By Max Lane
As the cold war continues in Jakarta between President Suharto and the army, the political manoeuvring of the main new player, de facto prime minister Habibie, has provided opportunities for another important opposition group to get into the media.
Over the last two weeks, key figures from the Petition of 50, especially charismatic former governor of Jakarta Ali Sadikin, have been featured on the front covers of most weekly news magazines.
For almost 12 years, with only one brief break in 1991, the Petition of 50 has been unable to get its views into the media.
It was formed in 1981 by a group of leaders of the non-communist Muslim, nationalist and Christian political parties that the regime purged after it came to power in 1965. A number of reformist-
minded military officers and student figures also joined.
The group has demanded that Suharto cease to be president, that the five basic laws controlling political party life be rescinded and that the armed forces (ABRI) return to the barracks and play only a watchdog role in political affairs.
Because it has not recoiled from direct attacks on Suharto, it has been subject to a tight black ban. At least three of its leaders — A.M. Fatwa, M. Sanusi and Lt Gen Dharsono — have been tried and jailed. Sanusi is still in jail.
The Petition of 50's tradition of never mincing words, of uncompromising opposition to Suharto and of strong opposition to a major role for ABRI in politics has meant that even ABRI has kept it at arm's length. ABRI prefers the reform groups which use more diplomatic language, such as the Democratic Forum.
In a move to improve his reputation as a political reformer, Habibie, who is officially technology and research minister, issued a surprise invitation for Ali Sadikin and his colleagues to travel to Surabaya with him to attend a ceremony at a state shipyard.
Because such an invitation was considered possible only with Suharto's approval, it immediately became a national media event. One commentator, himself one of the more outspoken members of Democratic Forum, Marsilam Simanjuntak, called it "Habibie's showtime", a name that soon gained national currency.
Much of the hype has been over the question whether "national reconciliation" — that is, between Suharto and his most uncompromising elite opposition — will be possible.
Sadikin and others did start to make compromising-
sounding statements, such as "We are not Suharto's enemies". Outspoken dissident Dr Hariman Siregar raised the question of whether the Petition of 50 was about to lose its uniqueness.
Siregar, who was jailed for over five years in the 1970s and has remained a determined opponent of the regime, said that the Petition of 50's uniqueness was that it linked its demands for changes in the political system with a change in the "national political leadership" — i.e. Suharto must go. "We have to wait and see now, if they are changing on this", he told the June 24 issue of Forum Keadilan magazine.
Sadikin himself has expressed a willingness to dialogue with Jakarta. He told the press he has even bought some new safari suits for a meeting with Suharto.
However, Sadikin also made it clear that he would not make the apology that Suharto demanded in 1991 in order that Petition of 50 members be allowed to travel freely overseas. He said that any dialogue must be based on a willingness to discuss the "perfection" of the five laws that regulate political parties.
Sadikin also reiterated the Petition of 50 position on ABRI. "ABRI should just be a watchdog. It shouldn't actively be involved in politics. It shouldn't be siding with any particular group. Now ABRI is proudly proclaiming it is a part of the Golkar [the government party] family. Well, they may as well change the name to Golkar of the armed forces."