Suharto's isolation increasing

May 29, 1991

By Max Lane

A series of recent incidents indicate increasing dissatisfaction with the Suharto regime's policies among Indonesian business people and the middle class.

One of the long-standing opposition groups, the Petition of 50, last week both broke through a ban on media coverage and forced recognition from the government.

A controversy had emerged around the regime's travel ban on more than 17,000 citizens. The minister for politics and security, ex-Admiral Sudomo, said that only criminals and former members of the Indonesian Communist Party were banned.

Members of the Petition of 50, aware that they too had long been under a travel ban, immediately sent a delegation to see senior Immigration Ministry officials. This itself was unusual and obtained some scattered press coverage. The official told them that the travel ban still applied to them.

This policy was then reinforced by a new statement by Admiral Sudomo, who had since been to see President Suharto. He now said that people who might criticise the government overseas and thus prejudice Indonesia's foreign aid would not be allowed to travel.

Ali Sadikin, a leading figure in the Petition of 50, soon announced that there would be a court challenge. He also wrote to Sudomo asking for a public dialogue on the issue. To many people's amazement, Sudomo agreed to the public dialogue, which took place in Jakarta on May 21. A delegation of 11 members discussed the issue with Sudomo in a meeting observed by a number of selected press representatives. Following the meeting, Sudomo reconfirmed the ban.

The Petition of 50 announced the formation of a new group, the Forum for the Purification of Democracy, before the meeting with Sudomo. The other key leaders are Abdul Madjid and Deliar Noer. This trio clearly represents the new group's constituency: Sadikin, the more critical anti-regime military; Madjid, the still surviving network of the old Indonesian Nationalist Party; Deliar Noer, the network of the modernist, Social Democratic-oriented, Islamic Masjumi Party.

Media controls

Another controversy was sparked by remarks made on national television by a senior member of parliament, Sjaiful Sulun. He attacked the press for not having the guts to criticise the government. His statement was partly motivated by frustration at the increasing press criticism of the inactivity of the Parliament, itself a symptom of increasing middle-class dissatisfaction.

Sulun's statements were echoed by Police Colonel Roekmini, a member of parliament representing the armed forces. Then on May 23, the deputy speaker of the parliament, Sukardi, a member of the government's Golkar Party, called for the lifting of controls on the media.

Such measures as telephoned appeals to drop certain reports and revocation of publishing licences have made the media extra careful, representative in Jakarta. On foreign media, he said, restrictions are in the form of blackouts and suspension of circulation.

Djaffar Assegaf, chairman of the Honorary Council of the Indonesian Journalists Association, said recently that newspapers in the country hesitated to publish criticism of the government out of fear they could lose their publication licences.

Support for PDI

The electoral law allows only three parties to participate in elections: the government's Golkar Party, the Muslim-oriented United Development Party (PPP) and the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI).

The government has regularly interfered in the PPP and PDI to ensure their compliance. However, in recent months there have been some signs that the PDI may run an independent campaign calling for modest democratic reforms.

Guruh Sukarno Putra, the very popular son of former President Sukarno, who was deposed by General Suharto in 1966, has announced he will campaign for the PDI. So has Sukarno's other son, Guntur. All but one of Sukarno's publicly active children have now joined the PDI. Only Rachmawati, the most radical daughter, has not.

The appeal of the Sukarno children became clear in 1988 when Megawati, another daughter, attracted almost a million people to the PDI's final election rally in Jakarta.

Even more worrying to the government is a report that a large number of retired armed forces officers have decided to join the PDI. The press has not published the names of the officers, indicating that the regime is sufficiently worried to have applied the necessary pressure on the media.

Discontent with Suharto in the military is growing for a number of reasons: the declining political influence of the military, concern at the image of the military as the bully boys of the big Chinese and Suharto family business conglomerates, aggravation among professional officers at the cronyism and greed of the Suharto children and, in some circles, the continuing influence of nationalist ideologies from earlier times.

Another subject of controversy has been the attempt by Suharto's brother, millionaire businessman Probosutedjo, to stop the publication of a book on business and economic policy in Indonesia before 1980. The book, being published by an independent research institute in Jakarta, claims that Probosutedjo's company benefited greatly from the regime giving it a monopoly on the import of cloves, used in the popular kretek cigarettes.

Sources in Yogyakarta also express concern at an incident where the offices of the Legal Aid Institute were broken into and smashed after Democracy Forum member and civil rights lawyer Mulya Lubis and another forum member had delivered public talks there.

Foreign pressures

On his arrival in Jakarta on May 17, the Dutch minister for development cooperation, Jan Pronk, "bluntly told the government to end environmental destruction, allow economic democracy, and make greater efforts to alleviate poverty", according to AAP.

Pronk said that, although the government had made "commendable" efforts to reduce poverty, the figure of 30 million Indonesians below the poverty line was "much too high". While the numbers of poor had declined, the gap between them and the rich had increased, a situation "which may lead to social instability".

Pronk also criticised levels of environmental degradation and the extent of privatisation. He held public meetings with a range of human rights and dissident groups, including Setiakawan, a new, independent trade union.

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