Indonesia: 'The people want fundamental change'

Green Left Weekly's Vannessa Hearman spoke to Agus Jabo, chairperson of the National Liberation Party of Unity (Papernas), in Jakarta about the new party's campaign plans and its defence against ongoing attacks from right-wing organisations.

@question = What are your hopes for the 2009 presidential and general elections?

The Indonesian people want fundamental change. Since the fall of the New Order regime [in 1998], with four changes of presidents, Indonesia is still without economic and political sovereignty. This is the root of the problem of why the welfare of the people is still far from their hopes.

The government led by [President] Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and [Vice-President] Jusuf Kalla had a significant mandate from the people, as it was elected through the first direct presidential elections. They committed the error of siding with foreign capital and its interests, rather than choosing to defend the interests of the people by formulating people-friendly programs and constructing a strong and independent national economy. This meant the people lost confidence and hope in the current government and the parties that support this government.

There is still a low level of education in Indonesia, which influences the level of consciousness of the people. They continue to patiently tolerate the current situation and not carry out massive national resistance. But this may not necessarily continue, and at some stage there could be an explosive resistance against the rulers. These are the objective conditions facing whatever new political forces are able to carry forth the hopes of the people towards a new alternative party that can gain mass support.

@question = How is Papernas's electoral preparation going?

We are at the stage of constructing and expanding the support of the people, by building regional party structures, at the level of the province, district and city, subdistrict and down to the mass bases. We are sending our cadres to the regional areas that we are targeting.

@question = Are the recent attacks against Papernas meetings and other events by anti-communist groups a significant barrier for the party in its electoral registration preparations?

The most significant obstacle to us becoming a registered political party is the law on political parties. The draft form of the law shows that the political aim of the state (reflected in the attitude of the major parties in parliament) is to limit the number of political parties and in turn, limit the political participation of the people by making the requirements more onerous. Political parties that are legal entities — that is, recognised by the government through a verification process by the department of legal affairs and human rights — must fulfill the requirement of having a certain number of branches.

Under the old political party law, a party was recognised if it had branches in at least half of the provinces and half of the districts. The new law, currently before the House of Representatives, stipulates that there must be branches in 66% of provinces, 50% of sub-districts and 75% of districts. It also requires that parties provide an upfront 5 billion Rupiah [A$650,000] deposit to run in elections.

With this new law, only the ruling parties can continue. People who want to be involved in politics are then forced to be members of the large parties, even though the people are very well aware that the large parties, in the time they have been in office, have proven themselves unable to bring about the economic or political change that has been longed for by the people.

The government's attempts to shape people's political aspirations into three broad streams — like under the New Order where only three political parties were allowed — is in keeping with the aim of achieving as quickly as possible a stable political system for the sake of attracting and protecting foreign investment. Doing so will sacrifice the meaning and process of democracy in a large and pluralist country like Indonesia. This kind of action just repeats the past historical mistake of constructing "democracy" in a way not in keeping with the objective conditions of Indonesian society. If this continues, it will just be a time bomb threatening the political life of this nation.

We are working together with new political parties and parties that did not meet the electoral threshold to fight together against these draft laws, because they threaten the future of democracy in this country.

So the terror actions against us from reactionary groups like the Islamic Defenders Front are just secondary barriers, compared to those we face under the law on political parties. The communist accusation is like an old song sung over and over again by the New Order government. It doesn't have a lot of currency anymore as a political instrument with which to intimidate the people. People will be more frightened of their future being devoid of guarantees of any welfare.

@question = What steps has Papernas taken to defend the party from the right-wing attacks?

We have had experience in confronting these kinds of political attacks since the time of the Suharto dictatorship. Such acts of terror are threats to democracy and we will never retreat in the face of such attacks until the Indonesian people have economic, political and cultural sovereignty, free from the domination of foreign capital.

The most important steps are consolidating and safeguarding our bases and people. Other than trying to foster and expand our network of allies, we also need to explain to the people what our program represents. We also use all the means at our disposal, for example reporting these attacks, which are criminal and anti-democratic acts, to the police.

@question = Do you know who is behind these attacks?

Those backing these radical Islamic and anti-communist groups are forces who feel threatened by Papernas's program. The most urgent priorities in our program are represented by the Tri Panji — the three banners of national unity for the welfare of the people. These are abolishing the foreign debt, nationalising the mining industry and constructing a strong national industry.

@question = What will you do if Papernas doesn't achieve registration for the 2009 elections?

For us, the elections are just a tactic in the struggle to liberate the Indonesian people. There are many other tactics we can also use — of course keeping in mind the objective conditions and what the people's desires are. The elections will still be an important tactic in the context of a people's movement that is on the decline, so we will work with other political parties that have similar political positions to us — that is a program of national self-sufficiency — to respond to the election law so that we can take part in elections and have a real chance of winning in parliament and in the regional parliaments.

When we first founded Papernas, we only had 40 branches in 18 provinces, but four months later, we have 134 definite branches in 23 provinces with hundreds of bases at the sub-district level. People are bored with the big political parties, and based on a recent survey by an independent research institute, almost 70% of those surveyed said they did not identify as members of any political party. That is, the majority of Indonesian people are still a big "floating mass" [the "floating mass" doctrine was enacted by the New Order government, prohibiting political party activities at the local level]. So if there appears a new political force that can really struggle for the people's interests, it could win. That points the way for a new political force like Papernas.