Nov 13, 2018 Last Updated 6:23 AM, Nov 5, 2018

Not reformasi, transformasi!

Published: Sep 22, 2007

Students have been far too timid.

Y B Mangunwijaya

Open letter to the University of Indonesia alumni association

With all due respect, I’m not surprised the reformation movement has run aground because (as I already said at our meeting on 16 May 1998 at the University of Indonesia) the reformation movement as a whole is wide of the mark. Just imagine, by analogy, if our leaders in 1945 had merely asked the Governor General of the Netherlands Indies (Suharto) to resign, and then demanded a special session of the Dutch parliament (the New Order parliament led by Harmoko, Abdul Gafur and company) in order to appoint a new Governor General and new deputies for him. Wouldn’t that have been absurd? But that’s precisely what’s happening today. People are not demanding total transformation but merely a reformation or a new adapation of an order that is already gone. Reformation (‘re’ means to repeat) is indeed what we have in the present Habibie government.

From the very beginning I have been urging Transformation or Revolution (a peaceful one). To me the biggest disaster in the history of our republic was the implementation of the 1945 Constitution, which Sukarno himself said at the time was ‘merely a temporary constitution, a lightning or revolutionary (extreme emergency) constitution… which will later have to be improved and expanded’ (18 August 1945 in front of the revolutionary parliament). Yet since then it has come to be regarded as a permanent and final constitution, one that logically and structurally permitted and even pushed every Indonesian president to become a dictator at any time.

Moreover, a highly centralised state of 200-250 million people cannot possibly be democratic. It will always be corrupt and fascistic – even more so than the New Order was. Clearly the process of improving and expanding the 1945 Constitution needs to be orderly and properly phased, but I’m saddened that University of Indonesia alumni still want to maintain the 1945 Constitution. We do need to maintain the Opening Declaration of the 1945 Constitution, but its body must be completely renewed and adjusted to today’s and tomorrow’s conditions.

That can only be done by a constitutional assembly properly set up through elections run not by the Habibie government but by a legitimate (not only legal) team of independent people trusted by the people.

So long as University of Indonesia graduates insist on maintaining the 1945 Constitution, so long as they want only reformation and not transformation, there is no hope that our republic can be healed of all the perversions of the last 40 years. Virulent cancer cannot be cured with skin cream or herbs but has to be operated on. That can be done in various ways, but obviously not by means of a special session of the ‘Dutch parliament’ to choose a ‘new Governor General’, nor can it be done under the ‘Constitution of the Dutch/ Japanese period’.

Not reformation but transformation is what we need. Revolution, but a peaceful revolution like (not identical to) the one wrought by the act of open democracy of 14 November 1945 under the inspiration of Sutan Syahrir and Mohammad Hatta. This act brought parliamentary democracy to life in Indonesia. It was not a ‘silent coup’ as is so often claimed, but a change that won the blessing of the Republican President and Vice-President of the day.

Of course this will require careful preparation. However, we live in 1998. Politics is not merely the art of the possible, but also means preparing to make possible that which is not yet possible.

Salam transformasi,

Yogyakarta, 17 October 1998

Y B Mangunwijaya was a novelist, Catholic priest, architect and social activist.

Inside Indonesia 58: Apr-Jun 1999

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