BY MAX LANE
There are now more political prisoners in Indonesia than there were during the last 12 months of General Suharto's 32-year rule. There are at least seven leaders of the West Papua independence movement in jail, some now on trial for so-called political offences. During the last few weeks, at least 16 members of the civilian wing of the Acehnese independence movement have been arrested.
Mohammad Nazar, a spokesperson for the Acehnese Referendum Information Centre, is now serving a 10-month sentence because of his involvement in the November 2000 mass pro-independence demonstrations in Banda Aceh. Kautsar, chairperson of the Acehnese Peoples Resistance Front, is being charged with "spreading hatred against the government", a charge commonly used by the military under Suharto.
At least 19 members of the left-wing People's Democratic Party and the National Front for Workers Struggle (FNPBI) are still being held in police cells in Bandung and Jakarta for leafleting in support of strike actions.
The arrests in Jakarta and Bandung point to a shift back to using the state apparatus for repression rather than the paid thugs who have been used repeatedly over the last several months to attack the leaders and offices of pro-democracy groups.
This shift has been encouraged by the impending demise of the government of President Abdurrahman Wahid. Wahid's government has annoyed the military and other forces associated with the ousted Suharto regime because of his refusal to share power with them.
As tensions between them have intensified, Wahid has introduced legislation, now before the parliament, to make any officials charged with corruption during the Suharto era to be considered guilty until proven innocent, allowing their immediate arrest and even the confiscation of their financial assets.
Wahid has further angered the military commanders by publicly criticising them for using live ammunition in dispersing demonstrations. He has also attacked the recent decision by the military, Golkar and the right-wing Muslim parties in the parliament to vote against establishing a special human rights court to investigate and try military officers involved in the murder of student activists during the May 1998 revolt which forced Suharto to resign the presidency.
The military now openly acknowledges its allegiance to the parliamentary majority, comprising Golkar, the armed forces representatives, the Central Axis bloc of right-wing Muslim parties and Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP). In practice, the military has been deferring to House of Representatives (DPR) chairperson and Golkar boss Akbar Tanjung and People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) chairperson and Central Axis spokesperson Amien Rais, rather than to President Wahid.
In response to Wahid's threat to call a "state of emergency" — which would legally allow from the dissolution of the parliament and for new parliamentary elections to be held — on July 31, the reactionary bloc in the DPR has brought forward the planned special session of the MPR to hear impeachment charges against Wahid from August 1 to this week. It has furthers a vote of no confidence in President Wahid.
As Wahid appears to have only limited support within the military and police, his only hope of forcing the parliament to accept dissolution and early elections is to call for mass mobilisations to show support for such moves. However, he has constantly undermined mass mobilisations against the reactionary alliance, even when they have been carried out by his own supporters.
During February and March, hundreds of thousands of peasants from east, central and west Java mobilised to defend Wahid from the moves against him in parliament. However, demoralisation set in among the pro-Wahid peasants when their leaders sent them back to Java without any protest actions.
Wahid continues to insist that he can defeat his opponents by himself. In a televised press conference on July 20, he stated that a compromise must include the MPR giving up on asking him to make a statement of accountability to that body, but noting that the MPR could issue a resolution regarding ongoing accountability.
The most often talked about compromise is an outcome where the MPR majority allows Wahid to remain as a figure-head president but where an MPR resolution passes the constitutional authority of the presidency to Megawati.
Megawati's position as either president, if Wahid is forced out, or de facto prime minister and vice-president, if a face-saving deal is done, will depend on continuing support from Golkar, the military and the Central Axis Muslim parties. There is already talk of whether Akbar Tanjung or the Central Axis MP, Hamzah Haz, should become vice-president if Megawati becomes president.
The vote by Golkar and the Central Axis parties against any human rights trials over the military's May 1998 murder of students points to the fundamental concession the military desires out of the present conflict: a free hand for mass repression of workers, student and peasants.