National student league formed in Indonesia
By Max Lane
JAKARTA — On July 9-12, delegates representing 19 student activist committees met to form a new national student organisation, the National Student League for Democracy (LMND).
Participants came from Aceh, Palembang and Lampung on Sumatra, from Mataram on Lombok and from Jakarta, Bandung, Sumedang, Semarang, Purwokerto, Yogyakarta, Solo, Jember, Malang and Surabaya on Java. Two delegates represented each of the 19 committees. Since the founding congress, more committees from the Sulawesi provinces have joined.
Sofyan, from the Institute of Social and Political Sciences (ISIP) in Jakarta, was elected LMND chairperson.
Sofyan got involved in student politics in 1996, campaigning against big hikes in student fees, especially in the scores of private tertiary institutions that mushroomed in the late 1980s and early '90s. He was drawn into campaigns against the inactivity and impotence of the student representative bodies.
"I was involved, at one time or another, with most of the student political groups on campus", Sofyan told Green Left Weekly.
"Finally we formed the Students Committee for ISIP. It was one of the many campus activist committees in Jakarta, Bekasi and Tangerang that joined the Students Forum [a loose body of students from 30 campuses] at the beginning of 1998 when the student movement began to gain momentum. The student activists from ISIP participated in the May 1998 occupation of the parliament buildings through the coordination of the Students Forum."
After Suharto was forced to resign in May 1998, new debates developed. A central issue was whether students should be working for change with other sections of society. "During the student occupation of parliament in May 1998, there were student activists who insisted on checking people's identity cards to make sure that only students ended up inside. I was one of many students who disagreed with that", Sofyan said.
Sofyan and other students formed a new organisation, called the Students and People's Committee for Democracy (KOMRAD). "We chose a name that made a statement about the need for students to work with others", Sofyan told Green Left Weekly.
Sofyan was elected KOMRAD's first chairperson. "The LMND has a similar perspective. This is one of the ideas that unites all the activists in LMND."
Sofyan said there were about 500 "solid" activists of LMND and many more who could be mobilised for actions.
"The LMND is not affiliated to any political party. Some activists within it are in parties and others are independent. The majority are non-party activists. There is a range of opinions on different questions, but everybody is united on the need for all oppressed sections of society to unite in struggle."
According to Sofyan, a major challenge facing progressive students is to "build a strong national organisation that can fight effectively for our demands. The key demand is the need to abolish the political function of the military". The LMND recently called for the immediate abolition of the military structures that exist at every level of society.
LMND also called for the abolition for all extrajudicial military bodies that have the power to arrest people and for the control of the police to be removed completely from department of defence.
Finally, the LMND demanded the seizure of all the commercial assets of the military, whether held in the names of individuals or by "foundations". These assets should be used for the welfare of the people.
LMND will organise a series of actions in different parts of Indonesia throughout August. "Keeping the issues 'hot' is important", said Sofyan. "These actions are the best way to do this."
At the same time, raising students' political consciousness is a key priority. The mass of student activists are described as cair, meaning their political views and consciousness are not solidly formed.
Even on the question of the abolition of the dual role of the military, students support this demand for a number of reasons. In many cases, said Sofyan, students oppose the military's role in civilian affairs without understanding that the military can also be a tool of civilian elites against workers or peasants.
Another issue that limits the consciousness of students is their dislike of all political parties and politicians.
"There are many students who say: 'Why should we care whether Megawati or Habibie becomes president?'", explained Sofyan. While he agreed that there are as many Suharto-era elements inside Megawati's party as there are around Habibie, indifference about who should be the next president cut student activists off from linking with the popular sentiment against the regime, especially among the urban poor supporters of Megawati.