What's wrong with the Indonesian opposition

By Rien Savitri

On March 11, the Portuguese news service Lusa reported comments by East Timorese Relief Association spokesperson, Agio Pereira, who said that the expected re-election of Suharto showed above all, the relative weakness of the Indonesian democratic forces. But Pereira failed to explain what he mean by this relative weakness.

The People's Democratic Party (PRD) acknowledges that Indonesian democratic movement has weaknesses. The following is a summary of a January PRD press release, updated to account for recent political developments.

Megawati and Amien Rais
Amien Rais, head of the urban based mass organisation, Muhammadiyah and Megawati Sukarnoputri, ousted Indonesian Democratic Party leader, have consistently said that Suharto should step down because he has been in power too long or reasons of health and age.

Recently, Rais said that he is willing to lead a peaceful people's power movement, if, in the next six months, the government cannot solve the crisis. Why Rais wants to wait another six months is unclear. Meanwhile, how many people will die of hunger and lack of medicines! What he also failed to say, is that it is not just a question of whether the regime can solve the economic crisis. Suharto must be overthrown and tried for his crimes as part of the broader struggle for democracy in Indonesia.

Megawati continues to operate in a sectarian manner. It is time to declare her willingness to join in a coalition with other pro-democratic forces. When Mudrick Sangidoe, head of the Solo (Central Java) branch of the United Development Party proposed such an idea, she just smiled and said nothing. She did the same thing when Rais called for her to stand on a common platform to challenge Suharto.

Although she has said she is willing to unite with other pro- democratic forces, she has limited this to her own supporters and the conservative Islamic mass organisation, Nahdatul Ulama. She has made no call for unity with all anti-dictatorship forces in the country.

Neither Rais nor Megawati have presented any kind of political program, explained how they are going to overcome the economic crisis, or what strategies and tactics are needed to overthrow Suharto. The only specific issue they have addressed is the need for a program to regulate corruption and collusion. They have said nothing about defending the lives of Indonesia's workers and peasants who have been worst hit by the crisis or taken up basic issues such abolishing military intervention in civilian affairs.

Most importantly, Megawati has consistently refused to mobilise her supporters the millions of radical militants who have declared their readiness to die for her. Despite the political momentum, at each crucial turn, she has failed to give any real political direction to the people. Meanwhile, Rais has restricted his political activity to public forums, mass prayers and talk shows. Rais has yet to prove that his followers could be mobilised against the regime.

The latest "star" to emerge is Emil Salim, a US trained economist, who is a former Suharto economic adviser and environment minister. In mid-February, Salim suddenly announced his candidacy for vice-president, supported by a host of "big names" to back him up. Even Sarwono Kusumaatmadja, the current environment minister, put in a good word.

As a member of the elite and the regime's old guard, Emil has virtually no mass base and no wish to mobilise demonstrations. In fact he has all but faded away since B.J. Habibie was appointed as vice-president on March 10. Lack of strategy and tactics

Another prominent activist to emerge is Ratna Sarumpaet, the coordinator of SIAGA (Solidarity for Amien Rais and Megawati). Like Megawati and Rais, she has presented no political programs or strategies and tactics needed to overthrow the dictatorship.

Many sections of the democratic movement believe that the economic crisis can be overcome by implementing the IMF economic reforms. Part of the reason for this is Suharto's unwillingness to implement them himself. It is almost as if they are saying get rid of Suharto because he won't apply these measures and give us a chance to do it. While the IMF "reforms" will adversely affect Suharto and his cronies' business empires, spending cuts and the ending of subsidies of basic goods will have greatest impact on the poor.

Some sections of the democratic movement also have illusions that the IMF reforms will bring about democratic reform. Groups such as INFID, the International NGO Forum for Indonesian Development and opposition figures like Arief Budiman, are lobbying the IMF to link the reforms to issues of human rights and democracy.

They believe that if the IMF reforms eliminate collusion and corruption, and create a clean government, a more democratic government will emerge in Indonesia. What they fail to understand is that the IMF represents the interests of international capital; the US, Japan and the European Union. Their real interests are in maintaining the flow of profits from companies like Freeport, General Electric, British Aerospace and Honda, not in democracy. Continued exploitation of Indonesia's natural resources and cheap labour will not go hand-in-hand with democracy.

Meanwhile, some of them also have an idea to build ally with military forces, they have an illusion that there's a pro-people section in the Indonesian Armed Forces. People like Amien Rais and Arief Budiman think that the people can work together with military to topple down Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia. PIJAR, the youth social group, even want to maintain position of General Wiranto in their concept so called " transitional government 1998-2000", and in the same time they still maintaining politician pro-regime like Try Sutrisno, Sarwono Kusumaatmaja and Marie Muhammad in their " transitional government".

There is also a great deal of confusion over the question of violence. May sections of the pro-democratic movement declare themselves a non-violent movement and use this as a way to marginalise groups which they refer to as being pro- violence. Kwik Kian Gie for example, one of Megawati advisers, claims that they should not mobilise their supporters in the streets, because they will be infiltrated by agents provocateurs, and this will lead to violence.

Rais persists in advocating a peaceful transition through some kind of a non-violent people power. The PRD has consistently argued that the only way to bring about change is by building a mass movement which will draw in all of the elements of the pro-democratic movement who are anti- dictatorship. This is not the same as advocating violence and the PRD opposes the use of violence such as terrorism as a strategy or tactic.


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