Indonesia: Thousands demonstrate against subsidy cuts

April 5, 2000


INDONESIA: Thousands demonstrate against subsidy cuts

By James Balowski

Thousands of students, civil servants and other workers protested in Indonesia on April 1 against cuts to subsides on fuel, public transport and electricity. The demonstrators came out despite the Indonesian government's partial backdown on the cuts.

The government announced on March 31 that it would "delay" cuts to fuel subsidies, but it will go ahead with subsidy cuts to electricity and public transport. The April 1 Straits Times reported that Indonesia's President Abdurrahman Wahid told the media, "The government will review conditions every week ... and the rise [in fuel prices] will be implemented when we decide that the time is right".

It has been estimated that the price of electricity will increase by nearly 30% percent and fuel will rise by 20%. New taxes on soft drinks and cement are planned and there will be massive funding cuts to state universities.

On March 30, the International Monetary Fund warned that instability could occur if the government pressed ahead with its plan to cut fuel subsidies. On the same day, the parliamentary commission for mines and energy called for a postponement of the fuel price hike. Parliamentary speaker Akbar Tandjung said that he had delivered a letter from the House of Representatives to Wahid asking him to put the fuel price rises on hold because of its likely impact on the poor.

On March 31, Jakarta police were on alert and 4000 officers mobilised in anticipation of protests. On April 1, 2000 students from the National Student League for Democracy (LMND) and 5000 workers from the Indonesian National Front for Labour Struggle (FNPBI) trade union federation demonstrated outside the national parliament.

LMND chairperson Muhammad Sofyan told Detikcom (http://www.detikcom) that the protesters' demand is "that the cuts not just be delayed but cancelled. Aside from this, don't abolish education subsides but raise them." FNPBI president Dita Sari told Detikcom that her federation had mobilised workers to demand that the price rises be cancelled.

The LMND and FNPBI activists stayed at the parliament overnight and held a "long march" to the presidential palace on April 2. The LMND erected a flag on the parliamentary building which read "IMF neo-imperialism: the source of disaster, go to hell".

Detikcom also reported that large demonstrations had occurred in Makasar, South Sulawesi, where thousands of students took to the streets setting fire to old tyres. Like those in Jakarta, the protesters demanded that the fuel subsidy cuts be cancelled.

About 100 workers from the FNPBI also held a long march to the regional parliament to demand a 100% increase in the regional minimum wage (instead of the 25% proposed by the government) and an end to sackings.

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