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The Asian side of the world

Jean-François Sabouret

Part two. National challenges and their strategies to overcome them

Megawati’s Indonesia: in between authoritarian tensions and religious conflict

Romain Bertrand

Texte intégral

1January 2003

2Almost eighteen months after becoming head of state, following the parliamentary impeachment of Abdurrahman Wahid, Megawati Sukarnoputri is not filled with enthusiasm for increased participation in public life. She is surrounded by military advisors who are uncompromising on the unity of the State, whilst managing the heads of her party (Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle or PDI-P) from a distance, but with an iron fist. In addition, she has been extremely discrete about everything concerning the return of the rakyat kecil, the poor people from the suburbs and countryside, to politics. Does this mean that Ibu Mega, the people’s Mother, has forgotten that she owes her political success to those living in the Ciliwung slums and the tukang becak (rickshaw drivers) of Yogyakarta? Perhaps it is not so much the case that she has forgotten, but that she never knew in the first place. The concept of “democracy” that she claims to represent is that of her father, Sukarno, the charismatic first President of the Republic. As the “people’s mouthpiece”, he drew the attention of the political parties with the crude words, “bury them”, and finally put an end to the Indonesian parliamentary experience. Rooted in a nationalist, anti-egalitarian way of thinking that was partly developed by the masters of mysticism from the small Javanese aristocracy (including Ki Hadjar Dewantara and Raden Soepomo), the concept of “Indonesian democracy” was, in effect, the exact opposite of European parliamentarianism. Everything, which could “threaten the sacred unity of the nation”, was exposed to public contempt, from overly disruptive unions to overly autonomous political parties. The mystical agreement between the inspired leader and his entranced people left no room for representative bodies. It was this anti-egalitarian ideology, which was the Surkarnoism’s raison d’être, as well as that of this indigenous populism and which heavily influenced the history of Indonesia at the time of its independence. Megawati has never hidden her visceral opposition to all separatist movements either. She, having “mourned” the loss of East Timor, has no plans to see the independence of West Papua and remains committed to a safe approach to the Acehnese problem. The latter, sooner or later, will be a strain on the implementation of the fragile agreement to end hostilities that was signed in Geneva five weeks ago.

3A nationalist Republican, brought up on a culture of elitist dissidence, Megawati did not hesitate to take the most unpopular measures and today she is paying a high price for it. She firmly supported the candidacy of Sutiyoso during his campaign for a new mandate as governor of Jakarta, even though the members of the PDI-P who sat on the municipal council did nothing, but denounced Sutiyoso’s misuse of power. As a result of his desire to forbid the becak from having access to the city centre, clearing the streets of beggars and other street vendors, and knocking down the cluster of slums, which were spoiling the toll-paying motorway leading to the Soekarno-Hatta airport, Sutiyoso, a former Commander-in-Chief of the Special Forces Command of the army (the Kopassus) was hated by the poor. A strange ally for someone who wanted to be the new “queen of justice” (Ratu adil), to end misery and corruption, and who praised those who had been left behind by “development”. Did she not also have a choice when she supported new increases in the price of both electricity and petrol, at the risk of a large increase in inflation and, moreover, in popular discontent? The state of grace that she has enjoyed could soon be coming to an end. In view of the forthcoming legislative and presidential elections in 2004, the parties of the Central Alliance (Poros tengah, a coalition of both radical and moderate Islamist parties) have already joined forces against her with a vengeance. These elections will undoubtedly involve violent ideological confrontations. Her own party, the PDI-P, has been weakened by a series of violent, internal disputes, fuelled by the relentless rivalry between her husband (the unpopular businessman, Taufik Kiemas) and Arifin Panigoro. Obliged to win the Golkar Party over which is itself becoming increasingly divided between those who are pro-Akbat Tandjung and those who are against him, the President no longer has a free hand when it comes to the army. It is making her pay a high price for the helping hand it gave her by refusing to enforce the state of emergency declared by Gus Dur (the nickname of Abdurrahman Wahid). The new legislation on how to declare a state of emergency and the security mission outside of Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI: national army) significantly reinforce the civil strongholds at both a central and regional level. Similarly, the high military command has given its approval to strengthen civilian power by accepting that the Chief of Staff will be nominated by the presidency, based on the parliament’s proposals. However, this is in exchange for a free hand regarding everything that concerns the management of the lucrative conflict zones, which effectively means control over the illegal resources markets in the border areas of the country. Recently, the number of lethal brawls between soldiers and police officers has soared. This is probably an indication of the increasingly fierce competition between the police and the army for control over drug trafficking and brothels. The state’s security apparatus continues to maintain highly dangerous connections with the world of crime. Did the spokesman for the army not publically admit last year that 70% of the garrisons’resources were of an “unofficial” nature? This lack of differentiation between preman (criminals), prajurit (soldiers) and pegawai (civil servants) is something of a phenomenon and has led to huge violent protests around the country; the tragic legacy of a military and political history in which auxiliary militias have played a key role. Having gained a foothold in the State, they will never let it be easily dislodged. Even today, more than 6.5 million “auxiliary” public safety officers (the satpam, hansip and other kamra) carry out their sinister and violent deeds in great judicial uncertainty.

4However, although it is somewhat easy to find a thousand endogenous reasons for the recurrent authoritarian rifts of the state’s elite, it must not be forgotten that endogenous factors have a very strong impact on the political destiny of Indonesia. The “war on terror”, initiated under the auspices of the United States has had negative effects regarding the protection of civil liberties and only a minority of which have been recently reinstated. Was Megawati not the first, during an official trip to the east coast of the US, to drop by Washington and obtain US credit lines in exchange for continued support against Al Qaeda’s Indonesian members? Today, Australia has taken a symbolic step by announcing the restoration of formal military co-operation with Indonesia, including conducting valuable “counter terrorism” exercises with the Kopassus. Many Western countries are willing to do the same and forget all about the military embargo against Jakarta. This embargo was lifted when the bloody occupation of East Timor ended in September 1999. Yet, although the objective of such denial would be a legitimate hunt for dangerous terrorists, it is less than clear whether the army would be the recipient of the money made out of this security opportunity. Did the Kopassus not win over one of the most radical organisations on the fundamentalist scene, the Dewan Dakwah Islamiayah Indonesia (Indonesian Council for Islamic Propagation, DDII) in order to obey Suharto, who, in the middle of the 1990s, wanted to compensate for the drop in his army supporters by coopting a fringe of Islamist intelligentsia? Did Prabowo Subianto, Suharto’s son and Commander-in-Chief of the Kopassus, not give the Indonesian Committee for Solidarity with the Islamic World (KISDI) the go ahead to propagate a message of hate to Christians and Sino-Indonesians? Even if Prabowo was dismissed in 1998, and since then has lived between Amman and Jakarta (where he switched to working for private security companies), the Kopassus have still not become a regular army unit. It is a great risk to call on them to help with the “war on terror”, which would normally fall under the responsibility of the police. Only the police can lead in-depth local investigations without arousing the fear or anger of the villagers, who still remember both the atrocities committed by the Kopassus in Aceh between 1989 and 1992 and their brutality during the street battles that occurred in the first half of 1998. Requesting the Indonesian army to enter the sacred Koranic boarding schools (pesantren) and the thurifers of Nadhlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah to curse Bin Laden every morning, is asking to much of Indonesia. The Pentagon hawks risk irredeemably disrupting the precarious political balance that has been established between religious forces and civil powers. Regionally, relations between Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia have already seriously deteriorated. Accused by their counterparts in Malaysia and Singapore of not being firm enough in the fight against fundamentalism, the authorities in Jakarta are, in terms of diplomacy, in dire straits.

5The bomb attacks in Bali have dangerously undermined national politics. Firstly, they have legitimised the gradual remilitarisation of decision-making structures at a head-of-state level, and secondly, they have put Megawati’s coalition government at odds with a divide of public opinion, brought on by the violent currents of anti-Americanism. The main danger is that, by lashing out blindly at all dissidence in the name of an indiscriminate “war on terror”, the authorities in Jakarta will go back to using repressive methods to respond to social and political conflict, undoing all the work towards liberalisation that had been accomplished since May 1998. Given the economic stagnation that continues to prevail in Indonesia, the authoritarian closure of places of protest could have the effect of radicalising entire segments of the urban society and it should not be ruled out that the resulting protests would be encoded in the language of maximalist religious conflict. Here lies a dramatic paradox; the “war on terror” could ultimately make possible what it intended to destroy, an embryonic social revolution that highlights all types of extremists.

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