Indonesians to boycott rigged elections


Indonesians to boycott rigged elections

By Max Lane

The militant section of the Indonesian pro-democracy movement has launched a campaign to galvanise the general sentiment to boycott the May 29 general elections into an active movement to win democratic reform.

Numerous community figures, including Indonesia's most senior Catholic prelate, have made statements indirectly encouraging an election boycott. Sections of the officially recognised Muslim-oriented United Development Party (PPP) and members of the Central Council of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) under the leadership of Megawati Sukarnoputri have also made it clear that they think that many people will or should boycott.

In an interview with Radio Voice of America on March 20, Megawati stated that if she was unable to participate in the elections, then many people would not vote.

Banners and graffiti with the slogan "With Megawati, yes! Without Megawati, No!" are appearing at more and more political activities. This slogan reflects the single biggest reason for discontent with the elections, namely that Megawati and her party have been excluded from participating. While there are a myriad of other features which make the Indonesian electoral system undemocratic (the government is guaranteed a majority but controls who is allowed to stand for the opposition), this aspect is aggravating the most people.

Megawati is a symbol of defiance towards the regime. Anger at pervasive political repression, the ever extending web of corruption and collusion, and the worsening pressure on the impoverished urban rural labouring populations provide the underlying basis of the current political discontent.

The broader character of this discontent has been reflected in a series of riots. Provinces hit by rioting of one kind or another in the last month include West Java, East Java, Central Java, West Kalimantan, South Sumatra and Lombok.

These riots have had a range of different symbolic focuses: middle-class Chinese churches and temples, transmigrants, government offices, factory management and the stage upon which President Suharto's daughter as supposed to speak. In the city of Pekalongan, masses rioted and burned down his stage. More riots occurred a week later in the same city.

The participants in all these riots were urban poor and poor farmers living near the cities venting their anger at the massive gap between rich and poor.

Protests by supporters of Megawati against the rival puppet leadership of the PDI have grown. This includes a demonstration of 7000-10,000 in Jakarta on March 3 as well as a more recent demonstration in Denpasar, Bali, outside the puppet PDI offices. Police attacked this demonstration, and scores of Megawati supporters were hospitalised. Several days before, more than 5000 Balinese turned up to greet Megawati outside a wedding reception that she was attending.

Discontent, anger, frustration and protest are to be noted everywhere, but have not yet galvanised into a national campaign with a clear direction. Megawati remains very active in travelling the country and agitating her supporters against the regime but has called for no nationally coordinated campaign. In recent demonstrations, some PDI Megawati officials have tried to stop the masses raising the call for an election boycott because Megawati has not yet called on them to do so.

A network of action committees has started to develop around the country, attempting to lead and coordinate mass actions calling for an election boycott. Since April 2 protest actions by these committee have taken place in the three major Javanese cities of Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Surabaya and the Sumatran city of Lampung.

On March 30 and through to April 1, students at the prestigious Gajah Mada State University in Yogyakarta organised an 800-strong demonstration calling for an election boycott. The demonstration proceeded peacefully on the first day, but a picket on the next day was viciously attacked by the military, with over 20 arrests and several people hospitalised.

On April 2, a 1000-strong demonstration took place again, calling for the people to boycott the elections unless Megawati was allowed to participate and the military withdrew from politics. These actions were widely reported in the Indonesian press.

On April 3, 200 people representing 13 organisation organisations active in Jakarta and the industrial estate areas demonstrated at the national parliament buildings in Jakarta. The organisations included ad hoc Megawati support committees of PDI members, student committees from several campuses and a labour solidarity committee.

The 200 people asked to meet with parliamentarians but were blocked by the security apparatus. However, they were able to continue their rally demanding that Megawati's PDI be able to participate in the elections. They also called for Suryadi, the head of the puppet PDI, to be hauled before the courts over the murderous attack on Megawati's headquarters last July 27. There were no arrests.

On April 7, activists demonstrated inside the courtroom where People's Democratic Party (PRD) leader Dita Sari was being tried.

On April 8, in Lampung, South Sumatra, 800 university students, high school students and youth organised a march and demonstration from various campuses into the city centre. Again the demand was for a boycott of the election unless Megawati was able to participate.

The crowd started up a chant of "Megawati for president". The march was later blocked and attacked by the military. There were 14 people detained and several others injured.

On April 10, in the old Central Javanese city of Solo, students demonstrated in the main university calling for a boycott and for Megawati as president.

These demonstrations are just the beginning. Complementing these activities have been earlier initiatives from the underground by the PRD. They have expanded the circulation among political activists of their new publication, Liberation, which has been campaigning strongly for the election boycott. They also launched a nine city coordinated graffiti and poster campaign to popularise the slogans "Without Megawati, No" and "No elections until repressive political laws are withdrawn!"

The PRD has sent a letter to all the major anti-dictatorship political groups and several major moderate reform-minded groups, as well as to jailed East Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmao calling for a united front behind an election boycott.