PRD leader speaks from prison

Green Left Weekly - March 11, 1998

Budiman Sujatmiko, chairperson of the banned People's Democratic Party (PRD), was sentenced to 13 years' jail in April 1997 for subversion. Budiman was interviewed last month from his cell in Cipinang prison by Resistance and ASIET activist KYLIE MOON about the PRD and the prospects for the Indonesian democratic movement.

Question: How do you assess the state of the democratic movement?

We don't have a democratic movement as such, because it is still in the process of being formed. We have seen some figures such as Megawati Sukarnoputri [ousted chair of the Indonesian Democratic Party, PDI], Amien Rais [head of the Islamic mass organisation Muhammadiyah] and others recognise they could play a leadership role.

This role should not be understood as being able to organise as a leader, but symbolically. It doesn't necessarily mean that they are actually capable of organising such a movement.

Question: How capable or willing are they to lead a movement which could overthrow Suharto?

Muhammadiyah's mass base is among urban Muslims, petty traders and so on, and I think that they can be a force for democratisation. Although Rais' political agenda is unclear, formally and symbolically, he is seen as a leader. He has also spoken out strongly and loudly against the regime, and that is good.

But many Muslims both within and outside of Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama [the largest Islamic mass organisation in Indonesia] are quite conservative -- they still support the government and blame the Chinese for the economic crisis.

Many people support Megawati simply because she is the daughter of Sukarno. But the young do see her as a potential leader. She has considerable influence among the masses and, symbolically, she is seen as a rallying point for discontent.

She has taken a number of good initiatives such as nominating herself as the next president, but because the parliamentary system and presidential elections are tightly controlled, the only road left to her is to lead an extra-parliamentary mass movement.

Both have called for Suharto to step down.

Question: How did the July 27 crackdown and arrests of PRD members affect the organisation?

After the July crackdown we have had to restructure ourselves as an underground organisation. At our last national council meeting in August, we decided to focus on building an extra-parliamentary mass movement. We began to set up local and national umbrella organisations so we could continue to communicate with the people.

Since 1994, when we called for the formation of a popular, democratic coalition, our political agenda has been taken up by most other pro-democratic organisations, theoretically at least. But how this is to be implemented at a practical level is still problematic.

Question: How is the PRD working to build such an alliance?

The process is complicated. We have been involved in local coalitions uniting urban poor, students, workers and Megawati supporters in a number of cities. Now we are focusing on a mass campaign to support Megawati in rejecting the re-election of Suharto.

But although we have our own independent program, we cannot do this alone. That is why we are working with other groups to build a coalition. We believe that the people are now capable of organising themselves, electing their own leadership.

We are expecting huge demonstrations. Our role is not to engineer social unrest -- it's already there -- but to sharpen it, make it more political, by organising graffiti actions, public meetings and distributing leaflets. In this repressive situation, the question is not just how to advance, but how to regroup our forces. Question: Do you believe that the majority of the Indonesian ruling class has decided it's time for Suharto to go?

That is difficult to gauge. But the split amongst the ruling class has become quite acute. This was revealed when the government accused [Chinese entrepreneur] Sofyan Wanandi of being involved in the Tanah Tinggi incident [bomb explosion in January].

I think that many sections of the elite are taking the attitude of Let's wait and see. But we cannot just wait and see what happens. The only sections of the middle class we can rely on are students and the intelligentsia.

Question: Why is the regime so threatened by the PRD?

Although we are still small, we are one of only a few organisations to openly declare a program that directly attacks the government. While other groups are retreating, the PRD continue to organise on the ground, and the people see this. The government knows that we have the potential to organise the masses against the regime.

Question: How is change possible when the military is still strong and the regime is still supported by imperialist governments such as the US?

Imperialist governments like the US have their own interests -- they need more democratic government in Indonesia. The dictatorship cannot guarantee free market reforms the US wants because of the nepotism and monopolies controlled by Suharto. So we have common interests in opposing this corrupt regime at this time.

But we cannot just rely on the US, of course. We must go further than just toppling Suharto. Even after Suharto, we will face the basic agenda of neo-liberalism.

The struggle for democracy is not something that can be achieved overnight. But regardless of who is elected vice-president in March, the economic crisis will continue and even worsen. The government will have to face more social unrest. These kind of conditions have been factors in the collapse of dictatorships all over the world.

Question: But to defeat the military?

I think that in the face of massive anti-regime mobilisations, the military would split. So again this is why we are focusing on strengthening workers' organisations and the urban poor. Workers have the economic power, so this remains a priority for the PRD.

Question: What role does international solidarity play for the movement here?

Australian workers played a crucial role in supporting the Indonesian independence struggle by boycotting Dutch ships. Solidarity was also shown after the July 27 uprising, boycotting Indonesian ships, protesting the jailing of Dita Sari and Muchtar Pakpahan.

This is the kind of solidarity we need, not just statements, but solidarity which strikes at the economic power of the regime.

From: James Balowski
March 11, 1998

Back to the main index