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

No turning back

Published: Sep 22, 2007

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

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