INDONESIA: Megawati becomes President

August 1, 2001



In October 1999, when Megawati Sukarnoputri won the consolation prize of being elected Abdurrahman Wahid's vice-president, tens of thousands of her supporters paraded around the streets of Jakarta celebrating. There is no doubt that had she at the time won first prize — the presidency itself — hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of people would have mobilised on the streets.

This time Megawati has won first prize. Supported by a coalition of the party of the former dictatorship, Golkar, the right-wing Muslim Central Axis parties and the military, Sukarnoputri is now president.

But there has not been one report of even a single group of Megawati supporters mobilising on the streets in celebration: no trucks driving around Jakarta full of the red flags of her party, no marches, no rallies, nothing.

That's not to say, however, that there haven't been any celebrations.

The members of the People's Constituent Assembly themselves were ebullient at their removal of Wahid and the consequent end of any chance of serious investigations into past cases of corruption.

A special party was organised for the "armed forces clan" at the officers' club at one of the main Jakarta air force bases. Serving and retired generals, admirals and air-vice marshals were all there. Retired general and one of Suharto's former vice-presidents, Try Sutrisno, expressed satisfaction and confidence in the new president.

And the bigwigs and aspiring cronies of Sukarnoputri's party, the PDIP, all held their own celebrations at the home of Sukarnoputri and her businessperson-MP husband, Taufik Kiemas.

Reports from activists around Indonesia point to an atmosphere of overwhelming suspicion of the new regime among the masses. The new regime is a regime of the parliament, and the parliament has become the symbol of horse trading, of manoeuvre and of cover-up.

Just prior to the session which ousted Wahid, for example, a special parliamentary committee voted that the shootings of students in May 1998 were not gross violations of human rights and therefore did not warrant trial before a special human rights court.

The pseudo-English term "money politics" has now entered the Indonesian language. And the image of a "money politics" parliament has only been hardened by media reports that all 700-plus of the members of the Peoples Consultative Assembly were put up at the five-star Hotel Mulia during the session that ousted President Abdurrahman Wahid and installed Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Apprehension hangs over the whole country. For some sectors the suspicion has manifested itself already in protests against any presence of the military and Golkar in the government and calls for the disbandment of Golkar and new elections.

There have already been several different demonstrations of hundreds of students in Jakarta as well as demonstrations in Yogyakarta, Bali, Lampung, Malang, Surabaya and several more towns. In many towns in East Java, such as Pasuruan, Probolinggo, Jember and others, the local religious teachers who had previously mobilised support for Wahid also attempted protests and demonstrations, sometimes under pressure from their mass base.

Outside of Jakarta, these protests have all been met with violent repression. In Lampung, South Sumatra, a hunger strike vigil was attacked with fire bombs, burning some activists from the People's Democratic Party (PRD) who are still in hospital.

In Bali, militia attacked another protest. In Malang, demonstrators clashed with police outside the local police station. In Pasuruan, East Java, more than 90 members of the Nahdlatul Ulama have been arrested and the local religious teachers harassed. In one district, Tongas Probolinggo, the military has banned all prayer meetings.

The bubbling over of active suspicion had already begun even before the election of Sukarnoputri, with a series of demonstrations of her own PDIP members, one of around 7000 people, demanding she cleanse her party of Golkar and military elements.

The new clique at the centre of power, the core leadership of the PDIP, is also keenly aware of the atmosphere of suspicion.

PDIP support ensured that the election for vice-president was won by Hamzah Haz, the chairperson of the Muslim United Development Party (PPP). With the combined votes of the PDIP and the Muslim Central Axis, Haz defeated the other main contender, Golkar chairperson Akbar Tanjung.

After the election, PDIP spokesperson Sophan Sophian explained that the PDIP thought that Haz would "attract the least opposition". A Golkar vice-president, said Sophian, would mean immediate demonstrations by the students. An open alliance with Golkar or the military at the very peak of the government would only confirm what everybody already suspects.

The PDIP's decision to support Haz above Tanjung may also be the first move by aspiring PDIP tycoons like Taufik Kiemas and Arifin Ponorogo (the PDIP parliamentary chairperson) to wrest control of the large business conglomerates from the old Golkar cronies.

Although Wahid was elected into the presidency with the votes of Golkar and the Central Axis as well as those of his own party, he was very much the preferred candidate of Indonesia's liberal middle class.

Wahid's last hours saw a stream of liberal figures go in and out of the palace, all wringing their hands as to how save his presidency and stave off the comeback of military influence.

A coalition of 75 non-government organisations, including high-profile institutions such as the Legal Aid Institute and the environment group WAHLI, issued a statement strongly attacking parliament and calling for new elections. Coming just hours before the MPR was to meet to oust Wahid, it was a useless measure.

It was Wahid's own fear of mass action that prevented him from making any serious advances, even in terms of his own liberal agenda, or ultimately of protecting his presidency. Again and again he worked to keep his own supporters off the street, a clear symbol of the Indonesian middle class's anaemic commitment to even liberal parliamentary democracy.

The last days of Wahid, however, saw considerable agreement develop within the democratic movement over key demands for the coming period, specifically new elections organised by an administration without the presence of Golkar.

The PRD, the coalition of 75 NGOs, Megawati's sister Rachmawati and her new organisation National Forum, student groups, the radical sections of the PDIP's mass base and the student wing of the Nadhlatul Ulama have all agreed on such a call. In addition, they all also back putting Golkar on trial for political and economic crimes during the Suharto period.

Differences still exist, however, on economic policy as well as on methods of struggle, that is, for or against mass protest. Nevertheless, the emergence of this consensus within the democratic movement is one bright spot of the last 12 months of struggle.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.