Polling on the 27 July Incident

A Spontaneous Response from Angry People

More than 75% of society believes that the 27 July Incident occurred because of the raid on the PDI office and was a spontaneous reaction from the angry masses. Only 9% believe that they were incited by the PRD.

Three months have passed since the 27 July Incident took place. However, understanding of what took place during what has become known as "Grey Saturday" has not become any clearer. According to the official version of events the People's Democratic Party (PRD) was behind what happened that day and, because of this, the party's leaders were immediately arrested. But many people are asking: "Is an organization as small as the PRD, which had only been formally declared as a party five days previously, really capable of being behind the events of 27 July?"

To get a picture of the attitude of the general public to the events of 27 July, Suara Independen has worked together with a national research institute to carry out an opinion poll. The polling was carried out on 100 respondents who were chosen at random from the telephone book. As a result, although a random method was used, the range of respondents was necessarily limited from the start to those who have a telephone at home. Given that a phone is still regarded as a luxury item it can be assumed that the respondents to the poll were from the middle class in economic terms. The choice of this method of polling was based on the assumption that the middle classes would possibly have access to more information than those in a lower economic strata, with the result that they could be expected to have a certain amount of background knowledge of the events that they were to be asked about.

The survey was carried out during the late morning and early afternoon. At this time of day it is more usual for women to be at home than men and it is therefore not surprising that 63% of the respondents were women and that men made up the remainder (37%) of respondents. In terms of occupation, housewives made up the greatest percentage (30%), followed by students (21%), traders (18%), employees in private companies (16%), former government employees (9%), members of the armed forces (3%) and artists (3%). The age range of respondents was: 18-28 years old (27%), 29-39 years old (48%) and over 40 years old (25%).

The respondents were asked five questions. Three were related to the National Human Rights Commission and the other two were more general questions concerning the events of 27 July.

The first question asked respondents what they thought had prompted the events of 27 July. They were given three choices: Soerjadi and the government taking over the PDI headquarters by force; the PRD inciting the people; it was a spontaneous response from the public angry at the situation. The response of those surveyed was truly astonishing. Only 9% of the respondents believed that the events of 27 July had taken place as a result of incitement by the PRD. This small percentage amply demonstrates that the government's campaign to portray the PRD as the organization behind "Grey Saturday" has not worked. "People don't believe the explanation given by the government", said an expert in social political affairs from Gadjah Madah University in Yogyakarta.

Asmara Nababan, a member of the National Human Rights Commission who has been involved in the investigation into the 27 July incident, said "The Human Rights Commission has not found any proof to link the PRD with the 27 July incident." This finding is very important in view of the fact that PRD activists are currently regarded as the masterminds of the 27 July incident. Their leaders have even been arrested and are due to be charged with subversion.

A large percentage of respondents (40%) said that the events of 27 July occurred as a spontaneous response by ordinary people who were angry at the situation. This choice would appear to confirm the opinion of an expert in urban sociology from the University of Indonesia who says that daily pressures on the urban poor have recently been rising rapidly. The sociologist argues that poor housing, transportation problems and high unemployment create a potential for discontent that can be ignited at any time. Thus, the case of the PDI represents only one trigger, other triggers could, for example, be a football match or a music concert. It should therefore not be surprising if urban rioting becomes more frequent in the future.

The particular trigger for the 27 July Incident, according to a significant number of respondents (36%) was "Soerjadi and the government taking over the PDI headquarters by force". The public knows that the burning down and destruction of buildings on 27 July was preceded by the attack on the headquarters by 800 Soerjadi supporters assisted by the army. In a 48 minute video which is currently circulating widely, police can also be seen in the front line when the attackers knocked down the fence in front of the building. Some Megawati supporters and sympathizers who were angry but powerless to prevent the take over of the headquarters had transferred their frustration into setting up a freee speech platform that had an impact on the riots. Their anger seemed to boil over when the news spread that morning that 47 PDI supporters had been killed in the attack on the building.

"Soerjadi was responsible for the 27 July Incident", Megawati Soekarnoputri has said. She contends that if the morning attack on the PDI building had not taken place then the uncontrollable anger of the masses would never have risen up. In view of this, according to Megawati, Soerjadi - who proudly acknowledges that 800 of his supporters were given military training in Cibubur in preparation for the attack on the PDI headquarters - must be held responsible.

The link between the attack on the PDI building by Soerjadi supporters and the mass rioting later in the day was also stressed during the last Human Rights Commission meeting. In the Commission's report, which is signed by Munawir Syadzali as its Chairman and Baharuddin Lopa as the Commission's Secretary General, the Commission concludes that the mass rioting was influenced by the attack on the PDI office by Soerjadi's supporters. "Because of this, the 200 Soerjadi supporters who attacked the office must be brought to trial" the report concludes.

Sadly, the wishes of the Human Rights Commission, Megawati and also perhaps of members of the general public such as the respondents to this survey, will not be realized. Soerjadi has indeed been called in for questioning by the police, but only as a witness and the authorities have no plan to try Soerjadi for his role as a trigger for the riots. And yet, strangely, as many as 124 of Megawati supporters who were guarding the PDI building when it was attacked are currently being tried at the Central Jakarta District Court accused of "wounding Soerjadi supporters". Such lack of balance can only be likely to increase the public's lack of trust in what the government does or says. "This is truly no longer a constitutional state" said a former member of the Supreme Advisory Council.

In the midst of the incessant persecution of the PRD it turns out that 76% of respondents believe in an alternative cause for the 27 July Incident. As many as 15% of respondents acknowledged that they did not know the reason for the events, or were unwilling to reply. This is a higher percentage than those who believe that the PRD was the mastermind behind the 27 July Incident. Apparently a significant number of respondents were "afraid" to talk honestly about the events. The survey process proved the widespread anxiety. Out of every five people who were telephoned, on average only one was prepared to take part. Meaning that to get 100 respondents it was necessary to contact around 500 people.

The fear of respondents can also be seen from their attitude to replying to the second question about whether or not any shooting took place in the course of the events of 27 July. Only 5% of respondents believed that the authorities had not shot at civilians, as was stated by the Military Commander for Jakarta Major General Sutiyoso. As many as 29% of respondents believe the opposite, i.e. that the authorities had fired shots. This choice, made by almost one third of all respondents, would appear to be strengthened by the accounts given by eye- witnesses to shootings.

In the Pramuka area for example, a bajaj driver called Wito has stated that he saw Sariwan - whom the Human Rights Commission confirmed as having died - being shot by soldiers. Sariwan was immediately taken to the Persahabatan hospital, but he died. "There is even a doctor's certificate that confirms that Sariwan died as a result of being shot" another person has confirmed. In the end the National Human Rights Commission acknowledged that there as a victim who died as a result of being shot.

But concerning the matter of shooting by the authorities, the majority of respondents (66%) replied that they did not know. Perhaps they really do not know, because information about this kind of thing tends to be kept quiet. Or it could also be that these respondents felt forced to reply "don't know" because of the climate of fear concerning things related to the military which, of late, has become so intense. Whatever the reason, this polling proves that only 5% of people believe that "there was no shooting" during the events of 27 July. Such a level of trust seems to be very low indeed when one considers the government's massive campaign to persuade people that "the actions of the armed forces were in accordance with procedure."

People choose to be silent if the atmosphere does not give them the opportunity of talking honestly. But, at least, they will hold on to these opinions in their hearts. These are opinions which no one can change. And trust - just like opinion - is something that can't be forced, can it? This survey proves this.

10 Nov 1996
[Translation of article from Suara Independen,
September-October 1996,
Number 2, Year 2.]

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