June 2nd 2001

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Articles from this issue:

Indonesia's next President?

Editorial - Reality TV or Feral TV?

Budget sets stage for election campaign

HIH collapse: another case of socialising the losses?

AFFA stalls on NZ apples issue

Straws in the wind

The Media


Greater role for Navy in the Pacific inevitable

Learn from history on drug abuse

Is the political system for sale?

Revised Victorian Tolerance Bill no better

AFA statement on the Budget

Vale, Tom Luscombe

Books promotion page

Indonesia's next President?

by Greg Poulgrain

News Weekly, June 2, 2001

Political jockeying in Jakarta could see Megawati Sukarnoputri become leader of Indonesia. Greg Poulgrain looks at the forces which have undermined President Abdurrahman Wahid and raises questions about a Megawati-led government.

Jakarta is on the threshold of a new configuration of political power. With the approval of both the army hierarchy and the Javanese Žlite, Megawati Sukarnoputri has already announced she intends to rewrite the laws on regional autonomy and reunite the archipelago threatened with secessionism.

In a speech marking the 36th anniversary of the National Resilience Institute (Lemhanas), a government think-tank dominated by the army, Megawati last week referred to Indonesia as "the sick man of Asia".

This apt historical comparison with Turkey when the Ottoman empire was facing dismemberment

forewarns us that Megawati will deal with secessionism in West Papua in the same way that the army is now dealing with Aceh, where the Indonesian armed forces have 70,000 troops.

Already there is a rumour that 40,000 additional troops are in readiness to suppress West Papuan demands for self-determination and independence, and this increase would make the number of armed forces personnel in both provinces about the same.

The "sick man" reference is a poignant but pointed reminder of the ill-health of President Abdurrahman Wahid, known as Gus Dur, who has about 10 per cent vision in one eye only, and other disabilities after having suffered two strokes. Unless a compromise power-sharing solution to give Megawati the reins of government is worked out quickly, the process of impeachment of Gus Dur will be prolonged into August, and according to some economic analysts such a delay may cause long-term if not irreparable damage to the state.

The allies who placed Gus Dur in office in October 1999 have now turned on him - Golkar (the party that kept Suharto in power for more than three decades), TNI (the Indonesian army) and a group of Muslim parties known collectively as Poros Tengah. They now favour Megawati, whose PDI-P party (Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle) gained most seats in the election, but not a majority. The danger for Megawati, of course, is that she will inherit Gus Dur's dependency on doubtful allies.

Foremost among these is Amien Rais, whose followers are mainly from the "modernist Muslim" Mohamm-adiyah group, numbering about 25 million. Despite Rais' poor electoral support, he was nevertheless elevated to the position of MPR (People's Assembly) Speaker, a far more powerful post than merited by the Poros Tengah coalition that he had strung together in opposition to Megawati's bid for the presidency.

When Gus Dur supporters (coming mainly from the "traditionalist Muslim" group known as Nahdlatul Ulama) last month threatened to descend on Jakarta in hundreds of thousands (they number more than 30 million), the police reaction amassed 45,000 in full riot-gear, anticipating fighting in the streets. Amien Rais was seen on national television striding alongside the chief of police, as though issuing instructions.

Rais, who was the main instigator behind Wahid's entering the presidency, has now publicly vowed to oust Wahid from office.

The lingering impression is that Rais, a US-trained university professor, is eying the top job for himself, and may well do to Megawati what he is now doing to Wahid, in order to achieve that goal. So strong are these two general beliefs that he has found it necessary to make public statements denying both.

Another so-called ally of Wahis was Akbar Tanjung (of Golkar) who became head of the DPR (parliament). In the election that brought Gus Dur to power, Golkar has now been accused of vote-rigging and accepting campaign funds exceeding amounts which have been set by law.

The right of Golkar to take part in the 2004 General Elections will be brought before the court on June 12. Another ally was Marzuki Darusman who became Attorney-General (where he has, so far, protected Golkar and deflected the sting of Gus Dur's intended reform, most notably by failing to arrest Suharto's son who has evaded authorities for several months).

The TNI-generals occupied six spots in the first cabinet, comprising 35 members. All efforts to usher the army back to the barracks have failed; indeed, the army has plainly become the power-broker.

Obviously, the warnings that the US Government would disapprove of any attempt by the Indonesian army to seize power by coup d'Žtat were taken seriously. What has evolved is a Jakarta cocktail.

The army, working behind the scenes since the fall of Suharto, has destabilised the democratically-elected government of Wahid by inciting unrest and will hold this same sword of Damocles over Megawati, if and when she becomes the next president.

Secessionist and sectarian violence has been the worst. Christian-Muslim deaths in Maluku, now shown to have been initiated and fueled by army provocateurs, are in excess of 5,000 persons.

Aceh and Irian Jaya (West Papua) are prime examples of how Gus Dur's directives have been ignored by the army. His preference for negotiation and reform has been turned on its head in favour of repression and brute force. Muslim civilians in Aceh are being slaughtered by the army, and many houses destroyed, all to achieve the goal of keeping Aceh under the control of Jakarta. Twenty deaths every day are now commonplace in Aceh, since the sweep in April to eliminate the secessionist GAM.

The Indonesian army knows no other way of bringing the far-flung people of the archipelago under the protection of the state. More than a century ago, the Dutch army took 30 years to bring Aceh into the fold of Dutch colonial control.

One of the attempted reforms of Gus Dur was to separate the police from the army in an effort to separate the killer-instinct from tasks that require crowd-control. West Papua, however, has been the exclusive domain of the army since Indonesian forces moved into the territory in 1963, and recognised it as such by officially declaring it an "Area of Military Operations" since the 1960s until the historic visit by Gus Dur on January 1, 2000. As a result, attempts by the police to muscle in on long-running businesses under army control often lead to conflict between army and police. But in most cases the victims are Papuans, especially now that the police mobile-brigade (Brimob) resorts to the brutal tactics used by the army for decades.

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