May 22, 2024 Last Updated 6:09 AM, May 21, 2024

The morning after...

Published: Sep 22, 2007
Students toppled Suharto. Why could they not agree to topple Habibie as well? 

Loren Ryter

Events are taking a turn toward the dirty, especially at parliament house (DPR). Forces under the orbit of Lt-Gen Prabowo, commander of the Army Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad), were brought in to confront the students, and were allowed to do so by Kostrad. In the midnight hours, the troops moved in and cleared out the students.

Around 11 am today, 22 May, I got a call from 'M' saying an Islamic crowd from the Tanjung Priok harbour area would 'be deployed' after Friday prayers. Note that people talk of these sort of 'youth' actions in terms of turunkan, to deploy. 'Y' confirmed this was going to happen. So the word had already spread widely. I headed for the DPR.

Sure enough, right after Friday prayers the crowd started filing in from the mosque. They were carrying banners that read 'Support Habibie, Raise High the Constitution', and their head bands read 'Constitutional Reform'. Both had been professionally printed and it is unlikely they could have been prepared within the 24 hours since Habibie was inaugurated. This would have been planned in advance. 'Reform', by the way, seems to have already taken the place of the catch-all blah of 'Pancasila'.

They were also carrying large white on black banners with Islamic writing, green banners, and hand written banners that said things like 'Constitutional Reform Yes, Anarchy No...'. There were a few flags bearing a yellow crescent and star in a black field on a green banner.

They succeeded in raising three of these 'Support Habibie' banners up the flag pole. They were fully confrontational, and well organised. There were women, mostly wearing jilbab, the Islamic head dress, as well as men. Several older Islamic teachers (kiai) were giving commands through bullhorn loudspeakers. There were also a fair number of obvious thugs (preman) in the crowd, stocky guys in ragged T-shirts that didn't exactly look like devout Muslims.


The students were outnumbered in the morning and had been forming rows behind the raffia string they had put up around the front of the stairs, cutting off access to the podium. Since the journalists were all on the stairs, and the line was thin, the stairs became a target of conquest - aiming to get the attention of the cameras and the higher ground. Many of the newcomers were provoking and yelling at the students.

Meanwhile, they were using all kinds of Islamic symbols. Some were holding up one finger (PPP), and they were singing the inspirational Islamic Sholawat Badriah. This gave new significance to the Sholawat Badriah sung the previous Wednesday, likely by some of the same group.

One guy in plainclothes (preman) was already on the steps - that is, behind student lines - before they came, and he began leading them in singing Sholawat Badriah. At one point a guy in a khaki civil service uniform standing behind the student lines on the stairs tried to calm them down with a loudspeaker, shouting Allahu Akbar, but that didn't seem to work.

Later in the afternoon some Islamic youth and student groups mostly affiliated with Nahdatul Ulama (PMII, IPNU, IPPNU and some others) came out in support of the students, and there was a Nahdatul Ulama flag among the students. They also tried to lead a round of Sholawat Badriah, but it wasn't very popular among the students - perhaps conscious that it was being used by the other group. The students prefer to sing nationalist songs like Indonesia Raya.

It is fortunate that these Islamic youth groups joined in support of 'Reject Habibie', or this could have shaped into an Islam-vs-non-Islam conflict. However, many Islamic students were very upset - and several brought to tears - by the whole affair.

Eventually the 'pro-Habibie' group broke through the student barricades and swarmed up the steps, forcing me to the side. Someone climbed up a pole and took down the banner that said 'Suharto and Habibie are a single packet, both must step down', and put up a 'Support Habibie' banner.


Meanwhile, trapped behind the lines, I experienced a fair deal of hostility. One guy started yelling 'Islam! Islam!' at me. When I answered in Indonesian that 'as it happens I am not Islamic but I've never had a problem with Islamic people', he started to say 'don't colonise our country!', 'Go home!', and 'Go to hell Bill Clinton!'. He was poking me hard on the chest. I said calmly that I was only trying to document what was happening here. At which point an older guy intervened and said 'Don't insult the journalist'. That calmed him down.

Then I went up to a few guys wearing 'Spiritual Reform' T- shirts, and was going to ask them why they supported Habibie, but one of them was very hostile and adrenaline-pumped. I kind of calmed him down, and said if you don't want to talk it is up to you, again helped by an older guy.

I asked him why he supported Habibie, and he said 'Islam! Islam! That's all'. This country is 90% Islamic, he told me. There are non-Islam who want to be president, but they have to be Islam. So, but there are many, many people who are also Islam, I replied. Why does it have to be Habibie? At first, no comment. Then he said if Habibie wanted to be corrupt, he could be corrupt because he ran the aircraft company, but he is clean. (Not 'cause his businesses always fail, i guessed). The older guy seemed to be a little bit more savvy, and said they supported Habibie because he supports the 'little people'.

According to a student from the Islamic missionary college Sekolah Tinggi Dakwa Islam Jakarta, which was part of the group and wearing green jackets, some of the other groups present included Ummat Islam Banten, Majelis Taklim from Banten and from Bogor, and people from Tanjung Priok, including LP3E.

Later on an entire column of black-clad figures who looked like the brawlers we call jago, with black uniforms including name tags and logos and wearing turbans, marched in and joined the group. They were from Tanjung Priok, Sekolah Pendidikan At Islam. Later 'A' and 'Y' both denied there were people from Majelis Taklim there. 'Y' claims that the preman were from Jalan Pramuka, and that he knew some of them.

(Kompas daily the next day printed that in the crowd were Sumargono, chairman of the Islamic group Kisdi and member of the People's Assembly MPR, as well as Fadli Zon, a younger Islamic intellectual, and Andreanto of the Islamic NGO Humanika. Also present as a leader was Toto Tasmara, who is according to 'J' a director of Tommy Suharto's group Humpuss).

'M' suspected that Eggy Sudjana, from the Islamic think tank Cides, was also involved. And that Sekolah Tinggi Dakwa Islam is underneath Kisdi. She knows members of Kisdi and thus avoided that group at the DPR and joined the National Front, which marched in behind its own banner after the 'Support Habibie' group had retreated.

'R' believes that several of these groups are affiliated with Dewan Dakwa Islam Indonesia (DDII), which supports an Islamic state.


Late tonight word spread that Prabowo and his gang (Jakarta Area Commander Syafrie and the elite forces Kopassus Commander Maj-Gen Muchdi, and one other) had been sacked. Armed Forces Commander Wiranto moved Prabowo to become commander of the armed forces staff college in Bandung.

Word was already out by early afternoon, and a friend was desperately trying to figure out what was going on with the 'Habibie supporters' affair, thinking Prabowo had already been decommissioned. Perhaps this was his goodbye action? A way to embarrass Wiranto and Habibie? Did Wiranto sack them unilaterally or did Habibie agree to it? One can only speculate.

At midnight we received word that the military had moved in on the students, beating them with sticks. They were apparently evacuated on several buses and brought to Atmajaya University campus, 'guarded' by marines tanks, at the students 'own request'. The reason given was that the DPR building was to be renovated. (This after one minister said that there was no money to hold a special session of the People's Assembly).

Wiranto has called on the students to return to their studies and stop demonstrating. Students today were confused and demoralised by their relatively small numbers (perhaps 3000). They were trying to get students to chant: 'One command, one struggle' (this was also a slogan of SMID, affiliated with the outlawed party PRD), but the fact is they are poorly coordinated and not by and large disciplined activists.

They have no true militants and many of them are particularly young and not savvy. The media broadcast some of their comments about Habibie's cabinet appointments. They were favourable about some of them, showing that they weren't clear in their opposition to the entire systematic charade and could still praise cosmetic positive changes.

It also became clearer that the largest force of anti-Suharto activists had been mobilised by Islamic groups mainly to get Suharto out of the way, but not particularly interested in democratic institutions.

Amien Rais, before a large group of students belonging to the Islamic activist alliance Kammi today, said he was going to be Habibie's 'sparring partner', that he was going to give Habibie six months, and that he was willing to be Indonesia's fourth president. This is looking like somewhat of a setup: either we get Habibie till 2002 or we get Amien, through reformed election laws which will benefit him - most likely also without significant institutional change.

Unless the students can regroup and get other elements of society behind them, there will be a crackdown on activists that don't fall in line behind Habibie.

Loren Ryter is a PhD candidate doing research in Jakarta. This report was compiled on 22 May 1998.

Inside Indonesia 56: Oct-Dec 1998

Latest Articles

Labouring in vain?

May 03, 2024 - HASNA A. FADHILAH

The Labour Party (Partai Buruh) was revived in the wake of opposition to the Omnibus Law on Job Creation, but failure in the 2024 election shows they failed to connect...

Book review: Uncovering Suharto's Cold War


Film review: Inheriting collective memories through 'Eksil'


A documentary embraced by TikTokers is changing how young people understand Indonesia’s past

Indonesians call for climate action through music


Self-education and lived experience of the impacts of climate change, are driving a grassroots environmental movement

Book review: Clive of Indonesia

Apr 05, 2024 - DUNCAN GRAHAM

Subscribe to Inside Indonesia

Receive Inside Indonesia's latest articles and quarterly editions in your inbox.

Bacaan Bumi: Pemikiran Ekologis – sebuah suplemen Inside Indonesia

Lontar Modern Indonesia



A selection of stories from the Indonesian classics and modern writers, periodically published free for Inside Indonesia readers, courtesy of Lontar.