Liberation: How can mass actions rejecting the results of the elections be used to mobilise large numbers of people again. Because if we see [the situation now], it has become more difficult. Firstly because the people are again "dormant", and secondly, there is no opportunity to mobilise the masses as there was during the election campaign?
Mirah Mahardika: Certainly it is more difficult. But this time there is a new variable, that is the convergence of a number of different interests, between Megawati supporters, United Development Part Supporters (PPP) and pro-democracy groups who were previously were active in the extra-parliamentary sphere, such as the PRD and the Indonesian United Democratic Party (PUDI).
What must be done in this kind of situation, is that those groups which have common interests, must build a united front or coalition. But it seems that the Indonesian pro-democracy groups have had no practice at this. The Mega-Star-People (1) coalition is not a formal coalition but only a spontaneous coalition by the masses, there were no meetings between the leaderships. This is very unfortunate, because the unwillingness of the leaderships to meet has already blocked the growth of the pro-democratic movement. But I think that it is not too late to build a coalition.
With regard to the lack of an legal opportunity to mobilise the masses, certainly this is quite a difficult problem. Certainly it is difficult to mobilise the masses in large numbers without a legal political opening such as the election campaign. But historically, mobilisation of the masses in small numbers can cause a larger number of masses to rise up as time passes, if they are repressed. An example is the Kwangju incident in South Korea and the Philippines just before the fall of Marcos. Initially the mobilisations were small, however if there is a continuous rise in the quality [of the mobilisations], this will provide the impetus for larger mass mobilisations.
An action by 50 people under military repression is clearly of a higher quality compared to a campaign by 10 thousand people, supported by the government and military. Because they already have the courage to defy the regime's regulations. If this is continues it can draw in broader layers of the masses, who were previously afraid to mobilise. Mass mobilisations which reach one million people, in the beginning were only thousands, but those thousands are the vanguard.
Liberation: Can workers also be mobilised in large and political actions. It seems very difficult, because so far, their actions have been only of an economic character, such as demanding wage rises, overtime pay and so on?
Mirah Mahardika: Recently, it is the urban poor who have become the vanguard in political actions. But I am optimistic, that political actions by the urban poor will in turn draw in workers followed by peasants. If we reflect on the history of mass movements under the grip of the New Order regime, students have been in the vanguard. However it seems that the role of students as the vanguard, ended in the middle of 1996, that is at the time pro-Megawati groups emerged backed by the urban poor. The student groups were still involved with issues on their own campuses, but were unable to mobilise themselves in large numbers. Once again, there would have been no emergence of the urban poor if it were not for the student demonstrations, and if there had been no joint actions with workers, the urban poor and peasants.
Workers still have illusions in normative and economic demands. The think that by demanding higher wages, overtime pay and the like, everything will be fine. But this must be seen as part of a process. Later on, workers will achieve a clearer awareness, that economic issues cannot be resolved just with economic demands, that they are strongly linked to the political situation.
If the political atmosphere outside the factories is dynamic, it will also flow into the factories. So, the political actions by the urban poor will spread to the workers.
When it reaches this point, the pro-democracy movement will have reached a more advanced stage again. The potential for mass mobilisations will be far greater, because of the coming together of a number of different interests.
Liberation: What could become the trigger to large mass mobilisations?
Mirah Mahardika: Momentum! The political consciousness of the people is already very high, it would not have given birth to actions in large number if the movement had not yet found its momentum. You cannot just sit around waiting for this momentum, but it must be built by a stimulus which simultaneously gives birth to a greater momentum. For the moment, actions which push forward the birth of momentum are extremely important.
Liberation: Many groups are pessimistic, that Suharto can be brought down just by mass actions. According to them, without military support, it is impossible for the people to bring down Suharto. So, we must wait for a split in the military. So the pro-democracy movement must push for a split in the military. The demand for the abolition of the dual function of the armed forces is therefore not considered a good tactic because it will only make the military more solid.
Mirah Mahardika: Firstly, the "people element" within the military has disappeared since 1948, that is since the Rera (2) (reorganisation and rationalisation) of the armed forces [then the Republican Army]. Thus the peoples' military, who had previously been fighting for independence, were pushed aside. So that the military was controlled by professional soldiers, that is ex- members of KNIL (Indonesian who became soldiers in the Dutch army) and PETA (Indonesians who became soldiers in the Japanese army), an example is A.H. Nasution and Suharto. Can we hope that soldiers like this will push forward the process of democratisation? From the start, they were bootlickers. During the Dutch occupation they curried favor with the colonialists by wanting to become colonial soldiers. When Indonesia was occupied by Japan they became supporters of the colonialists. When Indonesia won independence they pressured the civilian government through the PRRI/PERMESTA (3) rebellions. In 1952 they surrounded the palace intending to seize power [from Sukarno] by force. And in 1965 they became the agents of imperialism, by carrying out a coup against the Guided Democracy government (4). During the New Order regime, they became uniformed thugs, became the terrorisers of the people. They have always attacked the pro-democracy movement. They attack workers who strike because they are bribed by the companies. What help can the pro-democracy movement hope for from a military who's character and history is like this. This is truly naive.
Secondly, the military itself will split if the movement becomes larger. An increase in the masses on the streets, when it reaches the phase of really threatening the regime, will create friction between the authorities, both civilian and the military. Because there are those who are ready, who want to use this momentum to seize power, and there are others who will want to find safety.
Thirdly, militarism is a real threat. The New Order regime is no more than a military authority, the technocrats and civilian politicians are no more than errand boys of the military. It makes no sense for us to fight their errand boy, while we collaborate with their leaders.
But we are optimistic that the military can overthrow Suharto. To contend with the military, we must mobilise the masses in large numbers. The masses are the key.
Liberation: What is the danger for the pro-democracy movement in working with the military?
Mirah Mahardika: The danger is that it will divert the direction of the movement. At most the military only want to overthrow Suharto, but will never continue the struggle in the direction of an Indonesia which is truly democratic. Because, if there was democracy it would mean that the military would loose a number of privileges. Because in a system of democratic government the military are not involved in politics. If the military want to be involved in politics they must remove their military shirts [ie leave the military]. So the military will only manipulate the movement.
1. Mega-Star-People (Mega-Bintang-Rakyat): a slogan popularised during the election campaign calling on pro-Megawati supporters, the Islamic orientated United Development Party and broader popular forces to unit in mass movement to replace Suharto.
2. Rera: The reorganisation and rationalisation of the Republican Army initiated by vice-president Hatta in alliance with right- wing military officers aimed at disbanding the Indonesian Communist Party and left-wing military units which lead to the so-called Madiun Rebellion in 1948.
3. PRRI/Permesta (Pemerintah Revolusioner Republik Indonesia/Perjuangan Semesta): Revolutionary Government of Indonesia - a grouping of right-wing Generals supported by the US/CIA who in 1956, organised rebellions in Sulawasi and Sumatra against the Jakarta central government. Total Struggle.
4. Guided Democracy: A concept developed by president Sukarno in the late 1950s which instead of society being represented by elected parties, parliament would be made up of "functional groups" representing different sections of society.
[Translated by James Balowski, ASIET Information officer]
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