INDONESIA: Widespread opposition to Iraq invasion



JAKARTA — On March 30, at least 100,000 people marched through this city's streets to protest against the invasion of Iraq by the United States and its British and Australian appendages. In the wake of the mass anti-war march, there are widespread expressions of anti-war and anti-US attitudes — on the streets, at artistic events, in religious services, on TV and radio.

The March 30 protest rally and march had a wide sponsorship, ranging from the radical left People's Democratic Party (PRD) to the Justice Party (PK), a conservative Islamic party. The rally was supported by more than 100 groups, including Catholic and Protestant organisations. There were contingents of Catholic nuns, in the midst of tens of thousands of PK supporters. There were smaller contingents of left nationalist Vanguard Party (PP), led by Rachmawati Sukarnoputri, President Megawati Sukarnoputri's elder sister.

However, members and supporters of the PK and other conservative Islamic organisations made up the overwhelming majority of the protesters. There were other Muslim-based groups, such as Vice-President Hamzah Haz's United Development Party (PPP) and the National Mandate Party (PAN).

Even though the rally was addressed by Rachmawati and PRD member and radical labour leader Dita Sari, the speakers list was dominated by representatives of the conservative Islamic groups.

Sari raised the need for a united Third World stand against US aggression and began a criticism of Third World governments working hand in hand with Washington. She clearly intended to criticise Megawati's approval of the passage of the US warships through Indonesian territorial waters on their way to the Persian Gulf, but her speech was cut short. The fact that several US combat fleets have passed through the Straits of Malacca was raised only in the rally leaflet.

All the other speeches, including those from the Justice Party leaders, simply heaped insults on US President George Bush, denouncing him as "Satan" and "evil".

Amien Rais, chairperson of the PAN and speaker of the National Assembly, also heaped abuse on Bush, but made no demands upon his government — such as calling for the withdrawal of US troops. Rais is the likely main candidate of conservative Islam against Megawati in the 2004 presidential elections.

There was no significant representation of Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), or that of former president Abdurrahman Wahid's Nahdatul Ulama (NU) mass organisation and associated National Awakening Party (PKB). Nor was there any attendance by members of Golkar, the governing party under ousted dictator General Suharto.

The PDIP has staged a few of its own protests and Megawati, as president, has had plenty of media coverage for her strong rhetoric against Bush and her call for an emergency UN General Assembly session to discuss the US attack on Iraq.

Wahid has not attended anti-war functions organised by the liberal intellectual circles or the mobilisations organised exclusively by NU in its base of East Java. The latter have been attended by tens of thousands of NU members.

Golkar has been more or less invisible on the issue of Iraq.

As the country moves into election mode, the three mainstream political blocs — PDIP (with Golkar, perhaps), the parties of political Islam (PK, PAN, PPP) and the liberal Islamic NU-PKB — are each becoming more active in using any issue to promote themselves.

A left bloc has not yet properly emerged. Three parties will be key to the emergence of any such bloc. These are the PRD, PP and the Bung Karno Nasionalist Party (PNBK), headed by Eros Jarot.

A fourth party, People's Struggle Party (PPR), could also play an important role, mainly because it represents a significant portion of the surviving Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) membership — although these people are now quite elderly and have limited mobilising capacity. They may be a large group however: prior to the Suharto-organised anti-left massacre in 1965-66, the PKI had a constituency of about 10 million people.

According to Dita Sari, most trade unions, while all against the war, have declined to mobilise their members in anti-war protest actions. "Most of the new unions are concentrating on local economic and labour law issues", she told Green Left Weekly. "They fail to be moved by the enormity of the crimes committed by the US in Iraq and also cannot see the link between the increase in US power world-wide and the ease with which neo-liberal policies can be forced on underdeveloped countries."

Sari says there is a similar problem with the student movement. "Of course, the student movement itself is not at the peak it was at the time of the overthrow of Suharto [in 1998]. But there are still many student protest actions around the country aimed at the Megawati government. There have been clashes between pro-democracy student groups and the PDIP youth corps. But the student groups are reluctant to join the anti-war campaign. Many are afraid that attention is being drawn away from domestic problems and that the Megawati government is escaping criticism on these domestic issues."

At the moment there are several laws passing through the parliament which are part of the political elite's gradual erosion of the democratic rights won by the mass anti-Suharto movement in 1998. There are new labour laws, laws on the functioning of the army, on the media and on presidential elections. All of these have dropped off the front pages of the mainstream press since the war began.

The government is continuing to raise prices of key commodities, including water. These decisions have also been overshadowed in the media by the war.

Megawati has successfully used her rhetoric against the war to improve her image as an "anti-imperialist" figure. Neither the press nor the anti-war movement has successfully raised awareness about the passage of US warships through the Straits of Malacca.

"The Iraq issue is being used by the pro-capitalist political groupings simply for electioneering", Sari told GLW. "I think the PRD will have to concentrate on building the anti-war movement through more genuine and militant coalitions. Already the coalition that organised the March 30 demonstration is backing away from more such events and seems to want to concentrate on fundraising for humanitarian aid.

"We will work through the Anti-Imperialist Front, which comprises various NGOs, women's groups and others. We hope also that FAI can join up with another coalition, the Peoples Anti-Military Front, which has been campaigning against the new law on the military, which gives the generals some extra political powers. In addition, the National Coalition, a broad front of progressive groups, will also likely cooperate.

"We will raise the issue of the involvement of Megawati in allowing warships to pass through the Straits of Malacca and will also emphasise Megawati's general subservient attitude to the US, especially on the economic front since this is impacting heavily on the poor people in Indonesia."

The anti-war sentiment in Indonesia is also simultaneously anti-US sentiment, focused on the figure of George Bush. Almost all Indonesian media, describe the US actions in Iraq as an aggression.

While most of the parliamentary parties criticise the US invasion of Iraq, they are all still angling for good relations with the Bush administration, especially in the economic field. The political elite in Indonesia has no strategy for the crisis-ridden economy apart from seeking more loans from the International Monetary Fund and a reversal of the collapse in foreign investment. In both cases, they see good ties with Washington as crucial. This even applies to those parties campaigning under an Islamic banner, even a semi-fundamentalist one.

From Green Left Weekly, April 9, 2003.
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