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Romo Mangun, activist

Even after his death, YB Mangunwijaya speaks still with the voice of Indonesia's democratic independence fighters.

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The mayor who fell down the well

Reformasi came to a Javanese country town almost like a revolution.

Anton Lucas

In Tegal, a town of nearly 400,000 people on Java's north coast, the sun is searing. It even burns your toes in the becak. There are lots more becaks (trishaws) nowadays than in 1975, my last research visit. At night the drivers lower their hoods and pedal at high speed along the city's straight flat roads. Instead of bicycle bells, they have those metal clangers suspended under the seats which, when struck with another piece of metal, resonate wonderfully around the streets in the evenings. I'd forgotten the taste of the strong sweet black tea called teh poci (served hot) and the sate gambing (goat sate), both specialities of the city.

Thanks to the Indonesian newspapers now posted on the internet, I had read about the events here in mid-June 1998, when shops and bank windows 'that could not escape the frustration of the angry masses' were smashed (but not looted or set on fire). The angry crowd also set vehicles on fire, but no one was killed and Chinese traders were not physically threatened. Many now have the words 'Pro Reformasi' painted in large letters on their shop fronts.

Suharto's resignation had a big impact on the local student-led reform movement. It was first and foremost directed at Tegal's mayor, HM Zakir, a retired army colonel, one time intelligence officer and a former commander of the local military garrison.. After Suharto left the stage, the local political and religious elite quickly joined the protest against HM Zakir for the same reasons, namely collusion, corruption and nepotism, or KKN.

'A carbon copy of Suharto's arrogance'. This was how the mayor of Tegal was described in one press interview. I discovered while in Tegal recently that he was much more than arrogant. He was also a heavy weight corrupter, making huge amounts on commissions, levies, manipulation of local taxes, and extra-legal payments for building permits on a grand scale (rather like Dutch officials of the VOC did in the eighteenth century).

One student banner which appeared during the protests of last year depicted HM Zakir sitting on a red bag of money beside a pile of logs with his fingers in his ears. This poster portrayed his links with a local Chinese businessman named Ponco Dianto, who between 1991-96 was selling tropical timber, stolen from Kalimantan and smuggled into Central Java via the port of Tegal. To do this the businessman had to pay off the local bureaucracy, consisting of the harbour master, the police, the military and the local head of the Justice Department. Not to mention the regional and provincial military commands as well.

'How much did HM Zakir get paid?', I asked one of Tegal's leading Indonesian Chinese developers. He made some rough calculations. Ponco Dianto was smuggling into Tegal between 5-10,000 cubic metres of stolen Kalimantan hardwood timber every month, for six years. He sold this timber for between Rp 300,000-500,000 per cubic metre. Ponco paid the mayor a flat commission of Rp 30,000 per cubic metre. All this means he was making at least Rp 150 million a month, before the Indonesian monetary crisis! At the old exchange rate to the Australian dollar (about Rp 1,500), we worked out that the mayor raked in at least AU$9 million commission on the sale of smuggled timber in Tegal during his time in office. Ponco Dianto went to jail after the government cracked down on timber smuggling everywhere, but many are dubious that HM Zakir will be charged, for lack of evidence that will stand up in court.

No receipts Mayor HM Zakir tried to make money on just about everything in Tegal. On taking office he stopped the local market redevelopment so that his own contractor could build a similar department store on another site (the old bus terminal), in return for free shares in the company. The old market site has now been empty for seven years. After the elections, the originally planned five-storey department store will be built at a cost of AU$40 million.

The mayor levied compulsory payments for street cleaning on electricity bills, then contracted out the street sweeping to a private company, who employed women at rates below the regional minimum wage. He charged doctors one million rupiah for a licence to practice (young doctors couldn't afford to open a general practice). He charged banks Rp 25 million for permission to build a branch. He got all these fees paid to him in cash in his mayoral office. No cheques thank you (he sent one back), and no receipts of course.

On 20 May 1998, the day before Suharto resigned, students from the local Panca Sakti University initiated a sit in at the local municipal assembly (DPRD). Cultural expressions of dissent in Tegal, through poetry and plays, had actually begun years before. The May event cleared the way for most of the local political elite to change sides and support the students. Even a majority of the DPRD supported a resolution, read out publicly on 26 June 1998, that Mayor Zakir must resign.

A delegation went to the Ministry of Home Affairs in Jakarta to ask for his dismissal. There was no response. Then during the 17 August national independence day celebrations last year, several groups left the ceremony in protest rather than have to march past and salute the mayor. Ki Entus Susmono, the activist local dalang (shadow play puppeteer) and a new ally of the students, took the microphone to calm the crowd. The mayor was finally forced to resign two weeks later, on 5 September 1998.

To celebrate the mayor's departure a shadow play was held. Dalang Ki Entus Susmono modified the story of the popular clown Gareng, who challenges the moral authority of King Prabu Duryadana for cheating his cousins and taking their kingdom. In the Tegal version, a familiar figure (Kumbakarna) was used to play a new character called Prabu Kala Muzakar, whom the delighted audience knew immediately was Zakir the Mayor. This character came from a kingdom called Bahari (Tegal Bahari is the New Order government's name for the municipality in the national Clean City competitions). Right at the end of the performance a puppet in the exact likeness of the mayor appeared, and fell down a well, presumably to his death. The 70,000 crowd was delighted, and went home satisfied that, ritually at least, HM Zakir was now gone for good. The bupati (regent) of Tegal was also later replaced for nepotism, but less dramatically.

Two revolutions? The changing of local officials in 1998 was not as dramatic or as far reaching as in 1945, when all of Tegal's district and subdistrict heads (wedanas and camats), the mayor and the bupati, as well as most village headmen had to flee for their lives. These 1945 officials were targets of the people's anger because of the way they had been compelled to organise compulsory rice deliveries to the Japanese occupation army, and also because of corruption in the distribution of scarce cloth, rice and kerosene rations. Corruption on a smaller scale than today perhaps, but just as widespread in those days, and easier to prove.

In 1998 it is much harder to remove corrupt officials. Cultural expressions of change are also different today, but still played an equally important role. Bahasa Indonesia is no longer the exciting new language that village people were learning to speak in 1945, but cultural activists, poets, playwrights, and of course the dalang, now use the local Tegal dialect of Javanese (bahasa Tegalan) through protest poetry, local radio, and literary magazines. As well there are now three monthly local newspapers (in Indonesian), all attacking corruption and promoting political change and a more open society.

I was given a photo taken last year that showed a group of youthful village protesters. All were armed with the same sharpened bamboo spears (bambu runcing) that provided the leitmotiv of the pemuda revolution in Java in 1945. Except now motor bike helmets and baseball caps have replaced young coconut leaves (janur kuning), which back then gave the freedom fighters invulnerability.

Just as fundamental social structures proved difficult to change in 1945, so today money politics is still around. One of the mayoral candidates to replace Zakir distributed mobile phones to his supporters. Everyone expects more changes in the future, just as they did in 1945.

On Sunday 18 April 1999, Tegal city was a sea of navy blue and white. Twice the number of people than was expected by the organisers, perhaps 100,000, turned up to hear Muslim reformist leader Amien Rais speak at a mass rally in the city square. In Tegal city it will be a struggle between Amien Rais, who heads the Partai Amanat Nasional, and PDI Perjuangan. In the 1955 elections Sukarno's old PNI, not unlike Megawati's PDI today, won in Tegal.

The surrounding countryside will be hotly contested too. Conflict is emerging within the Islamic community in neighbouring Pemalang. PPP is making an issue of the fact that PKB has as its party principle the Indonesian state philosophy, the Five Principles - Pancasila - rather than Islam. They want to try and stop the Muslim leaders (kiai) from leaving PPP to join Gus Dur's PKB (Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa). Tegal regency is more devoutly Muslim than it was 30 or 50 years ago.

There is plenty of local government as well as party supervision of the electoral process. Dozens of new village headmen chosen since last year (in Tegal city over three quarters of headmen are new) won't have the same authority to force a Golkar victory, even if they are paid to do so as in the past. In Tegal there is cautious optimism for a democratic outcome. Anton Lucas teaches at Flinders University, Adelaide. He wrote this while on a research visit to Indonesia.

Mobilise or perish

After the victories of '98, why did '99 not become another glorious year for student demonstrators?

Dave McRae

Indonesian student activists started 1998 without a national network, and with little consensus about tactics. The same remains true today. In that respect little has changed. Yet 1998 will long be remembered as the year students toppled Suharto. Nothing underlined the special position students assumed better than the attention given to the deaths of four students at Trisakti University in May, and perhaps thirteen at the Semanggi overpass in November, in a year when hundreds, even thousands more non-students met innocent and futile deaths.

Activists had great success mobilising in 1998. Only two weeks into the campaign, a demonstration at Gajah Mada University in Yogyakarta on 11 March was already the largest in twenty years. Big years of mobilisation are landmarks in the student movement's history. Before 1998 came 1978, 1974, and 1966. Today's activists are acutely aware of this history. They have appropriated an even longer tradition of dissent dating to the turn of the century.

Yet in certain key respects they were determined in 1998 not to emulate their forerunners. First, they did not want a small group of prominent central leaders to emerge. Many felt that previous movements had been co-opted by the government after their leaders were first compromised. Not all agreed with this new trend. Some later said that the lack of new leaders was one reason why the student movement 'failed' to become a popular revolution.

Second, they were determined not to forge any alliance with more powerful partners. The armed forces, Abri, in particular were taboo. In 1966 a military-manipulated student movement helped hand power to Suharto. In 1974 students became pawns in a conflict between two generals. Student claims last year that Abri was 'returning to the people' were merely rhetorical.

When Suharto resigned on 21 May, mobilisation had lasted for about 13 weeks. It ended several days later. Its first peak was on 11 March - the final day of the parliamentary session (MPR) that installed Suharto for a seventh successive term. It then continued unabated until late April. In the last week of April and the early weeks of May violence escalated. News emerged that several missing activists had been abducted and tortured by soldiers. The campaign now entered its final stage. In the week before 21 May the number and size of demonstrations actually decreased, as all awaited the rumoured national day of protest on 20 May, Education Day.

Initially, activists affiliated to existing student organisations formed new organisations more suited to mobilisation. Their very success ensured that many activists, and the majority of protestors, had never participated in the much smaller demonstrations of previous years. It also created a certain diversity among the demonstrators, though most were students.

Many of the organisations behind the demonstrations were loose alliances involving activists from varying backgrounds. This blurred but did not destroy ideological divides between them. The strength of these new organisations is often exaggerated. Student fronts that claimed to encompass dozens of campuses usually had only limited representation at each university. In fairness however, the fronts became so numerous precisely because they proved effective in mobilising large numbers of students.

The mobilisation at times saw hundreds of thousands gather. But its success cannot be explained only by the activists' energy. After years of silence, the chance to criticise and even mock Suharto from the anonymity of a large crowd was a potent drawcard. The new organisations with unfamiliar names allowed students to join demonstrations without taking on the historical baggage of past activities. The intensity of mobilisation in itself was also an asset, as it prevented protestors from dividing according to their various convictions. It was not uncommon for non-Muslim students to attend the most overtly Islamic demonstrations.


Clashes were often due to Abri brutality, but certain activists deliberately provoked violence to increase the size and impact of demonstrations. Abri's attacks on demonstrations in fact injured only a small percentage of participants. The thousands of protesters who remained unhurt saw Abri as impotent. Even the injured usually returned to demonstrate again. Onlookers, meanwhile, were often outraged by Abri's cruelty.

Demands before 21 May were by no means uniform, but even calls for lower prices were usually considered an implicit reference to Suharto. Some demands were unequivocal, such as appeals to 'Reject', 'Overthrow', 'Prosecute', and finally 'Hang' Suharto. Suharto's name proved a potent symbol to arouse anger. The concept 'reformasi' was in reality quite vague. But the name meant that many demands in the end devolved into one simple demand: overthrow Suharto. The focus on Suharto made it easier for the elite to finally move against him. They had less to lose than if they had had to deal with wide-ranging demands for reform. But once Suharto was gone it also meant that mass support for activists who wanted to continue the protest evaporated.

Student mobilisation virtually halted for several months after Suharto resigned. Most students disagreed with those activists who asserted that the struggle was far from over. Habibie's presidency was a reality, and many preferred to give him a chance. Demonstrations had also lost their novelty. Having learned from their experience before Suharto's fall, the military usually attended demonstrations only in small numbers, or not at all. This removed the hint of danger from demonstrations, and helped undermine activists' ability to garner mass support.

However it would be incorrect to depict Habibie's early days as a period when activists tried but failed to organise mass demonstrations. Several organisations turned their attention to consolidation or political education. Others continued to demonstrate but relied solely on their core group. This avoided the embarrassment of a demonstration where no one turned up, but did expose the actual weakness of many organisations.

No consensus

It is often said that mobilisation also declined because the agenda had become fragmented. After Suharto fell there was no common enemy, and no consensus about the next target. While essentially correct, this view needs some important qualifications. Long-standing conflicts between activists, obscured by the huge demonstrations, reemerged. In addition, although there was a common platform - almost every demonstration protested Abri's role in politics this could not create the same unity as the dissent against Suharto.

Many conflicts related not to demands but to tactics. Forkot, the largest student front in Jakarta prior to Suharto's resignation, splintered mainly through disagreement over whether or not weapons should be carried at demonstrations, although mutual distrust was also influential. Whether or not students should use violence remained one of the most contentious issues in the movement, even after Semanggi.

Large protests did not completely disappear after May 1998. Two big demonstrations occurred in early September: one in Jakarta and then two days later in Surabaya. Both were violent. The phenomenon of 'red date protests' also grew in prominence. This describes demonstrations organised on significant dates, such as Abri Day (5 October) and Youth Day (28 October), marked in red on Indonesian calendars. However, the simultaneous demonstrations in many cities on these dates merely revealed how obvious these occasions were for a demonstration, rather than any coordinated planning. In truth, red date protests were also common before Suharto fell, but their influence was hidden by the sheer frequency of demonstrations.

One event in the second half of 1998 did loom as a focus for dissent, namely the special session of the super-parliament MPR in November. Mobilisation succeeded in Jakarta, with thousands, and then tens of thousands protesting every day for a week. When protesters were slaughtered on 13 November at Semanggi (as well as the previous night), the shooting triggered a national mobilisation for about a week. Indeed, demonstrations continued in Jakarta until the Islamic fast began one month later. However, even here the mobilisation outside Jakarta did not remove disquiet among many activists over the tactics employed in Jakarta. They feared the focus on the special session would be counterproductive, allowing the government to depict students as extremists.

Student demands often did permit misunderstanding. Some activists themselves were unsure whether 'Reject the special session of the MPR' was a catch-cry or a political target. The government insisted it was the latter. Complex issues such as Suharto's trial, a transitional government, and Abri's dual function were addressed only with one line slogans, making it difficult to determine whether or not student demands had been met. Rhetorical devices were also misinterpreted. Activists switched from 'reformasi' to 'revolusi' because they felt reformasi had become a meaningless word. Yet their core aims remained the same.

In the run-up to the 1999 election, students found it harder to manage demonstrations because political parties were mobilising so many other large groups. Somewhat less significant was the new 'freedom of expression' legislation. Activated in December 1998, it has been used to arrest many activists. But the penalties imposed are not harsh enough for it to become the focus of further solidarity.

The greatest obstacle however, was the students' inability to offer a viable alternative to the election. Their demands for a transitional government never gained acceptance, nor were they well formulated. While some groups were demanding outright rejection of the poll, other students became involved in Unfrel, the student body to monitor the election. Students played a central and admirable role in making the election possible. Ironically, the very system activists have struggled for may have proved their undoing. Dave McRae is an undergraduate at the Australian National University.

Inside Indonesia 59: Jul-Sep 1999

The Russian road

Two huge, undemocratic states face economic crisis. Each starts on the road to democracy. For Russia and Indonesia, where will it end?

Anders Uhlin

Having paid close attention to Indonesia for about a decade I recently switched my research focus to Russia and other post-communist societies. I find it fruitful to compare the USSR with New Order Indonesia, and Post-Soviet Russia with Post-Suharto Indonesia.

An obvious similarity is that both countries are very large multinational states. The USSR had the third and Indonesia the fifth largest population in the world. This contributed to their international status - the USSR as a super power and Indonesia as a regional power. Ethnic diversity with one dominating group - the Javanese in Indonesia and to an even larger extent the Russians in the USSR - led to a strong centralisation of power in both countries. There was little regional or local autonomy in the Soviet Union and New Order Indonesia.

Both political regimes were based on a state ideology: communism in the USSR and anti-communism/ Pancasila in Suharto’s Indonesia. Although ideological counter-poles, there were striking similarities between the two highly undemocratic regimes. Power was concentrated with a strong leader - the Party General Secretary in the USSR and the President of Indonesia. Both had totalitarian ambitions. The people should be controlled and no powerful dissenting voices were tolerated.

There was an extensive surveillance apparatus on national, regional and local levels. In the USSR the communist party was responsible for the surveillance. In New Order Indonesia it was the military. However, Suharto’s Indonesia was far less successful in implementing its totalitarian ambitions than was the Soviet Union. The reason for that, I would argue, has more to do with bureaucratic incompetence in Indonesia than any ideological differences.

We should also not forget some fundamental differences. Power was much more institutionalised in the USSR, where the party ruled. In New Order Indonesia power rested mainly with President Suharto and his clients.

Another basic difference, of course, is that the USSR had a planned economy, whereas New Order Indonesia was built on a capitalist economy. This means that Russia and the other Post-Soviet states have to manage a double transition of both political and economic systems, whereas Indonesia at least does not have to face a transition to a new economic system. So one would expect Indonesia’s transition to be smoother and easier.

However, if we take the basic thesis of modernisation theory seriously, the higher level of socio-economic development in the USSR should be a democratic advantage compared to Indonesia. The Soviet Union in many respects was an industrialised country, whereas Indonesia experienced a later and more limited process of industrialisation, and the degree of poverty and illiteracy is much higher in Indonesia.

The regime transition which took place in the USSR in the late 1980s and early 1990s had an impact on developments in Indonesia. The fall of communist regimes made the New Order ideology of anti-communism obsolete. Western governments were less interested in supporting authoritarian regimes like Indonesia’s after the end of the cold war. Indonesia experienced its own version of glasnost - keterbukaan - a few years later.

Economic problems were one of the major triggering causes behind the breakdown of both authoritarian regimes. Mikhail Gorbachev realised that the stagnating economy had to be revitalised and the burden of defence expenditure lessened. He therefore initiated economic and political reforms (perestroika and glasnost) aiming at a reformed socialist system and more cooperative and peaceful international relations. It turned out reform was not possible. Instead the whole system collapsed, paving the way for a transition to a capitalist economy and a political system that (at least on the surface) shows some similarities with Western democracies.

In the case of Indonesia, the 1997 currency crisis put an end to the economic growth which had given the Suharto regime some legitimacy. With growing popular protests, regime elites realised they had to sacrifice Suharto and implement some reforms in order to save their own positions and some aspects of the authoritarian regime.

Old elites

In both cases the transition was characterised by strong popular pressure, but it was still mainly controlled by old elites. Sections of civil society (although weak and repressed in both the USSR and New Order Indonesia) played an important role in the collapse of the authoritarian regimes. In Post-Soviet Russia, however, politics soon turned into a struggle of a few persons, around whom political parties were founded. Social movements and other civil society groups were marginalised once more. In Indonesia we can witness a similar process today.

Political parties in Russia exist only for the sake of elections. With the exception of the communist party, which used to rule the country, they have no institutional structures and few if any grassroots connections. It remains to be seen whether the new political parties in Indonesia will base their policies on collective interests, succeed in institutionalising themselves and develop a popular base, or if they will become personalised election vehicles like the new Russian political parties.

The authoritarian rulers’ party Golkar is the most well organised party with branches down to village level in all provinces. Although thoroughly delegitimised after the fall of Suharto, it is not unlikely that Golkar will gain a substantial share of the votes due to its organisational and economic resources. By promising economic development and stability ‘like in the good old days’ of the New Order the party may also win votes, in the same way as the communist party of Russia has managed to remain the strongest party in the Russian parliament due to socio-economic grievances and political nostalgia. Golkar is unlikely to keep its dominant position if the June elections are reasonably free and fair. But if a new reform government does not succeed in improving conditions, a slightly reformed Golkar party could well make a comeback in the next election.

The weakening of central power has led to an increase in open centre-periphery conflicts in both Russia and Indonesia. The wars in Chechnya and East Timor are the most violent cases. But there are many other parts of the Russian federation where demands for more autonomy or self-determination are strong. In Indonesia the people of West Papua and Aceh are demanding their right to self-determination just as the East Timorese have done. Social conflict often takes the form of clashes between different ethnic and religious groups - more severe and violent in Indonesia than in Russia.

Being itself a federation with 89 subjects, Russia seems better prepared to handle demands from the regions than the still rather rigid unitary state of Indonesia. The idea of federalism, still widely associated with Dutch colonialism in Indonesia, has only started to reemerge in the public discourse after the fall of Suharto.

Negative growth

Since 1991 the Russian GNP has decreased more than 80%, and the average life expectancy for men has decreased 6 years. Indonesia after the currency crisis faces negative growth, enormous unemployment and a substantial increase in real poverty. This is not a favourable context for political democratisation.

The International Monetary Fund is playing a similar role in the two countries. Both are dependent on loans from the fund and subject to IMF dictates on economic policies - policies that tend to be the same irrespective of variations in the local context.

A major problem in both Russia and Indonesia is corruption. Widespread already in the Soviet Union, corruption has become even more common or at least more visible after the collapse of the communist regime. The way privatisation was implemented in Post-Soviet Russia led to an enormous concentration of economic resources to a few people who used to be part of the old nomenclature, and who seem to dominate the political scene in contemporary Russia. In Indonesia too it will be very difficult for a more democratic government to gain control of the enormous resources stolen by the Suharto family and clients.

Finally, I would like to stress some important differences. Russia has no historical experience of democracy, whereas Indonesia had a democratic political system in the 1950s. It might be an asset to build on, although the way New Order propaganda has constructed the democratic period as a chaotic unstable one may still contribute to delegitimising democracy.

Another important difference has to do with religion. The potential political impact of Islam in Indonesia is stronger than the impact of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church was accused of cooperating with the communist dictatorship during the Soviet period, just like the major Muslim organisations in Indonesia were accommodative towards the authoritarian regime. Since the fall of the communist regime there has been a religious revival. Leading politicians, including President Yeltsin, have sought support from the church. But the political impact of religion is not as strong there as in Indonesia, where several of the leading politicians are Muslim figures and many political parties are either directly based on Islam or more or less closely related to Muslim organisations.

The role of the military also differs between the two countries. In Russia there is civilian control of a weak and disillusioned military, whereas in Indonesia the military is still strong and independent, although losing legitimacy.

So what can we learn from this kind of comparison? Compared to Russia, Indonesia has some advantages which point to an easier process of democratisation. It has a less totalitarian heritage; democratic experiences from the 1950s; and the absence of a double transition. But there are more factors indicating worse prospects for democracy in Indonesia than in Russia. Among them are a lower level of industrialisation and modernisation; more severe conflicts between different ethnic and religious groups; a rejection of federalism; religious based politics; and last but not least a politically strong military opposing democratic reforms.

Anders Uhlin is assistant professor in political science at Södertörns högskola, (University College) in Stockholm. He is the author of ‘Indonesia and the Third Wave of Democratization’ (1997).

Inside Indonesia 59: Jul-Sep 1999

Will Indonesia break up?

Indonesians in the resource-rich outer regions no longer accept the heavy hand of Jakarta.

Anne Booth

On 17 August 1998, the leading news magazine Forum Keadilan devoted its National Day edition to a discussion of national unity. According to a poll it conducted, over 90 per cent of respondents were worried about the danger of the country falling apart, over 80 per cent thought the emergence of political parties based on ethnicity and religion would increase the dangers of disintegration, and over 85 per cent thought the control of the economy by minorities increased these dangers.

The fact that a widely read magazine could openly conduct a poll about such a sensitive issue, and publish the results, indicated the extent to which press freedom had blossomed in the three months since Suharto's resignation. But the results of the poll could hardly have been gratifying to the new government of President Habibie. They were a clear indication of the extent of concern among middle class Indonesians about the fragility of their country.

In addition the poll reflected a widespread conviction that the regions must be given greater political and financial autonomy. In effect, the message of the poll seemed to be that the resource-rich regions would have to be permitted to keep a much higher proportion of the profits from resource exploitation. At the same time the electorate would have to have the power to vote in, and vote out, key provincial and local officials such as governors, regents, and mayors.

In the latter part of 1998 and early 1999 there were many manifestations of regional unrest. Some were violent and tragic, such as the events in Ambon and West Kalimantan. Some, such as student demonstrations in Caltex facilities in Riau, obviously intended to make a political point to both the national and the international media. The Habibie government's apparent promise, made at the end of January, of self-determination for the troubled province of East Timor, immediately provoked predictions of a domino effect in other parts of the archipelago, from Aceh to Irian Jaya.

By the end of April, press reports suggested there was a strong military backlash against any promise of ultimate independence for Timor, based in large part on the conviction that, once the Pandora's Box had been opened, several other provinces would want to escape as well. Increasingly, newspaper pundits in various parts of the world began to talk about 'another Yugoslavia' in Southeast Asia. To many, the world's fourth most populous country appeared to be unravelling in much the same way as the former USSR in the early 1990s.

To a number of observers of the Indonesian scene (myself included) it had seemed obvious for some years that the highly centralised system of government which Suharto and his key advisers had put in place in the 1970s was, by the 1990s, both politically unacceptable and, from an economic viewpoint, inefficient and inequitable. (My own views were expressed in a lecture I gave at SOAS in 1992: 'Can Indonesia survive as a unitary state?', Indonesia Circle no.58, June 1992.)


In the early 1970s, the establishment of firm central government control over revenues from natural resources (mainly of course oil) had seemed essential if the government was to provide infrastructure and improve the quality of life for populations in all parts of the country. After all, much of the oil was in fact located in two rather small and isolated provinces, both of which seemed to lack any strong sense of regional identity. Given the development needs in other parts of the country, it would have been very difficult to make a case in the 1970s for handing over a significant part of the oil revenues to either Riau or East Kalimantan.

When huge gas reserves were located in Aceh, a province which did have a long tradition of rebellion against outside control, some observers predicted that there could be trouble, although I cannot recall anyone in the 1970s forecasting the tragic events of the latter part of the 1980s and early 1990s in that province.

But as rapid economic growth and industrialisation transformed both the urban and the rural landscape in Indonesia, and especially in Java, over the 1980s and early 1990s, the whole nature of the 'regional problem' in Indonesia changed. In the 1970s the central government could claim to be playing the role of a benevolent Robin Hood, robbing the rich few to pay for improved living standards for the poor millions, especially but not exclusively in Java. But by the mid-1990s, it was clear that the incidence of poverty in Java was in fact lower than in a number of provinces outside Java, including some such as Irian Jaya with abundant mineral wealth.

Even in those provinces such as East Kalimantan and Aceh where poverty was lower than the national average, there was growing resentment at the differences in living standards between the local populations and those of neighbouring Malaysia. Per capita GDP in East Kalimantan in 1993 was about the same as in the neighbouring Malaysian state of Sarawak, and higher than in Sabah, but poverty incidence was much higher in East Kalimantan. Given the porous nature of the land borders and the widespread movement of labour from Indonesian Kalimantan into East Malaysia by the early 1990s, it was inevitable that local populations would make comparisons between their own living standards and those in adjacent regions of the neighbouring country.

In addition, by the early 1990s, the combination of rapid economic growth and over two decades of administrative centralisation had produced a situation where government ministries in Jakarta were handling huge budgets for both routine administration and development projects in all parts of the far-flung archipelago. Given the absence of effective audit procedures, and the demonstration effect of growing nepotism in the first family, there was inevitably a sharp increase in the magnitude of official corruption throughout the central government apparatus. Even those government ministries and agencies which had been considered 'clean' in the 1970s became increasingly blatant in the way they creamed off funds for the personal use of senior staff, including lavish housing and cars, foreign travel and foreign education for their children. Regional and local government officials often followed suit.

That there is now, with greater freedom in both the print and the electronic media, an explosion of public outrage against such manifestations of bureaucratic abuse is hardly surprising. The Habibie government has not been slow to sense the public mood. On April 23, the parliament (the same body which slavishly approved the centralist policies of President Suharto) passed a new law on inter-governmental fiscal relations which allows for a considerable amount of revenue-sharing between centre and province, especially for revenues from oil, gas, other mining, forestry and fisheries. The issues are complex and it is, as yet, far from clear how the law will operate in practice (see John McBeth in Far Eastern Economic Review, May 13, 1999). It is also possible that the new parliament, to be elected in June, will press for even more sweeping changes.


There seems to be little doubt that what James Mackie once termed the 'powerful centralising and integrating forces' of the New Order era have been halted and indeed thrown into reverse. But how far will the reverse process proceed, and will it inevitably lead to the breakup of Indonesia?

On this question, I can only give a personal view, based on my own observations over nearly three decades of study. It does seem to me that, after more than fifty years of independence from Dutch colonialism, most inhabitants of this vast archipelago do wish to be part of some entity called Indonesia. Understandable demands for greater autonomy from a corrupt and predatory central government apparatus should not be confused with a desire for outright independence. Indeed it was the repeated failure of both Suharto and the armed forces to comprehend this distinction which led to so many human rights abuses in places like Aceh and Irian Jaya.

While the East Timor problem may only be resolved ultimately by independence, it ought still to be possible for other regions to remain within the Indonesian state, but with different conditions of membership from those which were laid down in the Suharto era. New conditions of membership in effect mean constitutional change. Accommodating growing demands for such change while at the same time trying to restore confidence in both the economic and the administrative system will severely test the skills of whatever government assumes control in Indonesia in the post-Suharto era.

But one thing is clear: Suharto's New Order has gone, and with it the highly centralised political and economic system which he fashioned. There will be a very powerful group of losers from the changes now in progress in the central bureaucracy (both civilian and military), and especially in its upper echelons.

The logic of the decentralisation measures introduced in April will be that provincial and local governments will assume more direct responsibility for sectors such as health, education, family planning, women's affairs and environmental protection. Much economic and social planning will have to be done in the regions rather than at the centre. Many officials will thus have to move to the regions or find alternative employment.

To the extent that they will be forced to leave central departments, they will also be cut off from the extensive patronage networks which developed at the centre; indeed these networks will themselves wither as they are deprived of resources. Senior bureaucrats were among the most privileged people in Suharto's New Order and they can hardly be happy about the inevitable attenuation of their power which a genuine process of decentralisation will entail. What, if anything, they can do about the situation remains to be seen.

Professor Anne Booth teaches at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. She has written numerous books and articles on the Indonesian economy.

Inside Indonesia 59: Jul-Sep 1999

Escape from the past?

Has Indonesia escaped from its authoritarian legacy?

Gerry van Klinken

People who write about transitions to democracy around the world often make it look so easy, but of course it never is. This election too has left so many questions unanswered that there has hardly been a moment to celebrate. Yet sometimes we who watch Indonesia have so trained ourselves to expect more of the same that we can’t recognise the big one for looking. The election did happen, and it was much freer than any in the lifetime of most Indonesians. The country is on the way to democracy.

An Australian friend in Bali described to me ‘a golden, crystalline feeling’ on 7 June in Ubud. People lined up peacefully for hours, silent and focussed on their vote. They were angered, and determined to right the wrongs of the past. Afterwards they were proud of what they had done in that booth.

It could all have happened so differently. Rioting could have engulfed the country until the election was postponed or cancelled. The military could have declared a state of emergency. Rivers of money could have so distorted the result that Golkar once more emerged with a major victory. But the campaign was mostly peaceful, and monitors at least in the heartlands of Java and Bali were pretty happy with what they saw. Some suspect the high Golkar vote in the less-monitored outer islands was due to traditional intimidation as much as respect for Habibie. But the army seems to have kept its promise to remain neutral during the campaign.

Just two years ago, most Indonesia watchers thought they knew the shape of Indonesia well into the 21st century: a military-backed government, a booming economy, and merely decorative elections. It was more important to study the next generation of generals than to observe political parties. Anyone who suggested the country would have a popular, civilian government by late 1999 was from another planet. Suddenly that has changed. At last the voters matter. Pre-election polling - a primitive science as Suharto never allowed it - told us they felt good about the ballot, and that many favoured Megawati’s PDI-Struggle party.

An electoral commission led by former Interior Minister Rudini vigorously resisted Suharto-era habits of government interference. It stopped most cabinet ministers from campaigning. It permitted the small People’s Democratic Party PRD, portrayed by the government as a dangerous communist party reborn, to participate. It stuck heroically to a schedule so tight it threatened to collapse under the weight of logistical problems.

Thousands of independent monitors from various organisations, some from overseas (including Jimmy Carter), fanned out across the archipelago to watch proceedings. This too was new - although KIPP had laid the groundwork with the 1997 election.

Today, just over a week after the election and with less than two thirds of the 100 million or so votes counted, the talk is not of military coups but of coalitions and party room intrigue - exactly the kind of talk one might hear in a multi-party democracy such as Italy.

As the polls predicted, PDI-Struggle came in streets ahead of its nearest rival. That rival was Golkar, thus confirming that this was really a two-horse race. Behind it came Abdurrahman Wahid’s liberal Islamic PKB, then the Suharto-era Islamic party PPP, followed by Amien Rais’ open reformist party PAN. These were the big five. Their strong showing put paid to fears - there were so many fears! - that the electoral process would be swamped by its 48 participants.

As it is, there will be coalitions, since not even PDI-Struggle has enough votes to rule alone, but they will probably not be unimaginably complex. This magazine will be at the printers before the final outcome is known. Most say a coalition will emerge around each of the two major contenders, one of which will then claim government. Megawati’s PDI-Struggle and Abdurrahman Wahid’s PKB have a history of working together. Some smaller secular nationalist parties will also join this group.

On the other side, Golkar will be joined by PPP and a number of smaller Islamic parties. Unfortunately this places most ‘political’ Islamic representatives on the conservative side. Already some of these party leaders are saying that religion forbids a woman president. The poor ‘political’ Islamic showing put to rest (yet more) fears that Indonesian politics remained mired in the religious debates of yesterday. But there is a danger of wounded anger from this side.

Amien Rais too has reason to be disappointed at his own poor showing, for different reasons. But, along with the army (which remains a power in parliament), his party PAN appears to hold the balance of power. In his oppositionist past he was close to Megawati and Abdurrahman Wahid, and many hope fervently he will join them now to form a government. Given Amien Rais’ Islamic connections it would help reduce the religious polarisation between government and opposition. A PDI-PKB-PAN coalition would have more right to call itself ‘reformist’ than a Golkar-led one, which Indonesians love to call ‘status quo’. Unfortunately, a number of PAN members may be thinking the unthinkable - they want the party to join Golkar if the offer is right.

Yet it is difficult to imagine that a public which voted so strongly for Megawati will accept a government in which she does not play the decisive role. ‘We have escaped from the evil genius Suharto’, said commentator Wim Witoelar. ‘Now we want Megawati to be our mother’. Megawati may not have led her people to victory against tyranny, as Cory Aquino did in the Philippines in February 1986, but she is an honest woman who will restore a sense of popular sovereignty.


This election will see a lot of old faces exit left and new ones enter right stage. That kind of ‘elite circulation’ will shake up corrupt networks and introduce new ideas. It almost doesn’t matter what they are thinking. But of course it does matter, and the faces are not all new. The truth is that all the major parties and players - except PAN - are Suharto-era leftovers. There is a conservatism about them that cannot yet grasp the big changes happening in their own country.

Student radicals insist the agenda for fundamental change contains four items - prosecute Suharto, democratise the fascist 1945 Constitution, get the military out of politics, and do something to satisfy the regions outside Java. On none of those issues has PDI-Struggle distinguished itself from Golkar. Some suspect they may be quite happy to become the new Golkar with a feminine face.

A Brisbane student studying the electoral process, Lars Bjorge, thinks the ruling elite had stalled on the idea of elections until Megawati and three other opposition figures issued the so-called Ciganjur Declaration in November 1998. When they saw how mild opposition intentions were, a comforting awareness dawned on them - ‘we can work with these people’. From then on the election was back on track.

Any new government faces almost overwhelming problems – especially in the economy and in the regions. A coalition government will find it practically impossible to apply unpopular, authoritarian methods. The glow of Megawati’s popularity will not be sufficient if they are unwilling to embrace democracy wholeheartedly. And that means embracing the students’ agenda of radical change. For that we may need to wait till the next election.

Gerry van Klinken edits ‘Inside Indonesia’.

Inside Indonesia 59: Jul-Sep 1999
Page 2 of 2

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