INDONESIA: People's congress call gains support

July 24, 2002


JAKARTA — The Peoples Democratic Party (PRD) launched its new newspaper, Pembebasan (Liberation) at a public meeting held at the Jakarta Media Centre on July 11. Almost 400 people packed the auditorium for a lively discussion on the need for a political alternative to the parties of the political elite in Indonesia.

Speakers from a wide political spectrum addressed the meeting, including former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid, dissident university economist Revrisond Baswir, Adian Natipilu, a leading activist from the anarchist City Forum (Forkot), PRD secretary-general Natalia Scholastika, and Dita Sari from the Indonesian National Front for Labour Struggles.

Aristdeded Kartoppo, editor of the afternoon daily newspaper, Sinar Harapan, which was banned under Suharto, and Akbar Zulfakkar, chairperson of the Indonesian Muslim Students Action Committee (KAMMI), also spoke. Also on the platform were two commentators from overseas, myself and Professor Jeffrey Winters from the University of Wisconsin.

There were also a number of prominent opposition figures among the overflowing audience. These included: Yusuf Isak, a political prisoner under Suharto and the head of a progressive publishing house; Sulami, the former leader of the women's movement in the 1960s who spent 14 years in prison under Suharto; and Gustav Dupe, a human rights campaigner and founder of a new progressive political party. Picture

The case for the formation of a democratic front was most clearly put forward by PRD chairperson Harus Rusli in his opening remarks and by Scholastika and Sari. They argued that the government of Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, which is implementing policies that are detrimental to poor people, workers and peasants, needs to be urgently replaced. The pressing need was to explain to the people which forces could replace the political elite.

Sari called on groups that recognise the need for a pro-people alternative to the unite as soon as possible. This core group should then start to convince others of the same need. She said such a process could lead to the holding of a peoples congress that could push the process of unity further.

Wahid expressed agreement with the general idea of a democratic front but argued for a more gradual approach. Wahid criticised calls for revolution, which had come from the PRD and Forkot.

Forkot activist Adian Natipilu initially rejected the idea of any united front. Forkot, which has shrunk in size in recent years, campaigns almost solely around the demand for a people's court as the solution to the political crisis in Indonesia. Groups which do not make this the central demand tend to be dismissed by Forkot as conservative.

Natipulu strongly attacked the PRD as reformist for participating in the last general election. But confronted with the support and arguments for greater unity between the progressive movements, he conceded that Forkot would need to consider such a project — as long as it supported the demand for a people's court.

KAMMI's Akbar Zulkaffar echoed the panel's rejection of elite-centred politics. KAMMI has an ideology that has been described as “democratic fundamentalist Islam”. It sometimes touts the Taliban as a model. By the end of the discussion, Zulkaffar had also said his group needed to consider joining a democratic front.

Revrisond Baswir analysed the role of the International Monetary Fund in Indonesia. He said that the IMF is using the economic chaos in Indonesia “to make sure it gets its way. Its policies are further ruining Indonesia and furthering the interests of the West. Indonesia must cut its ties with the IMF.” He joined the call for a people's congress.

[Max Lane is national chairperson of Action in Solidarity with Asia and the Pacific. Visit <>.]

From Green Left Weekly, July 24, 2002.
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