Indonesian democratic groups form

May 1, 1991

By Max Lane

Indonesia's pro-democracy forces seem to be growing more confident as the 1992 elections near. The Suharto regime, with a discontented officer corps on one side and more confident grassroots protests on the other, is less able to control the political agenda.

Nervousness about the elections has been reflected in statements by home affairs minister Rudibi, who has urged government officials to ensure that there is no golput (boycott) movement. He has banned street rallies and marches during the campaign (which will not officially start until next year).

He also criticised the idea that there should be "political deregulation" along with "economic deregulation". In March, he stated that "everything should be controlled", referring in particular to the growing role of mass organisations, which have begun to overshadow the traditional, mainly community development, organisations.

During March four new political groupings announced their formation. These are the Forum Demokrasi (Democratic Forum), Liga Pemulihan Demokrasi (League for Restoration of Democracy), Alliansi Nasional Demokrasi (ALLIANDI — National Democratic Alliance) and Alliansi Kekuatan Demokratis se-Indonesia (AKSI — All Indonesia Alliance of Democratic Forces).

Democratic Forum is a loose coalition of 45 Muslim and Christian scholars, businessmen and human rights lawyers. Its declared aims are to challenge official dominance of political debate and to counter a growing trend towards sectarianism and social division.

Leading members include Abdurrahman Wahid, the head of the largest Muslim organisation in Indonesia; T. Mulya Lubis, a lawyer formerly prominent in the Legal Aid Institute network; Aristedes Kartoppo, dismissed editor of the daily newspaper Sinar Harapan (closed down in 1989) and now manager of a mildly critical defence affairs magazine backed by retired officers opposed to Suharto; and Arief Budiman, once a member of the New Order's anticommunist coalition and now a proponent of socialism.

The director-general for social and political affairs in the Ministry of Home Affairs said the forum would be allowed to operate only if it adopted a new name. He claimed that the name was open to misinterpretation and might remind people of pro-democracy groups in Eastern Europe.

As well, the forum could not seek to be actively political, function as an opposition force or restrict its membership. It should channel the results of its discussions through existing institutions and approved political parties. The forum has not announced what its attitude will be towards these restrictions.

Arief Budiman said the group's initial aim was to act as a catalyst for wider debate. "The condition of Indonesian democracy in 1966 [as President Suharto came to power] was quite good for non-communists", ers. "We could criticise ministers and the president.

"Then things got worse and worse. Authoritarian action was justified by the need for stability.

"So this is a very good time for all the democratic forces to get together, to give room for debate."

Budiman said the forum would operate "very carefully, working with some elements of the government, including some elements of the military".

The League for the Restoration of Democracy's leading personality is Haji Princen, the director of the Institute for the Defence of Human Rights and a board member of the free trade union established last December. Princen has been one of the most active human rights lawyers in Indonesia.

The league has attacked the election laws, which ban the participation of any new unauthorised parties and give the government big power in the selection of candidates. The regulations are also supposed to protect government officials from direct criticism. Certain categories of former political prisoners cannot vote or be elected. Other laws allow a third of the House of Representatives and half of the People's Consultative Assembly to be appointed.

"We are living under a dictatorship, so it is very difficult to say if we can achieve something or not", Princen told the press. "But it's a challenge, so let's just see what happens."

The league will urge the convening of the People's Consultative Assembly to call President Suharto to account "for deviation from the Constitution and other abuses".

Princen said his group would seek to organise down to village level, challenging the ruling Golkar party's monopoly on political activity in villages, where the majority of Indonesia's 180 million people live.

It was possible the group would develop into a political party, he said. Princen, who has served prison terms for political activity under both the Sukarno and Suharto governments, said military intelligence agencies had already inquired whether the new group would endanger national security.

"I said of course not, we will work within the law."

The formation of ALLIANDI appears to bring together a number of networks of grassroots activist organisations. The networks cover most of Java and Bali and reach out among peasants and workers. According to reports in some alternative publications, ALLIANDI sees itself as an alliance of pro-democracy forces based in different sectors: students, women, workers and peasants. It has yet to announce a program.

A printed statement issued by AKSI has been circulating in Jakarta. It is not clear who issued and circulated the statement but the political line has a clear left-wing orientation. It calls for

Issue