Sep 27, 2023 Last Updated 8:24 AM, Sep 13, 2023

The new conservatives

Published: Jul 30, 2007

Gerry van Klinken

Gus Dur's supporters say New Order remnants are making a comeback. They are only partly right. The group of so-called 'cowboys' who are bringing him down are a new generation of politicians. They are young, well off, and say they hate corruption. They quite enjoyed the New Order, but they didn't like Suharto and don't like to be seen in public with soldiers. They may represent the beginnings of a new conservative alliance that will one day push aside the Suharto-era structures, and create new ones.

The most striking feature of this emerging alliance is its cross-party character, which belies all the symbolism of the 1999 election. Voters then thought of Golkar as the New Order bad guys, and Megawati's PDIP as the great hope for popular democracy. But Gus Dur is today being tackled at the knees by a group of Golkar and PDIP politicians for whom the 1999 symbols mean nothing, and who get along very well together.

Behind the major players - Abdurrahman Wahid (nicknamed Gus Dur), Megawati Sukarnoputri, and Golkar chief Akbar Tanjung - stand a host of often faceless party activists. These in turn represent groups that have long struggled for power within their own parties. The rebirth of Golkar after the fall of Suharto, in particular, is the result of a dramatic internal upheaval with dozens of key actors.

In the dying days of the Suharto regime, a dissident group within Golkar stood up against Suharto, and afterwards against Habibie too. They carried on a banner of internal reform unfurled in the late 1980s. Clustering around Harmoko first, then around Akbar Tanjung, they faced threats of expulsion. But in the end, fears that Golkar might lose the election helped them to prevail. They succeeded by turning it into a more conventional political party, cutting formal links with the military and the bureaucracy, building links with business, talking a lot about the rule of law - but all without apologising for a shady past.

The most dynamic figure of this new Golkar generation is Ade Komaruddin. Aged 35, he comes from an upper middle class family and runs a hotel in Jakarta, which he uses for political meetings. He is a former student activist with the Islamic Students Association HMI. The association has worked hard since the mid-1980s to influence national politics. Nearly half the last Suharto parliament consisted of former HMI members - in all the parties. Akbar Tanjung is one of many former HMI members who keep in touch through the alumni association KAHMI.

Behind Megawati Sukarnoputri stand similar factions. On one side is a group, led by her husband and major business figure Taufik Kiemas, who want her to stick with the Gus Dur alliance, presumably because it is a working arrangement, and moreover the symbolism is right. On the other is a group led by wealthy businessman Arifin Panigoro, who have long wanted her to dump a Gus Dur they see as incompetent, and set up shop with the Golkar that brought Indonesia prosperity for three decades. 'And hang the symbolism', this second group might say.

A key operative for the Arifin Panigoro faction is Zulvan Lindan. He comes from Aceh, but has long lived in Jakarta, where he headed the HMI in the early 1980s. Within two months of the June 1999 election, which pitted the PDIP against Golkar as light is pitted against darkness, he helped bring Megawati and Akbar Tanjung together at one table to explore the possibility of a coalition.

The 'cowboys', initially a group of twelve friends, are nationalists. Both Ade Komaruddin and Zulvan Lindan have said unsympathetic things about the East Timorese, Papuans and Acehnese. They belong to a new generation of young parliamentarians who, a Kompas survey showed, don't like federalism, fear 'communism', believe in the need for martial law powers, and think society remains 'immature'. They also seem to have forgotten the language of social justice. But they are not so easily bought and have made damaging revelations about money politics in parliament.

Topple Gus Dur

The group began to meet intensively but secretly from about May 2000 to try to topple Gus Dur. Some meetings may have involved military generals. They wanted a coalition between Golkar and PDIP to replace the shaky one that put Gus Dur in place.

At the end of May 2000, Ade Komaruddin presented Akbar Tanjung with a petition signed by 277 parliamentarians, from almost all parties, asking that the house question the president about his decision to sack two cabinet ministers in April. This led on 20 July 2000 to a stormy session, in which the president dismissed the questioning as unconstitutional.

Within a few days, Komaruddin made his next move. He handed Akbar Tanjung another petition, again signed by parliamentarians from most parties, to pursue the president on the so-called 'Buloggate' case, in which Gus Dur's aides allegedly took money from the state logistics agency. Since tickling the till of state agencies is standard practice, Akbar worried that Golkar would also be tainted by an expose, but he gave in, suddenly looking old beside the young Turks.

At the August 2000 MPR session, Ade Komaruddin and his mates hatched a plan to make Gus Dur divest day-to-day powers to his vice president Megawati. They wanted Gus Dur to be a constitutional head of state, 'like the Queen of England', with Megawati as head of government. Gus Dur agreed, but reneged once the MPR had dispersed.

On 5 September, parliament established a special committee (pansus) to investigate Buloggate and another problem they called Bruneigate, in which the Sultan of Brunei gave Gus Dur money to help the Acehnese. Ade Komaruddin was one of its key members. 'We have struck the hammer to call the president,' he said. He kept the committee in the headlines constantly since then.

In late November 2000, Ade Komaruddin used his trademark technique of the signature campaign once more to persuade the house to go down the road of a censure letter (a 'memorandum') that could result in the president's impeachment. For effect, Gus Dur's sins in this letter were multiplied. Zulvan Lindan, spokesperson for Ade's group, said Gus Dur had promoted separatism by allowing the Papuan flag to fly, had proposed to lift the ban on communism, had failed to prosecute Suharto for corruption, had replaced several key officials and ministers without consulting parliament, and had failed to divest powers to Megawati.

The memorandum came down on 1 February 2001. It led immediately to widespread popular protests around East Java, Gus Dur's political home base. At the time of writing (mid-February), Ade Komaruddin was at the heart of moves to call a special session of the MPR, at which a new president would replace Gus Dur.

What are we to make of all this? Much as they appreciate Gus Dur's democratic instincts, democracy activists will be advised to look less at personalities than at structures. Ever since its birth in 1945, Indonesia has had a strongly presidential system of government, with all important decisions made at the top. This system lent itself to authoritarianism and the abuse of power. But after the events of recent years, Indonesia no longer knows if it has a presidential or a parliamentary system. The parliamentarianism of Ade Komaruddin and his friends is actually preferable to a presidentialism wedded to the authoritarian 1945 constitution. But these new conservatives are out of touch with the popular mood, and their disgust of corruption is too selective to be convincing. This shows that the political parties themselves remain undemocratic too. Above all, it shows that authoritarian structures tend to reproduce themselves.

Gerry van Klinken ( edits 'Inside Indonesia'.

Inside Indonesia 66: Apr - Jun 2001

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