Indonesia: Youth key to new political party

In the lead-up to Indonesia's 2009 elections, a new left party has been formed. The National Liberation Party of Unity (Papernas) was founded on the basis of three main demands: the cancellation of Indonesia's foreign debt, the nationalisation of the minerals sector, including oil and gas, and national industrialisation.

Green Left Weekly spoke to Gusti Galuh Ratna Sari, a member of the National League for Student Democracy (LMND) and one of Papernas's international relations staff, about the new party and the role of young people in fighting for social change.

Papernas, which held its founding congress in January but began coordinated campaigning late last year, is a broad party that represents the interests of the poor majority. Sari explained that the average wage in Indonesia is less than $2 day and the living conditions of most Indonesians continue to worsen.

Affiliates to Papernas include the People's Democratic Party and the LMND. The new party has already faced intimidation from the Indonesian state: hundreds of armed thugs attempted to prevent Papernas's founding congress from going ahead. However, this may have backfired, with the resulting publicity giving Papernas's ideas a wider hearing.

Young people play an important role in Papernas. Sari explained the historical context: "Students successfully led the overthrow of [Indonesia's dictator General] Suharto [in 1998] by working with the urban poor. However, they failed to end the political crisis because they gave the leadership to the reformists. Now Indonesia is increasingly trapped in the 'Washington consensus' scheme under [President] Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's government."

Sari said this has led to a decline in the strength of the student movement. "At the moment, student [action] is very spontaneous, but we are trying to build this into a movement through Papernas. There is strong sentiment against privatisation, which has been taken up by the LMND."

"As part of the student-youth campaign program in Papernas, the LMND has been campaigning for education that is free, scientific and democratic. We are also fighting for the right of everyone to have work as part of industrialisation."

Before joining the LMND, Sari was actively involved in feminist campaigns. "I began to see the links with other injustices around me and saw the need to liberate people as a whole from imperialism", she said. "Thanks to Papernas, we can now reach a much larger audience with our ideas than before. It has also given us much experience. Papernas has allowed us to focus on certain important issues, which has made it easier to involve people."

Papernas, which plans to contest Indonesian elections as well as carrying out extra-parliamentary campaigning, also faces difficulties, however. "Papernas is not yet registered as an official political party. This is in part due to the undemocratic registration process, but it is also because a lot of our support is still passive. A lot of activists still need to be convinced of the need for such a project."

Sari emphasised the importance of international solidarity in the Indonesian people's struggles for justice against imperialism. "Activists in Australia can help us by promoting issues that directly support the resistance to imperialism in Third World countries, such as supporting movements for nationalisation and democratisation. Environmental issues are also very important in Indonesia, because Western corporations ignore environmental safety standards, which has a direct impact on thousands of people."

The Venezuelan revolution is making itself felt in Indonesia, Sari said. "What is happening in Venezuela is a stimulant for the Indonesian people to gain the self-confidence to seize their rights. It shows that another world is possible.

"For Papernas, the Venezuelan revolution has provided an inspiration to build the socialist project and to broaden international solidarity against imperialism. The mainstream media in Indonesia does not cover Venezuela so we formed a group, People Solidarity for Latin America (Serial), to raise awareness about Venezuela's positive achievements."

Sari concluded, "We in the LMND hope that there will be intensive solidarity and cooperation between activists in Indonesia and Australia in campaigns around global issues and against imperialism. The LMND and activists in Australia should build a wider international network in the youth and student movement to spread and strengthen the international working-class struggle."