Progressive Indonesian website Berdikari Online said in a March 14 editorial that the recent US diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks exposing the corruption of the Indonesian government confirmed what most Indonesians already knew.
However, it said the leaks have further delegitimised the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
In his two terms of government, the editorial said, Yudhoyono has imposed neoliberal policies and acted as a puppet of US imperialism.
The US government has publicly praised the Yudhoyono regime for fighting corruption. But the leaked cables reveal that, in private, it noted the government’s corrupt practices.
In light of the mass pro-democracy movements shaking the Arab world, some conservative commentators have pointed to Indonesia after the overthrow of dictator Suharto in 1998 as a model for Arab worlds to follow.
Right-wing Australian journalist Greg Sheridan, who was an apologist for Suharto’s dictatorship, held post-Suharto Indonesia up as a model for democratic transition for the Arab world to follow in an appearance on the ABC’s Q&A in February.
Rudi Hartono, the editor of Berdikari Online, said he found Sheridan’s comments “ridiculous and painful”.
Hartono told Green Left Weekly: “After the popular movement successfully overthrew the Suharto regime in Indonesia, imperialist countries immediately submitted a proposal entitled ‘democratic transition’.
“In fact, the ‘democratic transition’ in Indonesia did not represent the democracy desired by the people. Instead, it produced new regimes that were loyal to the projects imperialism — the Gus Dur [Abdul Rahman Wahid] presidency was the only exception.”
Sheridan commented on Q&A that what he described as the “slow transition” after Suharto’s fall was good, as it enabled more “democratic” and secular forces to get organized — preventing an Islamic fundamentalist take over.
Hartono said this statement “exaggerated the power of Islamic fundamentalists in Indonesia. In fact, when a heroic struggle against the Suharto regime occurred, the fundamentalist forces were hardly involved in the anti-Suharto movement.
“Indeed, when the pro-democracy forces struggled to destroy all remnants of the old forces, these forces used the power of Islamic fundamentalists to attack the pro-democracy movement.
“They have chosen Islamic fundamentalism as the ‘third political force’, which is often used to attack or stem the rise of revolutionary movements.”
Hartono told GLW: “Indonesia is not a democratic country, but a totalitarian state masked as a democracy.
“Four times in Indonesia, the constitution has been amended without any process of involvement and consultation with the people.
“Also, there are at least 72 neoliberal laws in Indonesia made under direction from the imperialist countries and their accomplice international institutions such as the World Bank.
“There have been many cases of repression against people protesting in a number of regions in the post-Suharto period. There are still a lot of restrictions on freedom of criticism and expression in Indonesia.”
Hartono said corruption was the “most ridiculous and tragic thing that has occurred in Indonesia”.
“Some said that neoliberalism would challenge ‘crony capitalism’ and corruption. But an undeniable fact is that corruption has increasingly developed with the neoliberal recipe in Indonesia.
“Neoliberalism has destroyed the forces of production in Indonesia — from small-to-medium enterprises, large-scale industry and state-owned enterprises.
“As a result, we find almost no any space for wealth accumulation in the national economy. This is what fosters the corruption.
“Renowned Indonesian writer, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, once said: ‘Corruption is due to the unbalance between production and consumption.’ With the lack of space for the accumulation, and while people continue to be driven by consumption, the choice is corruption.”
Hartono described the condition for most Indonesians as “very worrying”.
“As the World Bank itself noted, more than half of the population is classified as poor — with an income of no more than US$2 per day. The destruction of domestic industries has led to about 70% of Indonesian people entering the informal sector.
“The LIPI Economic Research Center said that the richest 2% of Indonesians control 46% of national assets.”
Asked about the prospects of a “people’s power” movement being revived in Indonesia,
Hartono said: “The system of neoliberalism applied in Indonesia is facing not just an economic crisis, but a political crisis too.
“However, the conditions have not made the mass of the Indonesian people ‘awake from their sleep’ because of the lack of a significant alternative political force.
“Therefore, the urgent task of the popular movement in Indonesia is to build a movement of national unity that is anti-imperialist and in favour of national independence.”