Building a United front Against the Dictatorship

By Nico Warouw

The economic crisis that has hit Indonesia over eight months, is proof of the failure of Suharto's New Order regime. Prices have soared and basic goods are becoming scarce. The panic buying that swept the country early this year indicates that people are losing confidence in the government's ability to overcome the crisis.

The People's Democratic Party (PRD) distributed hundred of thousands of pamphlets, essentially encouraging people panic buy. This was not done to create a crisis, the regime has already done that, but in order to raise people's consciousness that thirty years of Suharto's lies is enough. It time to push him out. Believing that the regime is able to overcome the crisis in the face of skyrocketing prices, massive layoffs, and growing unemployment, is an illusion.

For Suharto, the only option left is to once again, call on the IMF to save the economy and of course, his economic and political power over the nation. But the negotiations between the IMF and the government have not gone as smoothly as Suharto would have liked. IMF, representing the interest of donor countries, is demanding an end to privileges enjoyed by Suharto's family and his cronies. It also wants to abolish trade barriers and make Indonesia's economy more "responsive" to global free- market. Under threat is the "Timor" national car project run by Suharto's son "Tommy", vice-president B.J Habibie's pet aircraft project and logging concessions to long term Suharto crony "Bob"Hassan, who is now also the minister of trade and industry.

Although the package is designed to make Indonesia's economy more "efficient" and reduce the amount of capital invested in unproductive sectors, the austerity measures demanded under the agreement will also deepen the social and political crisis. If the program could prevent massive layoffs, reduce prices and ensure the basic needs of the people, we might welcome the aid. If it doesn't lead to more military repression to contain the social unrest, it would be no problem. It will do none of these things. What the Indonesian people need is not the IMF, but a reform program orientated to the needs of the people.

Some argue that Suharto and the military are needed to hold the nation together and to maintain stability. It is worth noting however, that the massive student protests which greeted Suharto's reappointment as president for a seventh term, have explicit rejected Suharto and his policies. The longer Suharto is in power, the more instability we will face in the coming period.

In the lead up to the special session of the People's Consultative Assembly in March, which reappointed Suharto, a number of opposition figures publicly nominated themselves as alternative presidential candidates. This is a new thing in Indonesian politics and was an effective political tool to raise the people's consciousness. Suharto has been in power for more than 30 years and it is clear that most people think it is time for him to go. Student protest calling for Suharto's overthrow have continued even though the regime has responded with more repression; arresting, abducting and killing pro-democratic activist.

Countering this undemocratic reappointment is only possible through an extra-parliamentary mass movement. The formal mechanisms for political change were constructed by the regime to serve Suharto's will. People on the street are already talking about "people power" or "street parliament", as the only means of forcing Suharto out.

Mobilising people power is not without risk. But how many will die of hunger and lack of basic medicine if we wait another six months. The massive demonstrations during the general elections last year, show that if a large enough number of people with a consistent leadership take to the streets, this is what will stop the military using violence against the people. Despite the growing anti-dictatorship sentiment, the absence of a strong democratic movement is the reason the opposition has not been able to topple the regime. Nevertheless, initiatives to build a united front against the dictatorship have got underway. There is a widely shared view that there is a need to develop a common, united platform from all sections of the pro-democracy movement.

Such initiatives terrify Suharto and he has responded by clamping down on his opponents. What the dictatorship fears most is the formation of a broad coalition which can serve as an alternative government to bring the nation out of the crisis. A coalition of competent and charismatic leaders combined with mass-based organisations representing the interests of majority. Such a coalition would attract huge popular support. The coalition would also provide the political leadership to prevent protests shifting to anti-Chinese or anti-Christian sentiment. Only by providing a call to directly attack the heart of the regime can we minimise the risk.

The anti-Suharto coalition will be the embryo of a coalition government whose task is to create more democratic conditions under which all people are encouraged to participate in forming a democratic Indonesia. Central to creating of this is abolishing all repressive laws, the social-political role of the armed forces and organising free and fair elections.

Nico Warouw is based in the Netherlands
and is the General International Representative of the PRD.

Back to the main index