Indonesia: regime under siege

Issue 

A short time ago, the regime in Indonesia was one of the most stable in Asia. President Suharto had been in power for 32 years and was considered invincible. Political life was held in the iron grip of the military. Those who dissented were imprisoned, tortured or killed. Millions have lost their lives opposing the military's rule in Indonesia and in the occupied countries of East Timor and West Papua.

Last year, that began to change. The economic crisis that rocked Indonesia in 1997 undermined Suharto's legitimacy. In May, a revolt broke out on the campuses. When soldiers opened fire and killed four students from the Trisakti University, riots erupted in Jakarta as the urban poor and workers were also drawn into the struggle.

As the scale and depth of the protests grew, the military elite saw the writing on the wall and Suharto resigned on May 20, replaced by B.J. Habibie.

But the economic and political crisis deepened. By October, 80 million people in Indonesia lived below the poverty line. The economic prosperity that the regime always promised in return for the lack of democracy and political freedoms was revealed to be an illusion.

In November, 1 million people surrounded the Indonesian parliament demanding change. Habibie was forced to make further concessions: he legalised opposition parties, freed some political prisoners and reduced the role of the military in parliament.

Waves of protest also gathered pace in East Timor, West Papua and Aceh as people oppressed by the Indonesian regime stepped up their fight for freedom.

Today the regime is under siege. Elections are scheduled for June. Habibie still holds the leaders of the most militant wing of the democratic movement, the People's Democratic Party (PRD), behind bars. In East Timor, Aceh and West Papua, the struggle for national self-determination continues.

Resistance looks at some of the pressure points on the Indonesian regime.