Wiranto: 'No gatherings of the masses!'



Wiranto: 'No gatherings of the masses!'

By Max Lane

On June 25, the Jakarta daily newspaper Kompas quoted the minister of defence and commander in chief of the armed forces (TNI), General Wiranto, as stating that the government would take firm action against anybody mobilising the masses or any movement attempting a show of force.


Wiranto told a meeting of the Council for Security and Law Enforcement at the Cabinet building that, although the law on the expression of public opinion allowed such activities, “We all know that the election is over. The mobilisation of the masses within the framework of the campaign is over. Because of this, the government, in this instance the security apparatus, calls on the whole of society to leave behind the methods that were used in the campaign. Yes, the law does allow for this. But now there must be no movement aimed at a show of force. No gatherings of the masses!”

Wiranto's concern stems from two aspects of the current situation. First, there is simmering discontent among the mass bases of the anti-Golkar parties, such as Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDIP) and the National Awakening Party (PKB), that they may be robbed of a clear dominance of the new parliament by election manipulation and gerrymandering by Golkar in less populated outer provinces.

The pressure at the base is reflected in a statement by PDIP chairperson Megawati Sukarnoputri that she will try to keep her followers off the streets but that she cannot guarantee it. There are also many reports that the base of the PKB is very angry that they have been overtaken in the vote count by Golkar.

Second, the last 10 days have been marked by a resumption of protest actions by workers and students.

The coming together of the discontent of the party-oriented masses and those involved in protest campaigns has been the major threat to the status quo in Indonesia since the early 1990s. It was this combination that forced Suharto to resign.

Worker protests

On June 17, the national media reported that Jakarta police arrested 500 workers from the candy and biscuit factory Mayora Indah, as well as four NGO activists, including from the Urban Poor Consortium. The workers had been protesting outside government offices responsible for monitoring companies listed on the stock exchange.

The 500 people were hauled onto trucks and taken to police headquarters. They were charged with disturbing public order and released to await trial.

The Mayora workers had been protesting since April against the dismissal of more than 1000 employees. The Ministry of Labour had issued an order to re-employ the workers, but the company refused. The workers were demanding that the company's application to be listed on the stock market be refused unless it re-employed the workers and signed human rights agreements.

On June 21, national newspapers reported another worker action. The newly formed coalition, the Indonesian National Front for Labour Struggles (FNPBI), was mobilising more than 2000 workers for a rally outside the Tangerang Women's Prison in Jakarta, where their chairperson, Dita Indah Sari, was imprisoned.

The mobilisation had to be transferred to another location when more than 100 well-built “youths” arrived on the scene and attacked the 200 women workers who had already arrived. While the 100 youths charged the women workers, the security apparatus blocked off all approaches to the front of the prison so that other workers could not reach those already assembled.

The FNPBI workers were forced to retreat to where police trucks were waiting. They were forced onto the trucks and taken to the outskirts of the city before being released. The youths shouted anticommunist slogans at the workers and carried banners with “God is Great” written on them.

The FNPBI postponed its major mobilisation, but several hundred workers reassembled at the University of Indonesia campus later in the day, where they held a free speech forum.

The next day another worker action hit the press. Six hundred workers had occupied the garment factory Arista Latinindo on the outskirts of Jakarta. They were demanding the rehiring of nine workers sacked for union activity.

Newspapers reported that the workers were receiving food and financial aid from local residents and passing motorists. They had held meetings with management but had not been able to reach an agreement.

On the same day in the East Javanese town of Sidoarjo, 2000 workers from the leading cigarette manufacturer, Gudang Garam, protested to demand wage rises after the massive drop following the economic crisis.

The workers were being organised by the Surabaya Centre for Labour Struggles, a member organisation of the FNPBI. They were supported by hundreds of students, including many activists from the People's Democratic Party (PRD). They were also demanding the rehiring of three workers sacked for leading a similar protest on May 11.

The workers and students held their action outside the provincial parliament. Six students were arrested.

On June 23, more than 100 students protested outside the district police station to demand the release of the six detained students. The police crowd control brigade attacked the students, violently dispersing them. Several students were injured, as were a number of journalists covering the event.

Student actions

In Jakarta, students organised through KOMRAD (People and Students' Committee for Democracy) organised a protest on June 21 to demand the disqualification of Golkar for cheating in the elections. The police arrested around 100 students after the students marched from the University of Indonesia towards the National Elections Commission.

They carried placards saying: “Kick Golkar and the army out of parliament” and “End the dual function of the armed forces”. The demonstration was dispersed by anti-riot police, and the arrested protesters hauled were into police trucks.

On June 24 in Surabaya, students from the Surabaya Teachers College demonstrated in the city centre demanding the end of the dual function of the armed forces, the repeal of the law covering the expression of opinions in public and an end to the Habibie presidency.

The students carried placards with the slogans: “Habibie equals corruption and nepotism”; “Return the wealth to the people” and “Habibie's smile is poison to the people”.

The students called for united action between workers and students against military violence. Large contingents of the security apparatus were reported present, but the action was able to disperse peacefully.