August 29th 2015

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COVER STORY Same-sex marriage and the SOGI ideological agenda

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Canada: basic freedoms lost since same-sex marriage came to town

CANBERRA OBSERVED Abbott, Shorten fixin' for some feudin' next year

OBITUARY RIP Frank Scully, last survivor of the Labor Split

EDITORIAL Colleagues digging holes Tony Abbott has to fill in

EDUCATION There must be a better plan than Naplan

HISTORY OF INDONESIA Sukarno makes way for Suharto's "New Order"

HISTORY Fateful indecision: the tragedy of Rabaul

FAMILY LIFE A father's presence in the home: part I

SCOTUS: JUDICIAL ACTIVISM On the having of the cake and the eating of it too

LIFE ISSUES When an abomination becomes good business

CINEMA Spy sequel vies with a spy history repeat Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

BOOK REVIEW An important biography of B.A.

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Sukarno makes way for Suharto's "New Order"

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, August 29, 2015

Some time ago, shortly after the death of former ALP prime minister Gough Whitlam, I saw a young man with a tee shirt emblazoned with “What would Gough do?”

The grand orator at work:

Sukarno addresses a crowd at

the time of the Konfrontasi.

He was dressed in ragged clothes and his hair was in dreadlocks. I assumed he would not say, as would most people who had lived through the chaos of the Whitlam years, “mess it up like he did everything else he touched”. He was seeking Whitlam’s advice from beyond the grave.

Yet for the left, the further away we get from the Whitlam regime, the more heroic Gough becomes. The Dismissal? A CIA plot. His economic incompetence that put hundreds of thousands out of their jobs? A capital strike. And so on. The left’s championship of Whitlam may defy logic, but that can only be expected.

Sukarno as a Whitlam parallel

The Dutch had allowed very few Indonesians an education. Sukarno was one of them. He was an intellectual. He was an architect by profession; a good one, apparently. If we wish to establish a parallel in Australian politics, then we should look to Gough Whitlam. The same grandiosity, the same self-indulgent rhetoric, the same lack of interest in giving the people who elected him a decent standard of living, and total incompetence when it came to economic management.

Sukarno was the first president of Indonesia. The Republic of Indonesia was established on 17 August 1945, known in Indonesia as Tujuh Belas Agustus, although not until 1949, with the defeat of the Dutch “police action” to win back the country after the Japanese had left.

Sukarno loved rhetoric. He was, by all accounts, a mesmerising orator. But he was not a good administrator. While the people of Indonesia struggled to make a living, he was living out grandiose dreams of a new world order.

The non-aligned movement

His idea was for a non-aligned movement, situated between socialism and capitalism. The first Asia-African conference was held in Bandung in April 1955. Bandung is in west Java. Bandung is a nice city. When I went looking for the site of the Bandung Conference, people thought I was a bit loopy. I did find it after a while, but it was functional rather than spectacular.

The Bandung Conference was concerned with anti-colonialism, espe­cially in the context of the Cold War. Also prominent on the agenda were tensions between the People’s Republic of China and the United States and the conflict in North Africa between the French and Algerians. Sukarno positioned himself as the leader of this group, naming it NEFOS, or new emerging forces.

Zhou Enlai, the Communist Chinese premier, soothed fears over China’s intentions, including saying that the loyalties of overseas Chinese should be with their home country, a highly sensitive area for Indonesia and other South-East Asian nations. Ever the diplomat, Zhou signed an agreement with the Indonesian foreign minister on dual nationality.

The conference put the United States in a dilemma. At the instigation of secretary of state John Foster Dulles, the U.S. boycotted the Bandung Conference, fearing its attendance would alienate its European allies, many of whom were still colonial powers. The U.S. did, however, permit scholars associated with the Congress for Cultural Freedom to attend. This organisation is known to have acted on behalf of the U.S. government during the Cold War, so the U.S. was taking an interest.

The non-aligned movement over time disintegrated as the members came into conflict with each other. The third, or 60th anniversary conference, was held in Bandung and Jakarta in April 2015. Sukarno’s daughter, former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, attended, as did Indonesia’s current president, Joko Widodo.

The Bandung Conference of 1955 gave Sukarno a platform to parade his views. Closer to home, things were not going well for Indonesia. Sukarno introduced what he called Guided Democracy, which meant he ruled by decree.

Like many demagogues, Sukarno’s speeches were mesmerising. He was a great orator. His speeches, in Bahasa Indonesia, the national language, were full of jokes, allusions and wordplays in Javanese, English, Dutch and French. Sukarno was, by the way, reputed to be an expert linguist. By all accounts, his speeches were highly entertaining.

At this point, Indonesia lacked cohesion. Conflicts broke out in Aceh, the South Moluccas and in other areas of the new nation. The Chinese, who dominated commerce and retailing, were harassed. Sukarno objected to the amalgamation of Sarawak and Sabah, two British colonies in north Borneo (or Kalimantan as the Indonesians call it) with the Federation of Malaya to form Malaysia.

Sukarno launched a campaign of armed harassment (what the Indonesians know as Konfrontasi) in northern Borneo against the infant nation. British troops and the Australian Special Air Services Regiment were deployed with Malaysian troops against the Indonesians, who gave the appearance of being irregulars. The campaign was not popular with many senior Indonesian military officials and was wound up shortly after Sukarno was toppled from power.

Benny Murdani was promoted to run the Indonesian campaign in northern Kalimantan. Murdani, who was a Catholic, is said to have flown to Malaysia to negotiate a peace agreement to end the conflict. Konfrontasi is not something of which Indonesia should feel proud. The aims of Konfrontasi, if indeed there were any rational aims, were vague and seem to have only been intended to harass the new nation of Malaysia and the former colonial power.

Stunt man

As time went on, Sukarno’s govern­ment, if indeed it could be described as such, was little more than a series of stunts, such as the construction of the MONAS, or Monumen Nasional, intended to celebrate Indonesia’s struggle for independence. The MONAS, much beloved of young conmen preying on naive travellers, is a 137-metre tall tower.

Sukarno, by 1960, had introduced the policy he called Nasakom, based on nationalism, religions and communism. By this time, four groups dominated Indonesian politics: the nationalists; the military; the Islamists; and the communists (PKI). Sukarno came more and more to rely on the PKI. Indonesia was becoming so chaotic that apart from the army, which Sukarno viewed with growing distrust, no organisation except the communists could accomplish anything.

Communist pusch

The PKI was said to have some 3 million members, and was strongest in Java and Bali. The PKI was aligned with Beijing. It was the largest non-governing communist party in the world. Many scholars consider the PKI to be an expression of the abangan (the “red ones”), the peasants who adhere to syncretic religious beliefs based on Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and animism. Syncretism means the ability to hold contradictory or even opposing beliefs at the same time.

Two prominent Islamic organisations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiya, were opposed to the PKI.

In the early hours of October 1, 1965, a group composed of elements of the Presidential Guard and the Armed Forces, including the Diponegoro Division, collected six Indonesian Army generals from their homes. They were taken to the Halim Air Force Base.

Unfortunately for the plotters, the general in charge of the strategic reserve, Suharto, was not at home. He was at the Jakarta Army Hospital with his son, three-year-old Tommy, who had been involved in a scalding accident.

The coup attempt was not well planned. Suharto rallied the troops. The plotters could not have chosen a worse man to spare, albeit by accident. Suharto was highly respected and a natural leader.

The execution of the kidnapped generals enraged the military. The survivors took terrible revenge. Islamic groups and vigilantes killed at least half a million alleged PKI members. Mistakenly saying saya kiri (“I’m left”) instead of saya kira (“I think”) would have been a death sentence. Many Chinese were killed on suspicion of involvement with Beijing. Many more suspected PKI members may have been killed than have been accounted for.

The actual beliefs of those killed has been hotly disputed. Even the identity of those involved in the coup attempt has been disputed. Some scholars regard the anti-communist campaign as a form of genocide. There is no doubt, however, of the intention of the PKI to establish a “fifth armed force”, which alarmed the army.

Meanwhile, Sukarno was under house arrest at the Presidential Palace at Bogor, south of Jakarta. He was induced to sign the Presidential Order Super Semar, allowing Suharto to take control of the running of the nation. Semar is one of the best-known characters in the wayang, the Indonesian shadow play. Semar is a godlike figure and the selection of this name was no doubt meant to evoke a positive response among the Javanese.

New man, new order

Suharto skillfully consolidated power. His proclamation of the “New Order” was intended to replace the “Old Order” led by the discredited Sukarno.

Much controversy surrounds the role of the United States in the 1965 coup. I think it would stretch credulity to say that the CIA had no role, but what that role was no one has ever been able to determine with any certainty. Indonesia was certainly a great strategic prize, especially at the time of the Vietnam War. The Indonesian island chain is a vital strategic conduit for trade and naval transit by both the United States and Australia.

As for Sukarno, he was a prisoner in his own palace until his death at the age of 69 in June 1970. With the proclamation of Super Semar, which was almost certainly made under duress, he had lost all hope of returning to power. Suharto had become the dalang, or puppet master of Indonesian politics.

Under Suharto, the Republic of Indonesia achieved peace and stability it had never known in its short history. As for Sukarno, he was a demagogue who left no legacy except chaos. If you are a fan of Gough Whitlam, you would have liked Comrade Karno.

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