A government of compromise in Indonesia

A Report from Kerry Morgan in Australia on the anger following the appointment of the President in Indonesia

Indonesian Workers and Students

Wednesday, 20 October was, in the words of the Agence France Presse
reporter in Jakarta , a day of "high political drama" for the
crisis-ridden country of Indonesia. As the partially elected, partially
appointed People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) prepared to vote on who
should become the country's president, tens of thousands of supporters of
Megawati Sukarnopoutri waited on the streets to celebrate her victory.
'Mother', as they affectionately call her, heads the party that gained
most votes in this June's general election - the Indonesian Democratic
Party - Struggle (PDI-P). Given her credentials, in spite of having a very
vague but definitely pro-capitalist policy, she would undoubtedly have
been elected as president in a direct ballot of the total electorate of

She is the daughter of the first president of the independent nation,
Sukarno, now invested with almost saintly qualities as the man whom the
hated General Suharto forced out of office 34 years ago. Megawati herself
had been the popular figurehead of the 'democracy movement' which
eventually ousted the dictator through widespread, mass demonstrations in
May of 1998. While avowing her support for the International Monetary
Fund, the market and so on, and courting generals and conservative
politicians, she promised
the down-trodden poor and working people of the world's fourth largest
country a break with the past and a radical change in their conditions of

The withdrawal from the presidential race of BJ Habibie - the discredited
'caretaker' of the position after Suharto - in the early hours of the
morning on 20 October sent the value of shares and the rupiah soaring. Big
business, as well as foreign investors showed they, too, would prefer a
Megawati victory. Hundreds of people crowded into the public gallery booed
and cheered as each vote was announced. As it became clear that Megawati
was being defeated, they fell silent.

When, by the end of the day, the MPR had selected her erstwhile friend and
colleague, Abdurrahman Wahid - the ailing and blind leader of the National
Awakening Party (PKB) - the feeling of dismay was tangible. Shares lost
all of the 10% gain they had made in the morning and, as predicted,
Megawati's supporters on the streets went wild with rage, feeling betrayed
and cheated and dreading a future without any prospect of escape from
poverty and perpetual crisis.

They rounded on the forces of the state, beating them, forcing many of
them into retreat and setting fire to buildings, toll booths and vehicles
as they went. A Huge conference centre was burned to the ground. Clashes
and attacks on buildings were reported in other cities across Indonesia.

Reactionary elements were undoubtedly responsible for the three bombs that
went off in Jakarta in the course of the day - one in the early morning
and two more planted in vehicles amidst the demonstrations - killing at
least two people and further inflaming the anger of the predominantly
young demonstrators.

For the world's businessmen and capitalist politicians, the worst-case
scenario seemed to be unravelling. Indonesia, which should have been
entering a new stage of stability was once again plunged into crisis and

Just as dramatically, the next day, as the MPR assembled to choose the
vice-president, the Commander of the Armed Forces, General Wiranto and the
leader of the old ruling party Golkar - Akbar Tanjug - had both withdrawn
their candidatures. This left the field open for a Megawati win. Her only
opponent, when it came to the vote, was Hamzah Haz of the conservative
Muslim-based United Development Party who got 284 votes to her 396.

At the moment, this looks like a happy outcome to the crisis. Shares and
the currency have recovered. The fury of the Megawati supporters gave way
to jubilation and all the tears of the past years, months and days turned
to laughter. Suddenly the world seemed a better place. Given the strokes
and heart attacks experienced already by Gus Dur (as Wahid is widely
known), Megawati is now seen as "just a heart-beat away from the
presidency". Given the combativity of many layers of the Indonesian youth,
workers and poor, Imperialism, too seemed satisfied that there would be
neither chaos nor military dictatorship. But is the future now one of calm
and prosperity?

Gus Dur and Megawati have professed their allegiance to the capitalist
market and to a policy of benign neglect of the crimes of the military and
the cronies of the Suharto era - including the puppet-master himself, now
poorly, but still very wealthy. These two politicians may have held
diverging views about granting independence to the oppressed people of
Aceh or Irian Jaya, but they now put heavy emphasis on the need for a
strong, united Indonesia.

The military will expect a reward for the support given to both
candidates, it seems, by its automatic members of the MPR. Even if Wiranto
has decided against too provocative an open role in politics, the armed
forces will retain a big say in local and national politics. Even if the
promised reforms of the corrupt judiciary are carried through, it is
unlikely that the kind of violation of basic human rights we have seen in
East Timor by the TNI , on the streets of Jakarta, in Aceh etc. will
suddenly stop.

Given the economic crisis in Indonesia, few of the underlying problems in
society will be solved. Foreign debt stands at $77billion. Some say the
budget deficit is heading for a massive 18% of Gross Domestic Product
(GDP). The public debt burden has increased massively with vast sums being
paid out to rescue the numerous collapsing banks. The scandal over Bank
Bali's $70 million 'contribution' to Golkar Party election funds to buy
votes is still holding up payment of a $4.7billion tranche of IMF bail-out

Although this year is said to promise a slight growth in GDP compared with
1998, last year saw a still catastrophic drop in production of 13%. The
BBC's economic correspondent, Andrew Walker, says the IMF considers that
the Indonesian economy is in the early stages of economic recovery. "But
it will take many years to put right all the social problems that followed
the crisis".

On a capitalist basis, in fact, all the social problems will never be put
right. Western financial advisers are advocating an austerity programme
and a big push on privatisation which would cause yet more unemployment
and rising costs. No doubt Megawati and Gus Dur will try to maintain
subsidies on food and implement certain protectionist and populist
measures, but the Indonesian economy, especially as crises hit other parts
of the world, will come under enormous pressure to adopt 'conventional'
free market capitalist solutions.

Some reforms will obviously be granted at least in the early stages, but
as long as the government seeks to protect the interests of the big
land-owners and capitalists, many basic democratic and human rights –
freedom of speech, assembly, the right to strike etc. - will remain
severely circumscribed. The new so-called democracy has already proved, in
the last few days alone, to be paper thin.

Understandably, Megawati Sukarnopoutri herself seemed reluctant to come to
the head of a 210 million strong population that is yearning for real
improvements in their lives. She has stayed out of the limelight as much
as possible and even, according to the Far Eastern Economic Review dated
21/10/99, closeted herself with spirit mediums.

Gus Dur - a Muslim cleric, while declaring that religion should not come
into politics, is already subject to big pressures from the more
reactionary Muslim fraternity. Neither will be keen to open up the
Indonesian economy to foreigners and relations with neighbouring Australia
are already strained - Gus Dur having declaraed a 'jihad' or holy war
against Australian peace-keepers in East Timor!

The new government, itself an uneasy compromise between contending forces,
will not satisfy the different layers of society who today greet it with
relief. Marxists, workers, students, and other fighters for democracy and
social justice will be forced to pose the socialist alternative to a
continuation of capitalism in Indonesia.

Kerry Morgan 21/10/99