by Andreas Harsono
[Editor's note: Call it an interrupted revolution.
After the May overthrow of dicator Suharto, an uneasy quiet fell across Indonesia. In contrast to the historic uprising where as many as one million filled the streets in major cities and stopped the nation, summer demonstrations were small. Not that news improved; in July, the government announced that 40 percent of the population was living below their poverty line. One out of five Indonesians is at risk of hunger.
Then near the end of August, the Indonesian people rose again in protest -- and again, these events were almost entirely ignored in the U.S. press.
Most dramatic recently was the August 31 police shootings in Aceh province in North Sumatra. A protest demanding independence spiraled out of control as cars and buildings were set afire. Police fatally shot at least two and wounded a dozen more as the riot continued into a second day and protesters stormed the prison, freeing 140 inmates. The crowd turned on the military authorities as the government evacuated all 658 combat soldiers from the area. Civilians threw stones and insults as the soldiers fled.
But there was more behind the Aceh riot than random mob violence. Indonesia brutally suppressed the Aceh separatist movement in the late 1980s, with widespread reports of army atrocities including rape, torture, and mass murder. At the end of July, the local newspaper, "Waspada," printed an estimate from a non-governmental organization claiming that at least 39,000 people had disappeared since 1989. The group said that they had found nine mass graves, with up to 300 bodies in each. During the August riot, newspapers noted that the crowds did not chant "reformasi" [reform], as is often heard in Jakarta protests, but instead cried either "Free Aceh" or "God is great."
Also on August 31, thousands of fishermen on Java rioted to protest alleged bribery of fishing port authorities by wealthy trawler owners. Warehouses and boats were burned, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Police were given permission to shoot rioters as most of the area's fishery bosses, almost all of them ethnically Chinese, fled the area.
Most dramatic are the food riots, recently described in a Monitor 404 report. According to the South China Morning Post, new reports appear daily of looting of warehouses and plantation as starving people seek sugar, rice, coffee and cooking oil. The Indonesian newspaper Kompas reported on August 28 that rice supplies in some areas are depleted, and Indonesia's official Antara news agency reported on September 2 that "about 1,800 people in West Java province have already run out of rice, and another 84,000 are in danger."
Agence France Presse reports farmers are camping in their fields to prevent looting by roving bands, which have stripped fields bare overnight. Scores of rice mills have been attacked and cleaned out of all rice, including unhusked. Warehouses have also been raided, with 80 tons of rice stolen from a single warehouse in one night.]
(AR) JAKARTA --
who spearheaded the movement to topple
Indonesian dictator Suharto in May took up where they left off last week
and staged ferocious demonstrations at the parliament
building and presidential palace in Jakarta.
They demanded the prices of basic foodstuff be lowered, the end of corrupt practices, a trial of former president Suharto that President B.J. Habibie step down.
"Bring down the prices, bring down Habibie," read one huge banner.
Jakarta newspapers freely reported that the demonstrations were the biggest student protest since Suharto's fall on May 21. "The Second Round" read one poster. Another student's read, "The Second Wave," and chanted, "turun, turun, turun," which traslates as "go down, go down, go down."
Another protest took place in Surabaya on Wednesday when more than 5,000 students blockaded a number of streets through which a Habibie motorcade was scheduled to pass. Habibie went to Surabaya, the second largest city in Indonesia, to inspect preparations for a national sporting event.
Indeed, the protests reminded both the Jakartans and the Surabayans of the heady atmosphere in May. Traffic once again was heavily jammed and military trucks were seen everywhere. Private radio stations broadcast the events live.
About 2,500 members of Forum Kota -- a loose student coalition from more than 35 universities and colleges in Jakarta -- were prevented from entering the parliament building on Monday by about 1,000 armed riot police and Marines standing in ranks 10 deep, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Many radio commentators -- frequently molders of public opinion, here -- said that the students' demands are totally justified. The economy of this world's fourth most populous country is still sinking. But President Habibie is not capable, and not trusted, to mobilize the people to stop this painful and dramatic process, these influential critics say.
has been permitted to float and lost about 70 percent
of its value against the American dollar since July of last year,
prompting huge increases in the price of basic goods, massive unemployment
and even rioting in many parts of the country.
The rice price has increased from 800 rupiah per kilogram last year to 3,500 (around 40 cents) this month. Inflation is expected to be more than 100 percent this year.
According to the International Labor Organization, an average of almost 15,000 workers have lost their jobs every day this year, and two out of three Indonesians are likely to be living below the poverty line next year if the government cannot dramatically reverse the layoffs, perhaps through home-based computer assembly and cottage industries that earn hard currency.
The Habibie administration has tried to control the dramatic price fluctuations that have accompanied currency speculation. It decided in June to subsidize the sales of rice but ended up tossing the towel in the the face chronic corruption. One Habibie aide suggested that the government build a brand new cooperative-based distribution network for rice and dump the traditional government-controlled one.
Unfortunately, that did not work as well as expected. Corrupt civil servants and co-op officials collaborated to sell the subsidized rice at the market price. Police recently arrested a number of middlemen whose business was selling rice "delivered to order."
Economist-cum-coloumnist Kwik Kian Gie, whose syndicated column was rated earlier this year as the nation's most trusted opinion piece, wrote on Monday that the Habibie policy on staple food is "confusing" and will not stabilize prices.
Kwik equated the bad officials to rats that infest a state-owned rice warehouse.
"The obvious answer is to get rid of the rats," he wrote. "The government, unable to catch the rats, is currently trying to set the warehouse ablaze."
The protesting students said Habibie can never wage a serious fight against corruption since he is not free of such practices himself. His children, relatives and cronies have allegedly enriched themselves through government contracts and so-called "sweet deals" made during the Suharto era, when he was the strongman's lifelong protege.
Habibie, however, said that the Surabaya students only wanted to "shake hands" with him, adding that the media had over-dramatized the blockades and the melee that took place between the Surabaya police and the protesters.
"This is a very nasty development," commented Lt. Gen. Zen A. Maulani, Habibie's chief of staff, in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald Tribune. "I don't know [exactly what will happen]. But there will be fighting and bloodshed, not between the anti-Habibie students and the troops but between the anti-Habibie and the pro-Habibie activists."
According to General Maulani, Forum Kota mobilized scores of newly enrolled university students for the demonstrations outside parliament.
"They told them this is one part of their political education," he said.
He said that Forum Kota enjoys the clandestine backing of some prominent retired army officers in the so-called Barisan Nasional, or National Front, which is equally keen to bring Habibie down.
"I see a coalition of convenience between the socialists, the leftists, the nationalists and the former rightist generals who, 30 years ago, crushed the fathers of these young people," General Maulani said. "So it is not, repeat not, a coalition of ideologues or a coalition of interests. It is only a coalition of convenience."
Charging that Habibie's appointment in May was unconstitutional, the Monday protesters derided the country's politicians as "clowns" and said the proliferation of new political parties in recent months was worthless in addressing the acute economic problem.
"Babies need milk, not parties," read one banner. "We are not going to stop until change takes place," said student activist Eli Dahlan.
also refused to go ahead with public demands to question
Suharto, whose large clan has allegedly accumulated more than $40 billion
while Suharto during his long sojourn in power beginning in 1965.
In fact, Habibie ordered Attorney General Andi Muhammad Ghalib to question some Suharto cronies like timber tycoon Bob Hasan and cousin Sudwikatmono, but people remain skeptical that those businessmen will end up in jail.
In an unusual effort to defend himself, Suharto surprised critics by appearing on a television station controlled by his eldest daughter on Sunday, denying allegations in a pre-recorded message that he has a personal fortune worth billions of dollars stashed both overseas and at home.
"If I'm not mistaken, I was categorized as the fourth richest person after (the United Kingdom's) Queen Elizabeth, (Saudi Arabian) King Fahd and (Brunei Darussalam) Sultan Halsanah Bolkiah," Suharto said.
"But if somebody has evidence that I have bank accounts in Switzerland, Hungary or other countries, he could make contacts with Indonesian embassies there to transfer it to the Indonesian government," the 77-year-old retired dictator said, adding that he was ready 24 hours a day to put his signature on the transfer.
Most probably, Suharto does not have a bank account abroad. He would not ask his children to open accounts for him. The deeper question about his wealth is whether his children -- whose businesses range from tv stations to highway contruction, from clove monopoly to shipping -- enjoyed meteoric growth during his rule due to his influence.
Businessman Jusuf Kalla of the widely-diversified Kodel group told the Kompas daily that even a retired regent (a post similar to that of a state governor in America) in Indonesia is usually considered rich.
"How could a president who ruled for more than three decades claims that he is not rich? This is ridiculous!" he exclaimed.
The students believe that a trial of Suharto could prove that the Habibie government is serious and strong enough to lead Indonesia into a democratic renewal. But they are skeptical whether Habibie, a former close associate to Suharto, could do it. It is more favorable to get rid of Habibie and to let a presidium of prominent figures to lead Indonesia while the people are waiting to have a fair election.
Interestingly, unlike the May protest, the demonstrations lasted less than 24 hours. In the wee hours of Friday, perhaps tired and badly prepared to meet their logistic needs, the students slowly left the parliament and plastered their posters on surrounding walls.
But that may have been only the beginning of the "Second Wave." Many are waiting for more determined protests to resume.
Albion Monitor September 12, 1998 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor)
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