Jakarta hunger strike sparks new alliance


By Max Lane

Prasetyadi Pancaputra, 25, a student from the University of Airlangga in Surabaya, went on a hunger strike in Jakarta, inside the foyer of the national parliament, between May 18 and June 2. He was demanding that the government reduce the price of rice, paper, cement and kerosene; end suppression of free speech; free all jailed activists, and end military intervention in politics.

One of the important outcomes of Prasetyadi's actions and the campaign associated with it was the formation on May 26 of a new political coalition of all of Indonesia's radical and grassroots pro-democracy groups, called the Indonesian People's Movement Front (KPRI).

Prasetyadi says he was moved to his action by recent repressive acts by the government. These include the arrest of 14 SMID (Student Solidarity for Democracy) students in Medan who had been siding with the workers' struggle, the arrest of the members of Alliance of Independent Journalists, the murder of worker activist Marsinah and the suppression of free speech.

Prasetyadi was also protesting against the recent beating and detention of members of SMID and PPBI (Centre for Indonesian Working Class Struggle) on May 1 at rallies demanding a nationwide increase in the official minimum wage. The 21 detainees were released after a few days, but several workers were severely beaten.

The hunger strike, which later moved from the parliament to the courtyard in front of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Indonesia, focused attention on democratic rights. After the first day, SIUPP (Solidarity for Press Liberation, a broad free press coalition of 37 groups) came behind Prasetyadi's action.

Apart from attracting considerable coverage in most of the daily newspapers, the action also drew in a range of campus groups, including the press from a number of universities. On May 22 SIUPP and SMID organised an impromptu open forum at the University of Indonesia as well as rallies against university security guards' attempts to pull down the tent where he was fasting.

On May 23 another delegation of 100 people went back to the parliament to urge the Democrat Party to add its support to SIUPP and SMID's demands. Seven members of the party met with the delegation, when Prasetyadi collapsed unconscious. He was rushed to St Carolus hospital in Jakarta, where he agreed to start taking liquids. He finished his hunger strike on June 2.

On May 26 many of the most radical and grassroots groups involved in SIUPP decided to establish the KPRI to continue the campaign behind three central demands raised by Prasetyadi: lower prices, a nationwide rise in the official minimum wage and repeal the political party control laws. These laws allow only the three currently operating political parties and give the dictatorship the power to determine party candidates.

According to Anom Astika, secretary general of SMID, the formation of KPRI is a major step forward. "KPRI brings together all the most radical and mass-based groups. These include SMID and PPBI as well as ALDERA [People's Democratic Alliance], PIJAR [Action and Information Centre for Democratic Reform], the university student organisation of Nahdatul Ulama, the biggest Islamic organisation, and a number of other locally based groups. With this kind of combination, we should be able to push the campaign forward dramatically."