BY MAX LANE
JAKARTA — On May 30, an alliance of members of parliament from Golkar (the party of former Indonesian dictator Suharto), the armed forces (TNI), the muslim right-wing Central Axis parties and vice-president Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) passed a resolution in the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR, Indonesia's parliament) to hold a special session of the MPR on August 1.
At this session, the MPR will request that President Abdurrahman Wahid defend his government's record. If the MPR rejects Wahid's account, and his responses to the parliament's criticisms of it, this will amount to a vote of no confidence and the president will be asked to step down.
Wahid has so far been ineffective in countering these moves, in parliament and among the population. His first step was to issue a presidential proclamation ordering his minister for political, social affairs and security to take special measures to ensure security and law and order during the period of crisis.
Because there has been no serious security threat during this period, the military and police top brass have not taken any serious repressive measures. However, they have used the proclamation to ensure that they appear more frequently in the mass media.
Wahid issued the order despite public statements by military and police commanders that they would defy any move by Wahid to dissolve parliament and call snap elections.
In the week before May 30, Wahid uncharacteristically did not discourage mass protests to defend his presidency. For the first time, the pro-Wahid National Awakening Party (PKB) mobilised several thousand of its members over three days. These mobilisations had only limited effect because neither Wahid nor the PKB national leadership used their authority or access to the mass media to turn the mobilisations into a campaign in support of political reforms.
In recent weeks, the PKB and the Wahid government have attempted to introduce anti-corruption legislation to target corrupt officials from the Suharto era to investigate scandals linked to Golkar corruption. All these initiatives have been rejected by the Golkar-TNI-Central Axis-PDIP parliamentary majority.
Neither Wahid nor the PKB have placed these issues at the centre of the mobilisations. Instead, they have concentrated on the unjust and illegal nature of the MPR's attempt to remove Wahid. However, this issue can only mobilise the most fanatical Wahid supporters from East Java. The PKB's approach reflects its weak commitment to any kind of liberal reform aimed at dismantling the still strong institutions formed under the Suharto "New Order" dictatorship.
Anti-New Order coalition
The successful manoeuvre by the Golkar-TNI-Central Axis-PDIP alliance has added urgency to the moves to consolidate an alliance of democratic forces to resist a comeback by the Suharto dictatorship's forces. The mobilisations on May 29 and May 30, which included several thousand Wahid supporters, were organised by the Coalition Against the New Order (KNAOB).
KNAOB includes the radical-left People's Democratic Party (PRD) and related forces, key sections of the militant democratic wing of the student movement, several high profile academics and intellectuals and sections of the PKB. Megawati's sister, Rachmawati, has also given her support to the coalition.
The key demands being popularised by KNAOB include: the dissolution of Golkar because it is a corrupt party whose hands are covered in blood from the Suharto era; the dissolution of parliament and the holding of snap elections without Golkar and TNI MPs; abolition of the political role of the TNI; the trial of all corrupt officials and human rights violators from the Suharto era; nationalisation of all assets corruptly gained during the Suharto period; the removal of former "New Order" officials from all state institutions; the smashing of the "New Order approach" to labour disputes; and the return to peasants of land stolen during the New Order period.
Hundreds of thousands of leaflets promoting these demands were distributed in Jakarta during the May 29-30 mobilisations. Speakers from the PRD, the National Front for Labour Struggles (FNPBI), the National Peasants Union and other farmers' groups, and from the anti-Golkar wing of the PDIP also put these demands to the thousands of pro-Wahid peasants and urban poor at the May 29-30 demonstrations.
Even though the NKAOB remains a small force, with uncertain support from the PKB Leadership, it clearly has frightened Golkar. Golkar chairperson Akbar Tanjung, in a television interview, described NKAOB as the main hindrance to the removal of Wahid at the August 1 special session of the MPR.
The Jakarta police chief on May 29 told journalists that it was forces led by PRD chairperson "Mr Budiman Sujatmiko" that were trying to provoke confrontations with the security apparatus. He added that he would tell Sujatmiko: "Bud, Bud, watch it or I will smash you".
Sujatmiko's parents' house has twice been the target of attacks, with giant firecrackers thrown. In response to these attacks, the local police chief stated: "Who knows? Maybe Budiman did this himself".
In Central Java, anti-PRD leaflets are circulating naming PRD activists who are going to be kidnapped.
Mass resentment at the squabbling of the political elite for power is very great. This is combined with simmering anger at the masses' declining social and economic conditions. Cynicism towards the political elite can quickly turn to mass support for a political alternative that has is not tainted by the squabble at the top.
Figures such as FNPBI chairperson Dita Sari, who has emerged as the labour leader with the highest profile in the country, the PRD's Sujatmiko, academic Dr Arbi Sanit and human rights lawyer Hendardi could easily develop as such an alternative pole of attraction. If Rachmawati Sukarnoputri continues her strong stand against Golkar and the Central Axis parties, her presence would also add authority to the coalition.
The main factor slowing this process is the extreme hesitation by Wahid and the PKB to defend themselves by proposing even a minimal democratic platform. If they continue in this way, it is likely that the Golkar-TNI-Central Axis-PDIP coalition will succeed in removing Wahid and installing Megawati.
In this process, Wahid and the PKB leadership will also lose much of their authority among their own supporters, who have responded enthusiastically to NKAOB demands and arguments. The PKB will suffer the same fate as the PDIP. Outside the PDIP parliamentary caucus, the PDIP members are increasingly angry with Megawati for her alliance with Golkar and the TNI.
[Max Lane is national chairperson of Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor. Visit the ASIET web site at <http://www.asiet.org.au>.]