Indonesian student power


By Angela Luvera

On May 21 last year, Indonesian dictator Suharto was forced to resign. The military's killing of four students at the University of Trisakti on May 12 triggered massive protests and riots in Jakarta on May 13-14, which culminated in thousands of students occupying the parliamentary grounds. The regime decided to sacrifice Suharto in an attempt to quell the mass movement for democratic change.

From May to November, there was a mushrooming of small- and medium-scale demonstrations, including occupations of golf courses on land confiscated by the regime, demands for local bureaucrats to step down and occupations of radio and TV stations.

In November, the size of these demonstrations swelled to more than 1 million as students mobilised around a special session of the Indonesian parliament. Twelve people were killed in battles with the military on November 13.

The regime was forced to make a range of concessions to the movement. Independent trade unions, political parties and other organisations were legalised, and 48 parties have now passed the screening process to participate in elections. Political prisoners were released, including all Indonesian Communist Party prisoners, in jail since 1965. However, 20 prisoners, including eight members of the People's Democratic Party (PRD), are still in jail.

The regime announced that elections will be held on June 7, although the military appears to be still prepared to crack down on the democracy movement (see article on page 1).

Since the bloody rise to power of Suharto in 1965, students have played a central role in Indonesia's democracy movement. In 1978, the protests and increasing organisation of students prompted the military to occupy campuses and push through the "normalisation of campus life", which banned student political activity.

Over the last year, students have inspired workers, peasants and the urban poor to take to the streets and demand change. Students have also played a key role in determining the demands that have been raised in the popular protests: demonstrators calling for a reduction in the price of basic commodities and an end to corruption in politics were encouraged by students to demand also an end to the dual role of the military (in civilian and political life).

On April 13, nationally coordinated student protests began demanding free and fair elections. I went to the protest in Jakarta, and it was the most awesome protest I have ever been a part of! It was made up of two contingents of around 1500 people, both of which were confronted by the military, defiantly referred to as monyet (monkeys) by the students. The military attacked the contingent led by Komrad (Student and People's Committee for Democracy), injuring nine people and arresting 52.

That day, a convoy of buses cruised the streets of Jakarta receiving huge support from the people. From the top of our bus we yelled, "Long live the Indonesian people" and "The people united will never be defeated!".

The following day, the National Discussion on Strategies of the Student Movement was held in Jakarta, initiated by the PRD. The forum assessed the state of the student movement, how to approach the June 7 elections, solidarity with the struggle for independence in East Timor and the impact of Indonesian students on the international student movement. Danny Fairfax and myself from Resistance presented talks on the international student movement.

The struggle for democracy in Indonesia is not over. The military still intervenes at every level of society. Despite President Habibie's rhetoric, the Indonesian people still have extremely limited democratic rights.

Indonesia's students will continue to play a major role in the democracy movement and will continue to show us that students, when mobilised, can change the world.

[Angela Luvera is on the National Union of Students' NSW Women's Committee.]