Indonesian Gov’t Continues to Retreat in Face of Social Unrest

By GERRY FOLEY

Although the government of Gen. Suharto’s protege, J. Habibie, and its right-wing Muslim allies appealed for peace during the Muslim holy month of Ramadhan, social conflicts multiplied and sharpened. In this context, the political separation of the radical and the bourgeois wings of the opposition seems also to have widened.

January (which roughly coincided with Ramadhan) has been marked by new communalist explosions in the outer islands, as well as a sharp clashes between the population and official and unofficial repressive forces in Aceh and East Timor, where movements for self-government are deeply rooted.

As regards the communalist violence, it seems now to be widely understood that reactionary provocateurs have been at work. The government has started to try to put the blame on supporters of the ousted dictator, Suharto.

In both areas, the government’s repressive moves blew up in its face, and it was forced to make important concessions. In the case of Aceh, it had to prosecute soldiers involved in torturing and killing civilians. In the case of East Timor, it had to make a statement that it would accept the verdict of a referendum if a majority voted for independence.

The clashes in Aceh posed an acute political problem for the government. For example, on Jan. 3, the army opened fired on a crowd of civilians marching near the locality of Lhokseumawe to a police station to protest the arrest of a local man arrested in a crackdown on the Aceh Merdeka (Free Aceh) movement. Nine people were killed and 23 seriously wounded.

In response to the army attacks, seven soldiers were kidnapped, either by Aceh Merdeka forces or their sympathizers. Four were killed. The army scoured the area, arresting people and torturing suspects.

According to an Agence France-Presse dispatch of Jan. 29, the military prosecutor has called for seven-year sentences against four soldiers charged with torturing five civilians to death.

The Aceh Merdeka movement has had a strong Islamic identification. To crush it, the secularist military dictatorship resorted to virtual genocide, slaughtering thousands of people and burying them in mass graves that have recently been discovered.

Because of its Islamic ideology, all-Indonesian Islamic organizations have tended to sympathize with the Aceh movement, although not necessarily with its separatist aims. But now the discredited regime in Jakarta needs the support of the right-wing Islamic organizations if it is to have any chance of surviving the social explosion being unleashed by the decay of the dictatorship.

The clearest indication that the regime is continuing to retreat is the statement by the civil and military leaders on Jan. 27 that they were prepared to accept the independence of East Timor. It has been an article of faith in the official ideology that East Timor has became an integral and inseparable part of Indonesia by the will of the East Timorese people expressed in a referendum in 1976, after the area was occupied by the Indonesian army.

Moreover, the government has been planting colonies of “transmigrants” from the Indonesian central islands to assure the “integration” of East Timor. Generally, when clashes have occurred recently in the region, the Indonesian press has carried stories about fears among the “transmigrants.”

One of the purposes of the militias called the Ratih, which the government has set about organizing as an auxiliary to the army and the police, has been described as “defending the transmigrants.” On Jan. 3, a paramilitary group organized by the army clashed with a group of pro-referendum youth. Two youths were killed, four wounded.

Since the government indicated its readiness to accept independence of East Timor, the Indonesian press has been filled with articles about the fears and fury of pro-integration forces in the area.

But also the two main bourgeois opposition leaders, Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati Sukarnoputri, have declared their opposition to the government’s move, according to a summary from the Jakarta dailyKompas in the on-line news service of the Australian solidarity organization ASIET Jan. 31, while support for the East Timorese struggle has been one of the banners of the radical opposition.

Megawati even made a scandalous statement repeating the mantra of the New Order regime: “East Timor’s integration into Indonesia is politically and constitutionally legal as it represents the expressed wish of the East Timorese people as respected in Law No. 7, 1976.”

Megawati is the leading bourgeois opposition candidate for the presidential elections to be held this summer. The radical wing of the opposition has been calling for a “transitional government” made up precisely of such figures to organize the elections. But Megawati and the like have shown no interest in challenging the Habibie government’s legitimacy.

On Jan. 30, the Jakarta Post reported that the radical wing of the student movement, including such organizations as Forkot and Kamrad, are calling for a boycott of any elections organized by the Habibie government.