Nov 18, 2018 Last Updated 12:17 PM, Nov 15, 2018

No shortcut to democracy

Post-Suharto, the opportunities are wide open. Time is short. But a democracy that lasts must be built on solid ideas rather than popular individuals or religion.

Olle Tornquist speaks with Gerry van Klinken

What first drew you to Indonesia?

In the early 70's I wasn't interested in Indonesia but in what was missing in Marxism and why many radical popular movements in the Third World were failing. So what actually drew me to Indonesia was the destruction of its huge communist party.

But even studies of general theories have to be contextualised. And since empirical exploration rather than old theories have been points of departure in my efforts since the late 80's to analyse popular politics of democratisation, Indonesia 'in itself' has gradually become more important to me. But as an Indonesianist, I remain a fake!

Few expected Suharto to resign as quickly as he did. What really brought him down?

Let's look back. Because actually expectations have varied over time and with the theories in vogue. Till the late 70's or so, most radicals kept on analysing the New Order regime in terms of an unstable neo-colonial and parasitic dictatorship.

But the regime didn't fall, and many realised that the 'parasites' did invest some of their rents. So both students of the rise of capital and of clientelism began to emphasise continuity instead þ this thing might last forever. They tended to look on studies of popular movements for political change as idealistic and a waste of time.

And then, of course, there was the West's lack of interest in supporting democratic forces 'that couldn't even offer a realistic alternative'. So yes, in many circles the crisis and Suharto's resignation was somewhat unexpected.

What really was to oust him became apparent to me only with the crackdown on the democracy movement in mid '96. That wasn't 'business as usual', as many would have it.

The regime, on the one hand, proved totally unable to regulate conflicts, reform itself, and prepare an 'orderly' succession. When the financial crisis spread to Indonesia a year later the regime could not restore the confidence of investors, regardless of what economic prescription it tried - since that would have required fundamental political reforms.

The dissidents, on the other hand, were too poorly organised to make a difference on their own, and they were still neglected by the West. Instead, the West entrusted the problem to neo-classical IMF economists and their colleagues in Jakarta.

On May 4 1998 the political illiteracy of the economists combined with Suharto's attempt to prove that he was in control, caused the regime to increase prices even further than the IMF had sought.

Unorganised public anger thereupon gave a new dimension to the student demonstrations that had hitherto been rather isolated. Factions of the army tried making things worse to get an excuse to regain control by afterwards restoring 'law and order'. The rats began abandoning the sinking ship, and the captain had to choose between going down with it or resigning.

So in essence the problem was political: the inability of the regime to handle conflicts, to reform itself and thus restore confidence in the market place; the inability of the democracy movement to organise the widespread discontent among people, relying instead on student activists as organic spearheads; and the inability of the West and the IMF to boost reform and democratic forces that may have prevented social and economic disaster.

How would you describe what has happened in politics since Suharto's resignation?

To keep it brief, most actors focus on how to alter the old regime. Everybody is busy repositioning themselves, consolidating their assets, and forming new parties and alliances. Incumbents (and their military and business allies) are delaying changes and forming favourable new political laws in order to be able to adapt, making whatever concessions are necessary to be able to steer their course. Established dissidents, meanwhile, trade in their reputations and, occasionally, their popular followings, for reform and 'positions'.

There is a shortage of time. Even old democrats go for shortcuts like charisma, populism, religion, and patronage in order to swiftly incorporate rather than gradually integrate people into politics. Radicals try to sustain popular protests to weaken shameless incumbents who might otherwise be able to stay on.

Of course the markets and the West are mainly interested in anything that looks stable enough to permit the pay-back of loans and safe returns on investments.

Habibie and most of his ministers are New Order people. Yet they do not enjoy New Order powers. Doesn't that make this post-Suharto period 'somewhat' democratic?

Yes the rulers are weaker. For some years, even sections of the Habibie's association for Islamic intellectuals Icmi have had limited democratic reforms on their agenda, like their friend Anwar in Malaysia. By now, any new regime will have to be legitimised in terms of rule of law and democracy. There are continuos negotiations over new rules of the game. And there are a lot of opportunities. Genuine democrats, however, are short of capacity to make use of them. They now cannot rally opposition against an authoritarian ruler. They need instead to mobilise people in society on the basis of different interests and ideas. But that is much more difficult.

Incumbents and others with economic, military and political resources prefer elitist and limited forms of democracy. Sections of the middle class may well support ideas about a rather authoritarian but enlightened law and order state. Especially if actual democracy will mean that local strongmen and religious, military and business leaders mobilise the voters with the use of God, gold, goons and guns, only to divide the spoils among themselves.

These are risky days. What is the biggest danger? What are the signs of hope?

The danger I'm most afraid of is the historical tendency for local political violence to increase as central power becomes weaker and more divided. Less efficient top-down suppression of all the latent conflicts on the local level, centring on food, land and other vital resources, leaves space for not just democratic forces but also for devastating conspiracies and manipulation. As we talk, the killings in East Java, for instance, are still going on.

The best signs of hope, on the other hand, we rarely notice. They are difficult to extrapolate from what we know of Indonesia until the fall of Suharto. The so-called political opportunity structure is changing.

Three brief examples. First, it is no longer possible to simply repress angry workers. Even the most stubborn hardliners realise that it's better to negotiate with representative unions. So it may be possible for labour activists to take the initiative and cautiously enter into this field with a rather good bargaining position, since their opponents really need genuine representatives with whom to strike solid deals.

Second, after the financial crisis even sections of the IMF and the World Bank realise it's time for improved regulations. Neo-liberalism is on the retreat. Hence, there are ample opportunities to continue the struggle for democratisation and so-called 'good governance'.

Third, there will be comparatively free elections on all levels. And though there are many constraints those are opportunities for hitherto rather isolated activists (including 'liberated' journalists) to reach out, link up with grass roots initiatives, and build genuine mass organisations, including democratic watch movements.

What kind of reform is the most crucial, and the most feasible, right now? What should outsiders be supporting?

In Indonesia (as some ten years ago in Eastern Europe) the state and organised politics are seen as bad, and 'civil society' as good. When authoritarian politics have to be undermined there is much to this idea, but now there is less. Now it's high time to mobilise strength in negotiations by organising people and building a democratic culture. I do not share the view that support for civil society is always the best way of doing this. In many cases, such as the backing of free journalists, there are no problems, but all civil society associations do not necessarily promote democracy. And what is political culture but routinely practised remnants of yesterday's rules, institutions, and organised politics? Hence, it's on the level of formal rules and institutions on the one hand, and of organised politics on the other, that change and improvements have to start.

It is essential for the democratic forces to give priority to organising constituencies based on shared societal interests and ideas. They should not go for tempting shortcuts. Without well-anchored politics and unionism there will be no meaningful democracy.

Equally important, all efforts - including ours from outside - must be made to oppose new political rules of the game that make such efforts increasingly difficult, and to mobilise support for better alternatives.

One example is the need to back up genuine labour groups and unions by involving them in the distribution of support for the unemployed. Another is the new electoral law. Not only does it retain corporate military representation. It is also tailor made to promote local boss- rule in one-man constituencies and to prevent proportional representation of small but potentially genuine parties.

Finally, of course, in the run-up to the elections there must be massive support for independent voters education and electoral watch movements. The objective should be to build constituencies for the future among genuine democrats at the grass roots level.

Olle Tornquist commutes between Sweden and Norway where he is professor of politics and development at the University of Oslo. He is the author of 'Dilemmas of Third World communism' and 'What's wrong with Marxism?' (based on Indonesia and India), and the new textbook 'Politics and development - A critical introduction'.

Inside Indonesia 57: Jan-Mar 1999


She is much more than an opposition politician. Megawati is an idol. And possibly Indonesia's fourth president.

Stefan Eklof

On 8 October 1998 the leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) and daughter of Indonesia's first president Sukarno, Megawati Sukarnoputri, opened the party's fifth congress in Sanur in southern Bali. The opening session was held on a large field in the outskirts of the Balinese capital Denpasar. Hundreds of thousands of Megawati's supporters dressed in the party's colours red and black flocked to the field to hear her speech.

Many had travelled for days to Bali from all over the archipelago to take part in the celebrations around the congress and to show their support for Megawati. Most of the audience, however, were Balinese youths from around the island.

As Megawati ascended the speaker's podium, the masses could hardly contain their excitement, ecstatically shouting 'Mega! Mega!'. For almost an hour, Megawati laid out her vision for Indonesia in the post-Suharto era, frequently interrupted by loud applause and choruses of approval.

Afterwards congress delegates moved to the Grand Bali Beach Hotel in Sanur to hold the rest of the sessions, all of which were closed to the public. The congress went smoothly. There were few visible lines of division between the delegates, and no disturbances occurred during any of the three congress days.

Megawati was unanimously re-elected party leader. Moreover the congress decided to nominate her as the party's candidate for the coming presidential election in November 1999.


Commonplace as it may seem, the decision by a political party to nominate its leader as a presidential candidate is unique in Indonesia's political history. No party ever dared to challenge Sukarno for the presidency before he was forced by the military to hand over power in 1966. Under the New Order, the political system was carefully designed to preserve Suharto's single candidacy for the presidency.

The government employed a range of manipulative and repressive measures to achieve this and to silence dissenting voices. In June 1996, after Megawati had hinted she might stand as a candidate in the March 1998 presidential election, the government engineered a PDI congress which ousted her as party leader and reinstated the party's former leader, Suryadi.

However, Megawati refused to acknowledge the legality of that congress, not even after Suryadi's PDI faction, backed by the military and by hired thugs, attacked and ousted her supporters from the party's central headquarters in Jakarta on 27 July 1996. At least five people were killed in the attack, which triggered the worst riot in Jakarta in more than a decade, with thousands of people burning and looting shops and government buildings in the area around the party headquarters.

Megawati continued to assert that she was the legitimate leader of the PDI, and she refused to compromise with the government and the Suryadi faction. However, the government barred her from participating in the May 1997 election. The PDI consequently performed disastrously, collecting only 3.1% of the votes, down from 14.9% in 1992. The result was widely interpreted as a sign of public disgust with the government's treatment of Megawati.

The government consistently denied her any formal role in politics. Even after Suharto resigned in May 1998 and the political climate opened up, the Habibie government continued only to acknowledge the PDI faction led by Suryadi. In August 1998 the faction held a government sponsored congress in Palu, Central Sulawesi. Here Suryadi was replaced with Budi Harjono, who had been the government's preferred candidate for the PDI chair in 1993, when Megawati first was elected.

Megawati's ousting in 1996 and the government's subsequent rough treatment of her, helped to heighten the public sense of injustice and lack of democracy under the New Order. Meanwhile, Megawati managed to stay in the political limelight through her uncompromising stance toward the government. While the affair exposed the government's heavy-handedness and manipulative methods, it also served to boost Megawati's public reputation for justice and incorruptibility.


It was no coincidence that Megawati chose Bali as the venue for her congress in October. Bali is one of her strongest provinces of support. Many Balinese still hold Sukarno in high esteem - his mother was Balinese. As the congress approached, Megawati's popularity was clearly visible all around the island. The Balinese put Megawati and Sukarno posters outside their houses and stickers on their cars. Along the roads there were red flags with the PDI symbol of a buffalo head, and the text 'Pro- Megawati'.

Motorbikes had similar flags hanging from behind. People wore red T-shirts, capes, headbands and accessories with party attributes, such as badges, necklaces and key rings. Large home-painted billboards of Sukarno and Megawati decorated the roadsides in many villages.

Young Megawati supporters built bamboo sheds on poles in their neighbourhoods and hamlets, all painted red and decorated with posters of Megawati and political slogans. In the evenings, the youngsters assembled in the sheds to talk politics and to listen to protest songs and recordings of Megawati's opening speech of the congress. Every day, from the early afternoon until late at night, the main roads around Denpasar were crammed with thousands of people, mostly young men and teenagers, who rode around town in large and lively caravans of motorbikes, cars and trucks. Sitting on top of their vehicles or hanging out the windows, the celebrators tirelessly waved their red flags and shouted 'Mega! Mega!' or 'Hidup Mega!' (Long Live Mega) in chorus.

This exuberant eruption of political activity among the Balinese took place after several decades of repression of political activity. The Suharto regime aimed at depoliticising Indonesia's masses. It destroyed or emasculated existing political parties. The only approved political activity was to express support for the government's electoral vehicle, Golkar. Activists for other parties were often harassed.

Suharto's resignation in May brought about a more open political climate. It led to a virtual explosion of long-suppressed political activity around the country. Megawati's congress provided a welcome opportunity for the Balinese to celebrate their new-won political freedom.


Political commentators have often criticised Megawati for being a weak politician, lacking fundamental understanding of politics and economics and having little in terms of a concrete political program. Relevant as this critique may seem, it is primarily a view held by the political elites in Indonesia.

For Megawati's young followers, she is much more than an opposition politician, she is an idol. One Balinese high school student said: 'Megawati has been my idol ever since junior high school. [...] Because of her self-confidence, Megawati dares to be oppositional [and] to fight continuously to defend the truth.' Another student said: 'Mega is a super woman. She dares to face any obstacle whatsoever. I hope I can become like her.'

While there is no doubt that Megawati's popularity largely derives from her father's name, that does not go all the way to explain it. Megawati is able to benefit from her father's popularity because she has built a reputation for certain moral qualities of her own. Megawati's struggle against the New Order government boosted her reputation for justice, righteousness, integrity and political courage. These are also qualities that Sukarno's name represents to those Indonesians who still hold the former president's name dear. Many people also tend to see Megawati's struggle for justice against the New Order as an analogy to Sukarno's struggle for justice and independence against the Dutch in the 1930s.

Since Suharto's resignation in May, discussion about the wide- spread corruption and injustice under the New Order has created much public resentment. In contrast, Megawati symbolises justice and is untainted by corruption. She enjoys broad support among poor Indonesians who feel strongly that they were disadvantaged under the New Order, and who have yet to see things change for the better.


Young Balinese showed extra-ordinary enthusiasm for Megawati, but she has large followings all around the country and from all generations. Many of her supporters belong to the poor urban masses who are among the hardest hit by the current economic crisis. If the May 1999 election even roughly reflects the popular political will, the PDI under Megawati may very well become Indonesia's largest political party, collecting perhaps 25-30% of the votes. Apart from Golkar, the PDI stands out as the only major non-Islamic political alternative.

Islamic credentials are no doubt an advantage in a country where close to 90% of the population are Muslim. But many non-Muslims and moderate Muslims are suspicious of political Islamic aspirations, and this works to Megawati's benefit. If after next year's election the PDI can strike a deal with one or more of the moderate Muslim parties, then Megawati stands a good chance of becoming Indonesia's fourth president in November 1999.

Stefan Eklof is a PhD student writing about the PDI at Lund University, Sweden. He is the author of 'Indonesian politics in crisis' (NIAS, expected out early 1999).

Inside Indonesia 57: Jan-Mar 1999

Australia's response


Beyond humanitarian assistance, should our aid program stress 'governance' or 'human rights'? Actually, both.

Philip Eldridge

There are many different ways of perceiving Indonesia's 'crisis', with many corresponding Australian responses. But the extent of human suffering, social and economic disruption experienced by the Indonesian people is undeniable. And there is widespread agreement that the humanitarian crisis and political reform must be confronted interdependently.

Such a convergence between the need for humanitarian aid and political reform offers real opportunities for change in Indonesia. But given the great uncertainty of the whole situation, and the need for action and balance across many fronts, it is important that no-one pushes their diagnoses and prescriptions to extremes, insisting on false choices between government and non-government, macro and micro level action, short-term emergency relief and longer term development, incremental programs and deeper structural change.

While everyone must specialise, we can now see how, for example, seemingly obscure issues of financial management can impact at the base of society. On the other hand, while holistic solutions are essential, these can too easily paralyse specific action on any front.

Nevertheless, there are important differences in the way various groups perceive the connection between politics and economics. A useful guide to these differences is to compare 'governance' and human rights approaches.

Governance agendas focus on issues of legal due process, accountability and transparency, open and honest elections, efficient public administration and economic management, systems and structures supportive of the conduct of commerce according to clear market rules.

By comparison, human rights principles are more normative and universal, emphasising the dignity and the physical, social and cultural well-being of the human person.

The 1993 UN Vienna Declaration asserted the indivisibility of political and legal rights from economic, social and cultural rights, often artificially divided by both earlier Cold War and ongoing 'East versus West' and 'North versus South' rhetoric.

Here my aim is to clarify means and ends, rather than setting up yet another false dichotomy of the kind I warned against earlier. It would also be wrong to see the Australian government as exclusively pursuing governance, and NGOs as entirely committed to human rights. The Australian government combines the two in sometimes confusing ways. NGOs, while basically supportive of human rights values, often find legalistic and prescriptive aspects of human rights agendas in conflict with their core participatory and voluntarist concepts of partnership.

There are many obvious points of compatibility between governance and human rights concepts. Sound structures of law, government and commerce are essential to achieving human rights. But notions of justice and mutual obligation, closely linked to rights, appear to be lacking from governance models, whose language has in part been captured to serve goals of neo-liberal economics and to justify International Monetary Fund (IMF) packages of doubtful value to Indonesia.

Conversely, a thoroughgoing human rights approach would accord basic health, nutrition, education and employment opportunities a central place, alongside civil and political rights. Requirements on signatory states to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) to 'respect, protect and fulfil' such rights place clear obligations on both Australia and Indonesia.


Indonesia's experience shows the shallowness of earlier development efforts, in face of deep-rooted poverty structures. Despite acknowledged, though often exaggerated improvements in basic indicators for the majority under Suharto, concentration of wealth at the top end of Indonesian society produced a too narrow base to survive full exposure to international market regimes.

The crisis faced by Indonesia's poor - again the large majority - has deepened on all major fronts. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that about 100 million Indonesians are in danger of falling below the poverty line in 1999, and more than twenty million are unemployed as a result of falling demand and production.

Growing malnutrition among children carries real dangers of their suffering long-term brain damage. The FAO has further projected an increase of 47% in rice import requirements for 1999 compared with its forecast in April, though recent news may suggest a partial recovery.

The effectiveness of Australia's contribution will in large measure depend on both the efforts of the international community and sustained 'political will' by Indonesia. The spirit in which it is given will also affect future relations. While the wisdom of Australian efforts to soften IMF conditionalities has been questioned by many Indonesians seeking political change, assertions of solidarity in hard times ('in for the long haul... not a fair weather friend' etc) by Australian leaders seem to have been mostly well received, as they have been backed up by solid financial and other support.

However, the rather didactic tone accompanying recent suggestions of a new Australian leadership role in overcoming the regional crisis requires modifying towards a language of dialogue if effective cooperation is to be maintained.


Australian government responses have largely followed the 'governance' approach, though tempered by a considerable humanitarian spirit. Many new programs relate to statistical data gathering, financial and economic management in both public and private sectors, while new fields of technical assistance and professional exchange are opened up.

Given the overall tight budgetary climate, increases in financial allocations to Indonesia have been significant. Australia's annual pledge to the World Bank sponsored Consortium Group for Indonesia (CGI) rose from AU$74 million in July 1997 to AU$120 million in July 1998. Additionally, Indonesia may win up to half of a new AU$6m Asia Crisis Fund open to competitive bidding within the official aid agency AusAid. Flexibility has also been extended to local counterpart costs, which have risen by up to 100%.

AusAid has joined with the World Bank in supporting a scholarship scheme for secondary school students, aimed at keeping them at school during hard times. But the mass of poor children never proceed beyond primary level, while basic nutrition programs are essential to maintaining school attendance. Many local groups and small NGOs are either unaware of or are unable to access such schemes. Monitoring of World Bank programs has now become a major concern, not least to the Bank itself, particularly with regard to lower level distribution channels.

Drought relief and food aid have been stepped up, both directly and through NGOs, together with ongoing programs in the field of water supply and agriculture. Technical assistance is being supplied to programs coordinated by Indonesia's National Planning Institute (Bappenas) and the World Bank to design and monitor labour intensive works programs in four eastern Indonesian provinces, including drought relief programs.

At the same time, Australian exports of wheat and cotton will benefit from higher export insurance cover up to $900 million. Finally, in responding across a wider front, it appears that AusAid will maintain its long-term commitment to Eastern Indonesia, one of Indonesia's poorest regions, where experience, infrastructure and relationships have been steadily built up.

Beyond government

There has been an encouraging range of responses from semi- government and non-government groups, partly supported from AusAid funds. In the area of legal and human rights, AusAid has supported the Asian Forum of National Human Rights Institutions through the (Australian) Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC), which provides the Secretariat. The Forum is an important vehicle for cooperation between HREOC and Indonesia's National Human Rights Commission.

The newly established Centre for Democratic Institutions will emphasise exchanges between practitioners in fields such as public administration, electoral practice and constitutional law.

The Australian Legal Resources Group, acting as funding arm for the International Commission of Jurists, cooperates with Indonesian NGOs and members of the judiciary in evaluations, exchanges and training. Administrative law and judicial ethics have been selected as key areas. Transparency International Australia is working with Indonesian NGOs towards a 'national integrity' workshop ahead of elections due in May 1999.

Space does not allow coverage of efforts across many fields, while some groups, on the advice of Indonesian partners, prefer to avoid publicity. Media is an emerging field of cooperation. Despite long standing links on the labour front, effective cooperation between Indonesian NGOs and the international union movement has yet to be established. Here, a large influx of US aid funds may distort goals of labour and democratic organisation more generally.

Smaller scale, but significant programs featured in the recent Australian Council For Overseas Aid (ACFOA) workshop included self-help groups working directly with the urban poor, assisted by Australian and New Zealand expatriates in Indonesia and individuals based in Australia. Some young Australians have been inspired by the generosity of Indonesians amidst their own poverty to conduct a round Australia cycle fund-raising tour.

My conclusion is both practical and theoretical. In action terms, Indonesia's crisis is multi-faceted, with opportunities for cooperation across the full spectrum of Australian and Indonesian life and society. Such efforts can and do make a difference provided they are contextualised and undertaken in a spirit of partnership.

Aims underlying my more political advocacy of a human rights approach - yet to be fully developed in Australia's regional relations - include: (1) balancing more technocratic aspects of the 'governance' agenda with an ethos of rights, justice and mutual obligation; (2) reinforcing integration and 'indivisibility' between politico-legal and socio-cultural- economic spheres of action; and (3) strengthening holistic perspectives of the Australia-Indonesia partnership in overcoming poverty.

Dr Eldridge is Honorary Research Associate, Department of Government, University of Tasmania. He is currently researching Australian human rights policies in Southeast Asia.

Inside Indonesia 57: Jan-Mar 1999

No turning back

Indonesia's fragile post-Suharto transition is threatened by social conflict as much as by squabbles among the elite. But this international meeting of non-government organisations declares that the uncertainty is all the more reason to push on towards democracy.

Infid (and friends)

Indonesia's political situation is uncertain. The hand-over of power from Suharto to Habibie merely created an even more serious political crisis. The armed forces Abri, one of the pillars of the New Order, is experiencing delegitimation over revelations that they were involved in serious human rights violations such as kidnapping political activists and killing demonstrators. Yet Abri is still on the political stage, and the possibility that 'reformasi' may be reversed and turned back to authoritarianism remains very great. Recently, for example, there have been signs of increasing violence and the suspicion that murders are being committed for political ends.

The economic crisis, meanwhile, has grown more serious. Although in October the rupiah strengthened somewhat, this has coincided with signs of the impending collapse of global capitalism. In other words, the Indonesian economy faces not merely a national crisis but a global economic recession. The goal of strengthening the economy of the majority of ordinary people therefore requires a clear strategy not only at the national but at the global level.

Horizontal friction within society over religion and ethnicity (known in Indonesia as primordialism) is spreading. The political euphoria that has given birth to more than 100 political parties is an indirect expression of weak solidarity and of limited perspectives within civil society as it faces the challenge of an expanded political space. Conflicts within the body politic are now no longer confined to those between factions of the power elite, as happened in the run-up to the fall of Suharto, but are now tending to expand into conflicts between various groups within society, with serious implications.

This fragile political transition needs to be watched carefully so that these conflicts do not end up obliterating the opportunity to create democracy in Indonesia. Non-government organisations (NGOs) are being called on to play a more concrete and organised role, to sustain the transition towards democracy at every level - regional, national and international.

We who are attending this meeting have agreed to build a coalition of international NGOs on the basis of our common commitment to democracy and human rights.

The purpose of this coalition is to develop a democratic political process based on respect for human rights. Its strategy will be to mobilise the broadest possible non-partisan support for democracy in various constituencies within civil society by organising and by providing political education.

The coalition will seek to:

  • Maintain and expand the available political space; Contribute to the transformation of non-democratic institutions and practices, such as a) Abri dual function, b) the centralisation of power and the looting of the regions by the centre, c) the five political laws of the New Order era, and d) corruption;
  • Build the broadest possible alliances to support these goals by recognising the specific needs of (for example) indigenous groups, local cultures, religious groups, etc;
  • Involve itself in creative dialogue with political parties and other social groups in order to promote healthy democratic debate;
  • Organise and mobilise international support for democratising initiatives; Conduct public political education in order to develop democratic outlooks;
  • Urge the international community to support the empowerment of civil society and of social movements by giving its direct support (funding, information, networking, etc) to NGOs and other social groups.

Jakarta, 24 October 1998.

Infid is a coalition of about a hundred NGOs. Half are Indonesian, the other half are based in the major donor countries interested in Indonesia, including Europe, Japan, North America and Australia. The meeting in Jakarta 23-24 October 1998 was hosted by Infid. It aimed to consider the role of NGOs in the transition towards democracy in Indonesia. Invited participants from South Africa, South Korea, and Chile shared their experience of transition. This statement was produced at the meeting.

Inside Indonesia 57: Jan-Mar 1999

Pak Wertheim


Professor Herb Feith

Pak Wertheim, the founder of modern Indonesian studies in Holland, was nearly 91 when he died. Like others who die at an advanced age, much of his story had faded from public memory by that time.

W F Wertheim was Holland's counterpart to America's George McT Kahin. The first edition of his 'Indonesian society in transition' came out in 1950, two years before Kahin's 'Nationalism and revolution in Indonesia', and each was a foundational work on which many others built.

But Wertheim belonged to an earlier generation of Indonesia specialists. While Kahin's involvements began only at the end of World War 2, Wertheim arrived in Batavia in 1931 and soon afterwards began to teach at its Law School. In 1940 he was appointed to the small Visman Commission, a prestigious government body formed to examine the colony's constitutional future.

Whereas Kahin spent most of World War 2 in the American army, where he learned Dutch, Wertheim spent most of it in Japanese prison camps in Java.

Each was an active partisan of the Indonesian republic during its revolutionary struggle for independence. And each of them continued to be academics in an engaged style. In 1951 Wertheim declined an invitation to teach in Indonesia. His decision was a protest against the Sukiman government's inviting the Nazi-tainted Hjalmar Schacht to Indonesia as an economic adviser. Echoes of Dr Tjipto Mangoenkoesomo who ridiculed a decoration from the colonial government for his contributions to the eradication of contagious disease.

In the Suharto years Wertheim gave active support to Dutch and other European organisations publicising the plight of political prisoners in Indonesia. He also wrote frequently about the coup attempt of 1 October 1965, and specifically on Suharto's mysterious interactions on its eve with Colonel Latief, a key member of the group of plotters.

Pak Wertheim will be remembered for the encouragement he gave to people who went on to become scholars and teachers in their own right. One of those is the late Yale historian Harry Benda, who met Wertheim when they were both in Japanese prison camps in Java. A second is the Bogor rural sociologist Sayogyo, who as Kampto Utomo was Wertheim's assistant and PhD supervisee when the latter taught at Bogor in 1956-67. In recent decades Sayogyo has become famous for his research on innovative methods of measuring poverty.

When the transnational history of post-World War 2 Indonesian studies is written Wertheim will emerge as a foundational figure. And if there is ever a history of the radical stream within that tradition he will emerge as one of its most inspirational members.

Professor Herb Feith is himself one of the founders of Indonesian studies in Australia. He currently teaches in Yogyakarta.

Inside Indonesia 57: Jan-Mar 1999

Globalisation challenge

Globalisation offers only disaster to Indonesia's poor. Student demonstrators should extend their protest to the powers governing their economy.

Read more

Help that helps

Millions are on welfare. But can it make a difference to their future?

Vanessa Johanson

Hand outs. Everyone is doing it. Government departments ranging from the Department of Mines and Energy to the Department of Tourism, non-government organisations, the World Bank, fast-food joints and newspapers, middle and upper-class philanthropists from inside and outside Indonesia, foreign governments, foreign companies and village heads - all have their own reasons for wanting to give out food to Indonesia's 100 million or more very poor.

As unemployment and inflation continue to soar, the need for affordable food is indeed enormous. As of the middle of October '98, the cheapest rice available in neighbourhood markets in Java is between Rp 2,600 þ 3,000 a kilo. Compare this to the wage of a Jakarta building construction worker þ in most cases unchanged since the crisis began - who earns around Rp 6,000 a day. Meanwhile, the Bandung factory-worker who makes the bricks and tiles for the same building earns only about Rp 2,500 a day.

I went to the field on 18 October with Bandung Peduli, a small, nine-month-old food security non-government organisation (NGO) working in villages in Bandung and West Java. We traveled to the green back blocks of Padalarang, previously a busy industrial area. We carried several hundred packages of food, each containing 10 kilos of rice and 0.25 kilo of salted fish.

Two Bandung Peduli voluntary teams had preceded us there in the past weeks to survey the level of need in the area and identify the individuals most in need of help. Initially they had spoken to Bapak Machmud, a local social worker, who had introduced them to various families.

The Bandung Peduli volunteers þ students from local universities þ had asked the families about their weekly income expenditure, number of children, work, land, type of housing, sanitation and health-care used, and about other kinds of assistance available to them. In practice, those qualifying for help from Bandung Peduli are families with both parents unemployed and no fertile land.

In the kampung we visited, Cibadap, most families originate from other areas, and moved to Cibadap to work in small brick, tile and marble factories. The construction industry has collapsed in the economic crisis.

Ibu Elli and her husband work in a factory. 'The factories are still going', she said 'but we only work about two weeks in a month. Lots of people have been laid off.' Meanwhile, the green paddies and cassava gardens in the area are mostly owned by people 'from the city' who once employed locals to cultivate them. Now the 'city people' employ jobless relatives.

'Anyhow, the land is no good,' said another Cibadap woman. 'You can't grow much at all.' Part of the government's intensive labour program is to grow food on every centimetre of available land, employing the unemployed millions and utilising some of the long- controversial Reforestation Fund. This program has many critics. 'By the time the money gets to us half of it is gone and so has several weeks of our time. It's not worth it,' intimated a Palembang NGO worker.

What about the future?

Ridlo Eisy, the director of Bandung Peduli, says, 'We are proud of our careful multiple survey technique. Most government programs just turn up in the villages with a truck of food and unload it on the doorstep of the village head or at the village cooperative. Sometimes it then gets sold outside, or distributed to the wrong people. However, we know exactly who we are giving food to.'

One of the men in the village, his broken thongs repaired with a small stapler, approached Ridlo with important questions. 'We have already been given this and that: seeds and a small wage for labour from the government intensive labour fund in order to grow timber and vegetables, basic food stuffs from you. But what about the future? We all know that children here need to go to school. The factories only take high school graduates. And sooner or later there have to be work opportunities. Can't you help us finish building the school? We use it already, but the walls leak.'

Ridlo's answer reflects both his organisation's minimal funds, but also its philosophy of encouraging kampung people to help themselves. 'Well, why don't you set up "Cibadap Peduli"? If there's only 10% of people in the village working right now, they can help buy the construction material. The unemployed men can then finish the building.'

In several kampungs, Bandung Peduli has helped set up Warung Peduli, a self-sustaining rice shop. They get an initial batch of rice from Bandung Peduli, which they then sell cheaply and use the profits to buy more rice to sell cheaply, and also to fund other small local projects.

Other initiatives include giving help to local people to work on their own community development. One focus of such work is finding alternative employment for and educating the escalating numbers of young girls becoming prostitutes in almost every village.

As the packets of food were unloaded in a muddy vacant lot, I asked 12-year-old Nur where her school was. 'Oh, a few kilometres up the road,' she replied. 'I just came down here to watch the food distribution.' She was with a group of her friends, enjoying the entertainment. 'Does your dad work around here?' I asked.

'No. He doesn't work. He used to work in the factory. Now he doesn't.'

'Your mum?'

'She doesn't work either.'

'Does she have a garden?'

'Oh yes, she works in the garden.'

The other children listened carefully, inching closer, so I asked a collective question: 'Are you all going to school then?'


'Do your dads work in the factory?'

'No-o-o .... Where are you from, miss?'

'This village is unusual in this respect,' confirmed Kania Roesli, a founding member of Bandung Peduli. 'People sell their furniture and even their cutlery so that they can keep sending their kids to school.'

Bandung Peduli estimates that over 4 million people in West Java are threatened with starvation, and that nearly 15 million live below the poverty line. They know their work is piece-meal and unsustainable. 'It's going to take the whole macro economy to turn around before we can really see a big change here,' says Kania. 'In the mean time we want to at least ease people's worries about basic food stuffs temporarily so that they can think about other opportunities.'

Food gardens

Other individuals and organisations are more active in chasing these other opportunities. In Central Java, for example, a group of local NGOs are focusing their efforts on teaching people with small plots how to produce fertilizer with compost. With the right procedure, a villager with a small amount of exhausted land can have flourishing food garden growing in a matter of months. With much of the densely populated land in Java severely degraded by chemical use and other problems, such programs are vital.

The total estimated aid for food security and the social safety net from various sources now stands at around Rp 17 trillion. In Jakarta, some of the 'hand-outs' from bi- and multi-lateral donors are filtered through the Community Recovery Program (CRP), which then grants the funds to small, short-term projects which otherwise 'fall through the cracks.' CRP insists that its grantees combine short-term food relief with medium-term goals, such as income generation and employment creation programs, which in practice translate into programs for micro-enterprise training, simple technology introduction to add value to products, developing new agricultural products and rice substitute crops and so on.

A glance at the most recent statistics on economic growth from the Central Bureau of Statistics should send a strong message to policy makers about priority areas to focus on. Small industry shows an 11% contraction þ a huge drop, but significantly better than medium to large industry which shows a 14% contraction for the same period from January to September 1998.

Meanwhile, the farming sector is the only sector which shows any growth at all so far this year, with 0.23% growth. The small enterprise and farming sectors absorbed the vast majority (an estimated 60%) of all Indonesian workers before the crisis, and have the potential to do so again.

On the macro level, in order to provide real and sustainable food security, and eventual economic recovery, the government must implement policies which encourage (or simply 'get off the backs of') small enterprise and farmers.

On the way home from Padalarang I ate toasted banana with cheese and chocolate under the canvas of 'Sense of Crisis Cafe', one of the new, trendy and cheap roadside warungs. The thousands of new city mini-cafes are the colourful face of krismon (krisis moneter), often set up by students, laid-off bank and other office workers, and even by singers and soap stars. They have become fashionable weekend hang-outs for those who can't afford restaurants and night- clubs anymore. They represent the kind of creative entrepreneurship which is capable of flourishing in Indonesia when given the opportunity.

Vanessa Johanson is an Australian writer in Jakarta. Contact Bandung Peduli at Jl Supratman No. 57, Bandung, West Java, Indonesia, tel/fax 62-22-705 527, email Contact CRP at Program PKM, Jl Tebet Barat Dalam No. 38, Tebet Barat, Jakarta, Indonesia, tel 62-21-828 0050.

Inside Indonesia 57: Jan-Mar 1999

Tough, poor, unbeaten

On remote Atauro Island, East Timor, drought bites harder than a mere economic crisis.

Gabrielle Samson

At low tide on Atauro women and children, woven baskets on their backs and knives in their hands, search the rocks and coral for fish, shellfish, edible weeds and small shrimp. When the sea is calm the men fish with spears and nets. At night they search for squid and octopus in the shallows, voices floating over the water and yellow lights from their lamps glowing prettily along the shore.

Seafood supplements their corn and beans. Sometimes they will add greens - pepaya, cassava and other leaves. It is not a varied diet. When the sea is rough, as it often is, there will be no seafood. Sometimes there will be a bird or a bat to add flavour. Goats and chickens are killed for weddings, funerals and other ceremonies.

Atauro is an island off the coast of East Timor - 44 kilometres to the north of Dili across the Wetar Strait, a 3,500m deep channel of often-turbulent waters. It is 105 square kilometres of dry rocky mountains, cliffs, and a narrow, infertile coastal strip. Patches of forest and fertile land are found in the highlands of the interior. 7000 People live in the five main villages and in small outlying hamlets that cling to rocky hillsides and crevices or perch on exposed beaches.

Most Atauro people are poor, living mainly on what can be eked out of dry patches of garden or harvested from the sea. When that is your life an economic crisis doesn't hit you in the same way it does a town-dweller or a prosperous farmer. You can't get much poorer and you don't rely on bought goods. Salt, sugar, tea, coffee, flour, oil, matches, soap, school books and pencils are things you buy when you can. Atauro people are proud of the fact that the current krisis moneter doesn't affect them significantly and joke about it - not unaware of the irony of the joke.

Their 'wealth' is in the sea and in their goats - rangy, ear- marked animals that roam the bare hills and are sold when cash is necessary. As prices of 'imported' goods rise so does the price of goat, so there's a kind of balance. But now more goats and pigs are being sold more often.

American milk powder

An economic crisis can be survived. A dry 'wet' season is another matter. This year Atauro people have experienced both. Late and sporadic rains meant the corn crop failed. There's only one corn crop a year. Seed is saved as the staple food for the next year and for the next planting.

This year the government gave corn seed for a second planting, but that also failed. Rain at the wrong time and too little of it caused stunted growth. Much of what grew was eaten by grubs and insects. 1998 Was a bad year. As it draws to a close there is little corn left for eating or for seed.

There has been help from outside. Apart from government aid with seed corn in January 1998, food aid from America arrived in March when food shortages were reported. Each family, regardless of need, was given a bag of rice, 5 litres of cooking oil, sugar and 9 cans of milk powder. Public servants with incomes 20 to 30 times higher received the same aid as 'subsistence' families. Families with two children were given the same as families with eleven.

While this aid was appreciated and did assist families, it is puzzling why a luxury item like milk powder, not part of the usual diet, was included, and lots of it. Bought food, because it is scarce and usually bought in very small quantities, is not stored but eaten immediately. Consuming large quantities of milk- fats, alien to the digestive systems of most people, caused many cases of diarrohea, both in adults and children. It seemed local people were not consulted about appropriate foods.

Living on Atauro one is very aware that poverty is not just lack of material goods and money. It is not having a say in things that matter. Atauro people are poor because they lack the things the modern world has to offer - quality health, education, information and communication services, affordable transport.

They also lack the knowledge and self-confidence to demand such things. In 1996 only 10% of the population had completed six years of primary school. Most people are illiterate. On Atauro there is no telecommunication system, no mail service, no newspapers or books (except in minimal and inaccessible school libraries) and no ferry to the mainland. Yet in the past eighteen months more than Rp 400 million (AU$ 200,000 before the crisis) has been spent on roads that are now already unusable, and on an unused 'tourist' hotel.

These are not the choices of Atauro people. They don't have vehicles. They don't need hotels. People here die because they are far from medical help and hospitals, because there is no way to get them to the mainland quickly. The local community clinic is limited in staff and facilities. Their radio to the mainland has been out of order for months.

Sometimes the clinic does heal, but people generally prefer to use local traditional healers and shamans for health crises, for birthing. They still believe strongly in magic and ancestral powers.

Care International began a 'Food for Work' program on Atauro in August this year in which people work on 'useful' community projects in return for a monthly supply of rice (50 kg). The first task was repairing the fence around the village to keep goats on the hills away from houses and gardens. Deciding on 'useful' community projects is not easy. The program has been critised for creating a dependency on 'payment' for work that the community would normally carry out anyway, a crippling dependency that has already been developed through many government programs. However, as corn stocks diminish, the aid of American rice is helping people to make ends meet. There are still at least five months before a corn harvest. People are already preparing their gardens, but planting will not begin until the rainy season is established - usually in December.

Atauro people are tough. They are survivors. Most of them are descendents of the original Adade, Manroni and Huma Ngili (Maquili) clans who learnt to live in the harsh conditions of the island generations ago.

Others are descendents of Anggolan and mainland Timorese exiles sent to the island in turn by Portuguese and Indonesian governments. The Portuguese used the island as a prison for Timorese and Portuguese wrong-doers and dissidents from their African colonies. The Indonesians used it as a place of exile for families and supporters of anti-integration forces in the 80s.

These people learnt to live on infertile soil, to live without a close or reliable water source, to eat whatever could be eaten, scrounged from the dry, rocky land.


I have lived with Atauro people for three years and am in awe of their toughness and durability, their laconic humour, their unsentimental sense of survival.

I am part of a team working with the community in developing education and small income-generating activities. We work with teachers, parents and children at kindergarten, primary and high school levels; with women's fish processing and poultry groups, and a farming (vegetable growing) group.

We are exploring permaculture and other dryland farming techniques. Our programs receive funds from the New Zealand government, World Council of Churches, Uniting Church of Australia and Rotary International. They are small, localised, self-help programs and we believe they count.

With the economic crisis and failure of the corn crop, the poultry group is facing problems with feed for chickens. The sale of chickens and eggs to the mainland, where chickens are twice the price and eggs three times, should be maximised. But transport is too expensive and irregular. The women's fish processing group in Biqueli Village, relying totally on locally available materials, provides a small income for nine families.

In the schools we focusing on developing literacy and active/ participatory learning, developing with local teachers, methods, and materials that will assist children to achieve their potential as readers, writers, critical thinkers and problem- solvers.

The high school program aims to develop skills and knowledge in farming, fishing, and poultry-keeping. It uses local tutors and has a practical, participatory approach. As much as possible we use the local environment, local knowledge and culture as a base. We are trialling 'readers' with local settings and stories that validate local experience. Next year we hope to open a children's library.

Gabrielle Samson ( is an Australian volunteer. She comes from Brisbane.

Inside Indonesia 57: Jan-Mar 1999

Shelter from the rain

Funding cuts and apathy make life difficult for 2000 street kids in Semarang.

Jane Eaton 

It is a sweltering hot Friday morning and I'm on a mission, but first I must go and visit some friends at the local bus stop. 'Hey guys, what's up?' Hmmmm cool response. 'What's wrong?' Silence. Definitely a cool response. 'Are you mad at me?' Kneeling down I look for some explanation of the cold shoulder. And then I see the teardrops, pause before they fall. My heart shatters. Others notice the tears. A small crowd of onlookers quickly assembles. After the apologies and hugging I finally convince him to take a break and come for a ride with me.

There are now over 2000 street kids in Semarang. Yogie, the young boy with the tough exterior is typical of the kids who visited the shelter. Initially when the drop-in centre first started there were around 10 to 15 boys residing at the shelter. The lack of social services in this, Brisbane's sister city (but bigger!), has meant that numbers grew quickly.

The shelter was established in early 1997 as a joint project between the United Nations Development Program, the Indonesian Department of Welfare, and local charities. Shelters were set up in all major cities with enough funding for two years of operation.

Needless to say, funds here were quickly 'dispersed'. In early November, only seven months after it started, the Semarang shelter closed its doors.

Four of us pile into a becak (pedicab) and head off to find the elusive Ibu Indrah, the proprietor of a now empty shop space at the back of the market. One young boy, who sleeps in the market, suggested we rent the shop space as a safe place for a couple of the kids to live. The boy at the market was actually sleeping in a small cavity between the roof of the market building and the top of the shop - a space 50cm high.

After the usual false starts we finally locate Ibu Indrah in her new premises. Eventually I'm allowed to enter. The boys are too 'dirty' to be allowed in and are asked to wait outside. 'Well it's worth a shot', I think to myself. 'She'll probably say no, but I can't come this far and back out now, especially not in front of the boys.'

Edi and I put forward our offer to rent the place so that the children will have somewhere safe and out of the rain to live. After some hesitation she decides that we may use the shop for free, as the building will be demolished in the coming months.

With the precious keys in hand we pile back into the becak and head back. This time the ride is much more cheerful as we boast to the becak driver of our success. We agree to meet later in the day to start cleaning the place up.

Back to the streets

Whether the original shelter will open again and what form it will take is still unclear. A meeting was held recently with rumours flying thick and fast that the shelter would re-open. It has since been made clear to the kids that this isn't going to happen. The high publicity event was perhaps just a political manoeuvre. One claim is that an ambitious local Welfare Department head was trying to impress, another is that the local partners were trying to cover up the shelter's closure from visiting dignitaries.

For a project bedded in altruistic motives, politics and corruption has sullied the street kids' chance at shelter. The situation first began to disintegrate in July of 1997, when the shelter's guardian quit in disgust at the corrupt management practices of the local Welfare Department.

Without any programme officers to monitor the shelter, local thugs moved in, and the children moved back onto the streets.

Another shelter in Semarang, where many of the children used to live before they were forced to move to this government sponsored shelter, had also been forced to close its doors after being attacked in a midnight raid by local thugs. There was nowhere to go, except back to the streets.

Why is there so much apathy and resentment against street children? It is unclear. The national authorities as well as regional and local authorities have little patience for the plight of street children.

But the problem isn't going to disappear through lack of attention, or as sometimes happens, physical intimidation. Around 15,000 people are losing their jobs every day in Indonesia. As the economy contracts so too does the ability of the family to afford their children's welfare.

In August the Education Minister revealed that only 54% of school aged children had actually enrolled, leaving 46% of Indonesian children out there in the 'real world' with the grown ups. It is a lot easier to intimidate and exploit a child than an adult. They make excellent workers in this period of international competitiveness and free trade.

It is now lunchtime and the heat is oppressive. The five of us meet outside the shop which the kids will soon call home. We're armed with brooms and detergent and are attracting the stares of passers by. The shop is located above the market's rubbish dump. On a day as hot as this one the smell is nauseating. However, like the first rule of real estate says - location, location, location.

We jiggle the key in the lock and push open the door to find a dark cave tangled with spider webs, rats, cockroaches and other bugs, not to mention a number of rotting cat carcasses. At least 5cm of dust covers the floor. How long has this place been empty?

We rip down the curtains and throw out the old magazines and newspapers carpeting the floor. The garbage scavengers come and pick out redeemable pieces of clothing and furniture. For four hours that day we clean, sweep, scrub, wash and sweat. Needless to say with enthralled onlookers adding their two cents worth where they felt necessary. How to clean the cat's imprint off the tiles - suggestions anyone?

Earlier this year research by the Jakarta based Atma Jaya University revealed that within the first three months of living on the streets in Indonesia children are sexually abused at least once.

The short and long term effects of this environment on the children is frightening. The International Labour Organisation has warned that the prostitution/ sex industry accounts for up to 14% of Gross National Product in Southeast Asian countries. This was estimated before the crisis took hold. Indonesia's sex industry depends on a constant supply of vulnerable children. A third of prostitutes are under age. Where do they come from? From previously stable families who no longer have choices.

The future

It is important to look beyond the immediate fiscal implications of the economic crisis. Much more is at stake than balance sheets and foreign reserves. The negative effects of the economic crisis are rupturing the very fabric of society.

What are the long-term consequences of having half a generation grow up in poverty on the streets, being used and using others to survive? What life skills are they acquiring and which of these will they be passing on to their children in 10 to 15 years time? Is this the 'lost generation', without hope and without a future? Will this generation be able to regain a sense of social structure not based on the survival of the fittest mentality of the streets?

What will be the face of Indonesian society in ten years time, when this generation emerges into the spotlight? Endless questions with no immediate answer. The problem is only made worse by the closing of social services, like the Semarang shelter.

We buy some straw mats for the floor, and sit down to congratulate ourselves on a job well done. We order drinks, and dream of how we will use the place for a part time informal school or drop-in centre. How this will be a safe house for the little kids, where no big bullies are allowed to beat us up or bring their girlfriends.

As we dream and plan, the rain finally begins to fall. At last the rainy season has come and the temperature has dropped. Lucky we found this place just in time, no more nights under a wet leaky roof.

Postscript: The rain kept falling that night until the city was covered with water. Edi, being the true gentleman that he is, escorted me through the flooded markets out to the flooded streets in the pouring rain. After paying an exorbitant price for a taxi ride, I finally crashed into bed; and stayed there for the next three days crippled with dysentery. The old market building was burnt in a suspected arson attack in late September.

Jane Eaton was a volunteer in Semarang who now lives near Brisbane, Australia.

Inside Indonesia 57: Jan-Mar 1999

The new poor

Where is the economic crisis striking hardest? Not at slum dwellers in the city centre, but at the once upwardly mobile on Jakarta's outskirts.

Lea Jellinek

Once, the kampung dwellers of central Jakarta felt there was no way to stop the destructive forces of local and international capital. During the 1980s and early 1990s, their main battle had been to protect their homes against demolition and their trade stalls from being carted away.

Today, those who survived at the city centre are the lucky ones.

City centre

An ironic consequence of the economic crisis is that it stopped the destruction of kampung houses and harassment of street traders in the city centre. Construction of the modern city is at a standstill.

As I wrote in Inside Indonesia once before (April-June 1996), Saman lost his kampung house in Central Jakarta when it was demolished for a five star hotel in 1991. He was forced to sleep on the table-top of a stall by the roadside. The compensation he received was only enough to pay for a small patch of land in his wife's home village of Cisauke, seventy kilometres from Jakarta.

His wife had previously sold their last remaining patch of wet rice land to build their city house. When the house was gone, she returned to live in the village, while Saman sought odd jobs doing car and other repairs for the people for whom he had formerly worked as a driver.

But since the economic crisis Saman has converted part of the land where the five star hotel was to be built into a market garden. He has harvested his first crop of corn. Within three months of planting, the banana trees have grown to the size of a man. What was a bare field has become a forest. He has built a shanty where his kampung house formerly stood.

His wife has returned to the city. There are no opportunities in the village. Through her network of contacts with wealthier people in the city she gained work as a washerwoman. She earns Rp 90,000 (US$9) per month plus three meals a day, making a total of about Rp 200,000 (US$ 20).


A very different story is emerging in the south of the city.

During the 'miracle' years, many people who had been pushed out of the city centre fled to Depok. With the compensation they received they bought land on the city's periphery, rebuilt their houses and grew new social ties. Thirty kilometres out of the city, some sought jobs in the new factories, offices and shopping centres being set up there. But most had to make the long trek back to the city centre. They spent up to four hours a day in traffic jams, and fifteen percent of their income on travel each day.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, these communities looked like boom towns. Houses, pathways, drains and roads were being built. Most of the new residents developed middle class aspirations. They bought consumer goods - side boards, couches, carpets, rice storage units, televisions, fans, motorbikes, mobile phones. They aspired to educate their children at university. Mothers stayed at home looking after children while fathers went to work.

Extended families gave way to nuclear families. Kinship and neighbourhood networks had broken down as families were forced to move from their village or from the city centre. Neighbours communicated less and less. Each family sat, alone in their homes, glued to the television screen. There was competition for who could acquire the most goods. People with less were shunned. Children constantly 'snacked' from mobile vendors who passed in front of their homes.

Suddenly the picture has changed. Men have lost their jobs. Newly established enterprises in the modern sector on the edges of the city have closed or are working at a fraction of their capacity. Wages have dropped or remain stagnant while prices have risen three fold. The price of rice in Jakarta ranges from Rp 2,500- 3,000 (US$ 0.25-0.30) per kg compared to Rp 1000 of only five months ago. The official poverty line is Rp 500,000 (US$ 50) per family per month. Most families' incomes range from Rp 100,000- 400,000 (US$ 10-40) per month. This has had repercussions right through the economy.

Small-scale industry, trade and services have been swamped by new entrants all battling for the same customers - customers who lack money. Estimates suggest that 60-70% of the middle to low income communities on the edges of Jakarta have suddenly fallen below the poverty line. Over the past twenty years, the edges of Jakarta were growing at the fastest rate of 10% per annum, and over half the city's population is concentrated in these areas.

Good solid houses, once stocked with consumer goods, are now empty. Most possessions have been sold. Women and their children no longer wear ear rings. All their jewelry has been sold. Mothers look forlorn and pale, and complain they cannot buy milk for their children. They are lucky to obtain a plate of rice each day. Children cry. No longer can they snack from traders. Two children fight over an empty sweet wrapper. Husbands leave the house. They have lost their jobs and cannot stand the emptiness of the house and the crying children.

Mothers are left to bear the burden of finding food for their families. Some turn to household trade but it is not easy. One woman with seven school age children was selling gado gado (spiced vegetables) in front of her house. It rained. Only one customer came to shop. Her food trade had to be eaten by her family or thrown away, and she had no capital for trade the next day. Her husband said he had left his job as a driver because his wage of Rp 174,000 per month was too low and could not support his family. But now he has nothing to do. He sits about the house and looks frustrated. So do his children who should be at school.

The situation appears to be even worse further out of the city, in areas like Cisauke. During the 1980s and 1990s, farmers sold off their small parcels of land to the rich of Jakarta. Sand mines and plantations replaced the small rice and vegetable farms. Farmers were left to seek a livelihood in the city, or to work for those who had bought their land.

With the economic crisis, little work is available in these areas, and people are silently starving. Every piece of vacant land is being used to grow root crops. In some villages, mice plagues have destroyed rice crops. Markets are far away and the price of rice is higher than in Jakarta. No non-government organisations (NGOs) or rich people provide assistance to these areas. The one government food assistance program to reach Cisauke provided inedible rice sweepings at Rp 1000 per kg.

In Tangerang, west of Jakarta, the factory workers are angry. Their wages do not cover a quarter of their daily food needs. If they try to complain, they are sacked. They face the dilemma of whether to stay in jobs which provide an inadequate income, or to leave and face the possibility of long term unemployment.

Employers are constantly trying to get their workers to resign rather than be sacked so that they can avoid severance pay. Once the workers are out of a job, they face another dilemma - to return to their home village or to remain in the city. Some have returned to their villages and become dependent on extended family. Others say there is nothing for them to do in the village. Their lands have been taken over by modern developments, rich landholders, factories, plantations, roads, golf courses and hotel resorts. They are embarrassed about losing their jobs and do not want to admit this to their families.


A year ago, rubbish recycling was reviled as the lowliest of occupations. Today, rubbish recyclers are seen as the survivors in a time of adversity. While the lower middle classes in Depok are unable to feed their children, rubbish recyclers are still able to feed themselves and save money to send back to their children in the village.

Their advantage is that they have a foot in the city and a foot in the village. Most rubbish recyclers earn where money is greatest and spend where it goes furthest. In the village, housing, water, fuel, education and health is much cheaper than in the city. Rubbish recyclers have always lived with low overhead costs - spending almost nothing on accommodation in the city. Their life has always been difficult and their housing primitive. Their children work from a young age. Unlike the Depok dwellers who invested in good houses and consumer goods on credit, rubbish recyclers never had such possibilities.

Only a year ago, street traders were viewed as a thing of the past in the city centre. The middle class patronised mega-malls, restaurants, bars, coffee shops and cafes. The street traders were chased away. Today the central city streets - Wahid Hasyim, Sabang, Tanah Abang, Senayan, Kebayoran, Merdeka Square, Senen - are lined with traders.

It is said that 'artists have descended onto the streets'. They have set up 'cafes' - stalls with elegant awnings, lanterns and table cloths - which compete with the more traditional traders. The middle classes who have lost their jobs in advertising agencies and mega-malls are copying the survival strategies of the poor.

Entire families - women, children, husbands - are going out to seek a living on the streets. Stalls which once used to support a nuclear family of five people now employ 15. Families borrow money from many different food stalls without each of the stall holders knowing about the family's numerous other debts.

Women who were housewives are turning to household trade, massage or domestic service. Children who went to school are baking corn on the sidewalks. Other children from still poorer families have become beggars, shoeshine boys, streets singers or prostitutes. Husbands who had regular jobs may be turning to crime to support their families. Vacant pieces of land in the city are being cultivated.

Cutting down on food is one of the best ways to economise. Old recipes from the Japanese time are being resuscitated. Instead of eating two or three meals of rice a day, many eat only one plate of rice. It can be cooked as a porridge so that it feeds more people.

Used rice is dried and recooking (Oyem/gogik). Root crops - formerly frowned upon as the poor man's diet - are eaten. They too are boiled up into a porridge to make them go further. New methods of reusing cooking oil are being developed. Some are eating roots and leaves not normally eaten. Families turn to kerosene instead of electricity or gas for cooking. People who cooked separately, cook together to save on fuel.

People are clustering together in denser accommodation. Whereas formerly they rented units separately, now friends and relatives move in together. Groups of young boys or students sleep side by side on the floor of a friend's home or in the mosque. They cut their hair short so they do not have to buy shampoo, and wash their clothes less frequently so they do not need soap. Others share toothbrushes, shirts, books and cigarettes. Some children take turns going to school - one sibling going on one day, the other the next - to save on transport costs. Children no longer buy books but gather around one book and study as a group. Children who once bought lunch and snacks at school, now carry whatever food they can find from home. The amounts that they have to spend - Rp 300-500 (US 3-5 cents) - only buys two sweets or a small cake, which leave them feeling hungry and unable to concentrate for most of the day. Some have shoes on their feet held together with elastic bands.

Neighbouring women gather together to dull the pain. 'Talking makes us forget about our empty stomachs. It helps to pass the time.' They talk and joke about their difficulties in a way they never did before. Previously they would have competed to show me what goods they had. Now they compete to prove that one is poorer than the next.

One jokes about how she has sold everything except herself. 'Saya tidak laku' (nobody would want to buy me). Everybody laughs. Laughter helps to alleviate the sense of loss and helplessness. They gather together to play badminton or volley ball to fill their empty days. They are turning to religion. Religious mentors advise 'to accept (nrimo) and not dwell on loss. Fighting the situation only causes illness'.

Help from relatives, neighbours and friends is one of the most important survival mechanisms. Those who have more help those who have less. Some of the middle class and rich are making contributions of rice to people who now cannot eat each day. The NGOs play a critical role in distributing these resources - collecting from the rich to give to the poor. But not enough of this is going on.

Most of the rich still pretend that Indonesia is not in crisis and are living life as usual - driving big cars, spoiling their children and going to mega-malls. The gap between those who have resources and those who do not is expanding. The rich are distancing themselves from the problem. The poor are getting more desperate. Crime is growing, and with it fear.

Lea Jellinek lectures at the University of Melbourne. She is the author of 'The wheel of fortune: the history of a poor community in Jakarta', 1990. This Jakarta visit was supported by AusAid for SMERU of the World Bank.

Inside Indonesia 57: Jan-Mar 1999
Page 2 of 2

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