Nov 19, 2018 Last Updated 2:51 AM, Nov 19, 2018

New Order old school

Published: Sep 22, 2007

The struggle for democracy has slowed because ‘opposition’ leaders, all of them schooled under Suharto, are afraid of the people.

Arief Budiman

Suharto is corrupt. He killed a lot of people, just like Pinochet. He built an unstable political system. But he did more. He ran a school that produced politicians, including opposition politicians, who cannot change the system.

If the opposition could just unite, total transformation would be easy. If the students in May ’98 had been given wholehearted support by Gus Dur, Megawati and Amien Rais (the so-called Ciganjur group), Habibie would never have survived as president, and Abri would not have dared shoot more students in November.

In the real world, Gus Dur on 17 December accused the students on Radio Netherlands of accepting $300,000 from the CIA. While students were demanding Suharto be put on trial, Gus Dur went to meet him to suggest national reconciliation. How could this happen?

First, because the Ciganjur group all obtained their leadership role ‘from above’. They are not activists who rose up through the ranks. Gus Dur and Mega got it through their families. Amien Rais is an academic used to working with the government, who became an oppositionist only after the government threw him out.

The students are totally different. They grew up with playground battles, and now proudly fight the military, ‘to reform the nation and the state’. (This is not unusual – the historical boundary between the criminal and the revolutionary hero is often vague, also in the history of our own revolution).

Second, the Ciganjur group learned their politics in a strong repressive system, where someone could become a major ‘oppositionist’ just by criticising the government. By contrast, when Sri Bintang Pamungkas set up his Pudi party and announced its purpose was to replace the government, he ended up in gaol together with the PRD.

The Ciganjur leaders, who now have the historic task of leading the nation, would never have done that. Suharto taught them that opposition (the word was banned in those days) just means polite criticism. Never say ‘change the government’, because that is revolt and subversion. These were the lessons of the New Order school.

The students never went to the New Order school. They see things quite simply. If the government is wrong, change it. Full stop. The proof is there. This government with its parliament is the result of an election fraudulent in every way. Most of its personnel, including the president, are tainted with corruption. What are we waiting for?

The New Order school has done its work well. Its graduates, including the Ciganjur leaders, still hold fast to their text book lessons. Yet ironically the room to manoeuvre they now enjoy was largely created for them by the students, who even now carry on the struggle, unsupported by the Ciganjur leaders. If the students are successful in creating a more democratic system, it is the Ciganjur group, and not the students, who will benefit most.

When Megawati’s PDI headquarters were attacked in 1996, it was the PRD who most energetically defended her. The PRD leaders are still in gaol today. Megawati and her other PDI leaders have never visited them in gaol or even said thank you. This too is a New Order lesson, never to deal with radical groups, let alone with ‘commies’.

Now the students know they have to reposition themselves. They are pioneers and they have played that role well. But now they realise that having cleared the ground, the ‘garrison troops’ who need to carry their struggle to completion are not there. Now they have a dilemma. If they carry on pioneering, they will get tired. Their role as moral force is based on the assumption that other players will (to change the metaphor) pick up the ball and run it to the goal. Yet they cannot turn themselves into garrison troops, because that would mean becoming a professional political party with money.

That is why we are here now. Our graduates from the New Order school feel more at home working with the government than with the masses below. That is the success of Suharto.     ii

Arief Budiman is professor of Indonesian studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Abridged from an article in Tempo, 4 January 1999.

Inside Indonesia 58: Apr-Jun 1999

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