Suharto moves to silence parliamentary critics

Wednesday, October 30, 1991

By Max Lane

President Suharto is seeking to silence outspoken members of the parliament as his regime moves to ensure his 1993 re-election or a smooth succession.

Jockeying has begun over the membership of the next parliament and MPR [the "People's Consultative Assembly", consisting of parliament plus an equal number of appointees, which elects the president]. Suharto has repeatedly stated that the next MPR has the right to discuss the succession, not the current members of parliament.

Over the last year, several members of the armed forces fraction in parliament have been important in keeping the debate about "openness" alive. These people include Police Colonel Roekmini, Major General Samsuddin, and Lieutenant Colonel Syaiful Sulun.

Roekmini and Samsuddin, plus a number of more outspoken members of other fractions, have been dropped from the Golkar [the governing military "party"] list of candidates in the next election. Deputy speaker Syaiful Sulun, who has regularly called for a stronger parliament, has been dropped to number 800 on Golkar's list of 2000 candidates, ensuring that he will not be re-elected.

Speaker Kahris Suhud was also dropped. He had introduced reforms such as direct question and answer sessions with ministers.

Others dropped include the moderately liberal but still pro-government Golkar member, Marzuki Darusman, who is also guilty of once stating his own ambition to stand for president.

It is thought that the ultimate decision on candidates from Golkar and the armed forces is made by Suharto himself.

The move was attacked by the Petition of 50, who issued a statement circulated to all members of parliament. Petition of 50 leader Ali Sadikin stated that the "intervention from the top" was "a violation of democracy". Marzuki Darusman said it reflected the pattern set by "the captain of the team".

Minister of home affairs Rudini, who is in charge of administering the elections, stated that it was not true that the members concerned were dropped because of their "outspokenness". They had not fulfilled other requirements, he was quoted as saying in the press, but he could not elaborate on what the other conditions were.

Suharto is clearly opposed to the concept of a strong functioning legislature able to make the executive accountable. He made this clear at a meeting with representatives of the so-called 66 Generation — the former leaders of the pro-military, anti-Sukarno student movement which flourished briefly under army patronage in 1965-66.

Editor magazine of October 5 quoted Suharto as telling them that the balance between the government and the parliament was already good:

"Each is given its authority. If they had to be equally strong ... then there would ensue a trial of strength all the time. There would be conflicts, and that is against Panca Sila [the official state ideology]."

The struggle for "openness" has become more and more a struggle for accountability of the president, especially to the parliament. Suharto's moves are aimed at removing the most outspoken advocates of a stronger parliament.

In the wake of big strikes in August, a debate broke out among government ministers, officials and parliamentarians about how such protests should be handled.

Minister Sudomo blamed the strike on outside agitators and called on the armed forces to intervene. This was contradicted by minister for labor Cosmos Batubara, who stated that the workers were only demanding their legal rights.

William Bhoka, the deputy secretary-general of the official union SPSI, also attacked the government, stating: "I do not agree with the government using a security approach in handling workers' problems. It will not solve the problem, but just hide what the root of the problem is."

Golkar member of parliament Eko Syarifuddin said that Sudomo should be supporting the workers and not the employers, who were not paying the workers the legal minimum wage.

While this debate is still continuing, it broadens the issue of "openness" by raising the question of the role of the military in civilian political affairs.

Issue