Indonesian Neocolonialism Puts on a New Face



In the face of angry demonstrations by students, supported by the poor masses of Jakarta, the Indonesian capitalist class has fallen back to a new line of political defense. The party of the military dictatorship, Golkar, decided on Oct. 20 to put a moderate Muslim divine, Abdurrahman Wahid, known as Gus Dur, in the post of president, and Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of the president ousted by the 1965 military coup, in the post of vice president.

Megawati, although she is a bourgeois politician and closely aligned with Gus Dur, has been seen as more oppositional toward heirs of the former military regime. She has drawn the support of militant masses in the street, and during the election campaign her supporters sometimes fraternized with supporters of the Peoples Democratic Party (Partai Rakyat Demokratik, PRD), one of the leading forces in the radical student movement.

The election of Gus Dur and Megawati by the Indonesian parliament was a clear climbdown by the heirs of the old regime. They had sought to maintain continuity with the former government by electing Suharto’s henchman B.J. Habibie-who became acting president when his mentor resigned in the face of a mass explosion last May-with the military strongman, General Wiranto, as his vice president.

The continuers of the “New Order” had a clear repressive program, exemplified by the martial law bill passed in the last weeks of Habibie’s presidency. They were forced to suspend the act in the face of mass-supported student demonstrations.

This setback for Suharto’s heirs prefigured the failure of their attempt to elect Habibie. Essentially, they had to retreat when it became clear that Habibie had no chance of restoring stability.

Wiranto’s resignation on Oct. 18 as vice presidential candidate was Habibie’s coup de grace. Until then, the two had functioned virtually as a two-headed chief of state. The following day, Suharto’s successor himself withdrew from the race.

Then, all of the former ruling party deputies who had supported Habibie fell in behind Gus Dur. They assured his election. This point was passed over in the accounts of the election in the U.S. capitalist press, which clearly wanted to project a picture of an emerging moderate majority. But it could not go unnoticed in Indonesia.

In fact, the election of the new executive was followed by a lot of irritated commentary in the Indonesian press about the potential scandal of including representatives of the old regime in the new cabinet. Gus Dur made no bones about the fact that he owed his election to deals with the former ruling party politicians and that his cabinet was going to have to reflect that.

Wiranto himself remains in the cabinet, purportedly kicked upstairs to the post of overall “coordinator” of the armed forces rather than being in direct command over any section of them. The new cabinet includes four generals.

The first student demonstration against the new government, a small one with a few dozen participants in Jakarta on Oct. 27, focused on the question of getting the military out of government. But it also sought to remind the new regime of other main demands of the mass movement, such as the prosecution of Suharto and other corrupt officials and the investigation of human rights abuses by the military.

The new government has reinstituted the case against Suharto. But Gus Dur, in the name of “reconciliation,” has said that he hopes that Suharto will simply return what he stole and spare the country the trauma of a trial.

“National reconciliation” has become the theme song of the new government. This line is a new tack for maintaining the continuity of bourgeois rule. It seeks to appeal to a certain weariness in the population with the tensions and shocks of the last year and a half and to play on hopes that a “calming” of the national mood will lead to economic recovery.

In the immediate period, according to a poll carried out by the largest-circulation Indonesian daily, Kompas, on Oct. 22-23, the new governmental formula appears to have had some success. But the contradictions in the answers indicate the fragility of popular confidence:

Some 85 percent of those polled thought that the executive duo could restore foreign confidence in the country and 86 percent thought that they would be able to halt its disintegration. Some 83 percent thought that they would be able to maintain law and order.

But less than half thought that the new executive would be able to get the military out of politics or successively investigate the corruption of the old regime. Only about 11 percent thought that they could work together and only 7 percent thought that they had the ability to unite the country.

In fact, the retreat of the right that resulted in the election of the new executive led immediately to a new challenge to the unity of the country. Disappointed supporters of the old regime in the Celebes staged a demonstration on Oct. 21 of about 15,000 people demanding the formation of an eastern Indonesian state that would be safe from “anarchy.” One of the banners read, “We are against anarchy because we’re not Megawati supporters.”

Megawati was in fact put in the vice presidency by Gus Dur, not simply because she is a close associate, but because he knows that militant masses seeking a real alternative to the old regime have looked to her.

During the election process, in fact, Gus Dur said that Megawati was most useful as an opposition leader. She makes an ideal backup for him. Her election took the steam out of the protests by her supporters who rightly felt that she had been cheated of the presidency, since she got a substantial plurality in the popular vote, while Gus Dur ran a poor third. Moreover, it gives an executive an oppositionist face.

Accordingly, Megawati was given special responsibility for all the trouble spots, that is areas where there are separatist movements and armed conflicts. Also, the vice presidency is made more attractive by speculation that Gus Dur, who is nearly blind, has suffered two strokes and cannot walk unaided, will not finish out his term. But that is a bridge the bourgeoisie will cross when they come to it.

Megawati has given many proofs of her devotion to bourgeois order, not the least of which was her appeal to her supporters not to protest the stealing of the presidency. But the militancy of her supporters frightens the supporters of the old order. Moreover, as a woman with her roots on the Hindu island of Bali, she is repugnant to the conservative Muslims who are the core constituency of the right.

With respect to the student demonstrators who have been the driving force of the mass movement against the old regime, the new executive sang clashing tunes. In an interview with the publication Expresso, cited in a Oct. 28 dispatch from Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor, Gus Dur said that the students were just small groups manipulated by “hooligans.”

However, in her acceptance speech, Megawati paid homage to the “students and youth who have struggled relentlessly to uphold the banner of reform leading to a new Indonesia.” Of course, that was after she also expressed gratitude to Habibie and Wiranto.

The main economics minister in the new cabinet, Kwik Kian Gie, close to Megawati, has already pledged allegiance to the International Monetary Fund. “We can’t do anything without the IMF,” the Oct. 28 Kompas quoted him as saying. But following the directives of the IMF was the immediate cause of the fall of the old government.

The New York Times of Oct. 23 quoted Mari Pangestu, an economist at the Jakarta Center for Strategic and International Studies, as saying: “They have got to reduce expenditures, some sensitive ones like fuel subsidies.” The correspondent noted that “the last time Indonesia cut fuel subsidies … fierce riots forced the resignation of Mr. Suharto.”

The writer emphasized that the new government’s credibility with business people and investors was worth more than gold. However, such credibility is a very perishable commodity in the turbulent political and economic conditions in Indonesia.

The contradictions of the new executive can explode very rapidly if a socialist opposition is able to mount effective campaigns on the concrete problems facing the Indonesian masses. The new government has no answers to these questions. It’s just a new face of the old neocolonialist regime.

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