Indonesian Politicians Spar as Country Slides into Crisis


For the last two months, in its coverage of Indonesian developments the capitalist press has focused on an obscure tug of war between President Abdul Rahman Wahid (“Gus Dur”), elected as a representative of the “democratic” movement, and the parliament, which continues to be dominated by former supporters of the fallen military regime.

In an immediate way, the conflict has highlighted the role still being played by the former dictatorship’s party, Golkar, which was organized in many respects like a fascist party, incorporating mass organizations within its structure.

Gus Dur was elected president over Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of the populist leader who presided over the first phase of Indonesian independence. His victory was achieved thanks to the votes of the Golkar deputies, despite the fact that Megawati got by far the biggest vote in the election.

The supporters of the dictatorship have rallied around an ideology of right-wing Islamicism; whereas Megawati is not only a woman and identified with the populism of her father but is also identified with the religious syncretism and Hinduism that dominates on her home island of Bali.

Gus Dur is a moderate Muslim cleric and did not have the radical associations that Megawati did. That made him an acceptable compromise candidate between the “democratic” opposition and the unreconstructed or only slightly reconstructed supporters of the old regime. He had also made major gestures of “reconciliation” with the former rulers.

In this latest conflict, however, the Golkar deputies backed Megawati against Gus Dur, obviously out of resentment of some of the concessions the latter has had to make to the democratic movement and to movements for national liberation. He has removed General Wiranto, the dictatorship’s military chief, offered autonomy to the oppressed nationalities, and proposed repeal of the law outlawing “Communism.”

The fact that Megawati was prepared to accept support from Golkar shows that she really does not represent a more radical alternative to Gus Dur and would almost certainly be as lukewarm a reformer as he has been, if not even cooler. For example, Megawati seems to have a less flexible position toward the oppressed nationalities.

Putting Megawati formally in charge of the government could for a time restore some of its reformist luster. But it would still cause problems with the right-wing Muslim movement. Moreover, Megawati’s politically passive role as Gus Dur’s vice president has dimmed her attraction as a “democrat.”

However, far more important than the parliamentary sparring match, the debate provoked by the attack on Gus Dur revealed that the crisis that brought down the dictatorship and the mass radicalization that followed are continuing to develop.

For example, movements of small farmers demanding return of the land stolen by Sukarno and his cronies and against the destruction of agricultural land by imperialist mining concerns protected by the dictatorship have become increasingly widespread.

On June 19 Reuters reported violent clashes between small farmers and police in East Java: “Indonesian police have shot dead two farmers and wounded scores more in two days of clashes over land compensation claims in East Java province, police and witnesses said on Monday.

“Police said they opened fire on 400 machete-wielding farmers near the town of Blitar on Monday. The farmers were protesting close to a clove plantation owned by local firm PT Perkebunan Branggah. They claimed the plantation company forced them to give up the land 20 years ago.

“‘One person was killed and about 16 others were injured,’ Blitar police chief Lieutenant-Colonel Anang Iskandar told Reuters, insisting that police only used rubber bullets.

“It was the second clash in 24 hours. On Sunday one farmer was shot dead and seven wounded when some 400 protesters went on a rampage, burning several buildings on the plantation compound. It was unclear if police made any arrests.

“Land clashes and other violence have become common across Indonesia since the fall of former autocratic president Suharto in 1998 amid widespread economic and social chaos.”

Over May and June, the Indonesian currency lost 30 percent of its value and the stock market fell by 25 percent. The Indonesian bureau of statistics is now predicting that economic growth for this year, supposedly a period of recovery, will total only about 1.4 percent, after the country has lost up to 50 percent of its output since 1997.

Indonesia is now the world’s most indebted country, with a total foreign debt of $l70 billion, more than its GNP. Debt service now eats up more than 50 percent of foreign currency earnings.

According to a survey of a World Bank monitoring agency, more than 40 percent of textile and garment workers have lost their jobs, and more than 70 percent of building workers. More than 40 percent of those classified as poor before the crisis have had to sell their few belongings-including TVs, radios, and clothing-to survive.

On Java, where about half of the country’s total population live, millions of unemployed workers have been driven from the cities back into the villages, swelling the movement of poor peasants demanding land. At the same time, the sugar industry, the second largest agricultural industry after rice, is now virtually bankrupt, since the IMF forced Indonesia to drop its tariff barrier and allow the country to be flooded by cheap sugar. The market for rice farmers has also been undermined by imports of U.S. rice under the cover of “humanitarian aid.”

Police headquarters for Jakarta has reported about 600 strikes since January, with more than 200 for April alone. The strike movement and unionization seem to be snowballing despite the economic crisis.

These facts are highlighted in an article by Indonesia expert Mark Lane published in the June 28 issue of the Australian socialist weekly, Green Left. He notes that the economic and social situation in Indonesia is more crisis-ridden now than at any time in the 31 years he has been visiting the country, and he predicts a coming social and political explosion that will dwarf the movement that led to the downfall of the dictatorship.

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[Editor’s note: We reprint this article by the Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt (CADTM). In 1989, the Bastille Appeal was launched, inviting popular movements throughout the world to unite in demanding the immediate and unconditional cancellation of the debt of the so-called developing countries. This crushing debt, along with neo-liberal macro-economic reforms imposed on the global South, has led to an explosion of worldwide inequality, mass poverty, flagrant injustice and the destruction of the environment.


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