a more democratic Indonesia, in which, despite their secret admiration for Suharto-style dictators, the elite will have learned to talk.

Gerry van Klinken edits 'Inside Indonesia'.

Inside Indonesia 56: Oct-Dec 1998
Page 2 of 2

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