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THE NATION: EDITORIAL: Indonesians
- Subject: THE NATION: EDITORIAL: Indonesians
- From: suriya@xxxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Mon, 18 May 1998 13:20:00
Editorial & Opinion
It was the riots in 1966 which severely
undermined former president Sukarno and
helped catapult Suharto to power, and it
was last week's riots that sealed Suharto's
fate. On Sunday influential Muslim leader
Amien Rais predicted that Suharto would
last no more than ''several weeks'', but that
was not to be. Monday, in a surprising
move, Parliamentary Speaker Harmoko,
the number-three man in the Indonesian
leadership, urged Suharto to resign.
No doubt, whether Suharto decides to slog
it out or give in, his days are as good as
over. It is not a matter of if, but when and
how. If he were to dig in, more bloodshed
might be expected, but eventually he will
have little choice but to accede to the
wishes of the people and bow out.
So it appears that his three-decade-old
New Order regime is at last coming to an
end. Yet is it?
With number-two man in the embattled
leadership Jusuf Habibie expected to take
over the trappings of power from his
mentor, nothing much has truly changed.
The power structures which propped up the
repressive Suharto regime are left
untouched. The cronies who have enriched
themselves at the expense of the people
remain, and so does the powerful military,
the arbiter of Indonesian politics.
Pro-democracy figures such as Rais and
Megawati Sukarnoputri are still very much
out in the cold, just as before.
Over the past few weeks, the movement to
oust Suharto has often been compared to
the 1986 ''People's Power'' that overthrew
Philippines Ferdinand Marcos, but
Indonesia may not follow the path of its
neighbour, in which Marcos' end was swiftly
followed by a new constitution and fully
blown democracy. Instead Indonesia could
head the way of Burma, with Suharto asked
to step aside, much like former Burmese
strongman Ne Win, replaced by his own
men and continuing to wield power from his
modest bungalow in Jalan Cendana.
Apparently Suharto has stipulated a
number of conditions for his resignation:
they are said to include keeping the unity of
the armed forces, a continuation of his
development policies, maintenance of law
and order and the adherence to the
constitutional process. Yet read between
the lines: they mean an assurance that his
family's interests will be protected, that he
will not be persecuted the way South
Korean former presidents were and that no
major changes be made to his brand of
crony capitalism, which is why this switch at
the top is more a palace coup than a
manifestation of people's power.
The resignation of Suharto might well
appease some Indonesians -- that is what
his cronies and the military are counting on
-- but the students, having tasted power in
determining the course of the country these
past weeks, may not settle for the
continuation of a Suharto-type regime, and
how they respond to this week's
development will determine whether
Indonesia is to emerge from this crisis as a
fully democratic nation.
The reaction from the international
community will be just as important. The
world should treat this changing of the
guard in Indonesia as it did the self-coup of
the Burmese military junta in 1988. We
should demand, and the Indonesians
deserve, no less than genuine democracy.
The latest crisis in Indonesia has lessons
for everyone. Suharto now knows that ''the
people no longer trust'' him to deliver
economic prosperity, and the International
Monetary Fund officials who fled with
thousands others from last week's mayhem
might well take time out to ponder on their
prescriptions for Indonesia.
If they think that their austerity measures
would help stabilise Indonesia, they are
dead wrong. They do not need feisty
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir
Mohamad to tell them that: anyone could
have told them that forcing price hikes
would be suicidal. But no: there must be no
deviation from the IMF's free-market
dogmatism. After all, fuel and electricity
costs in Indonesia must reflect world prices.
Never mind that millions of people cannot
afford the 70-per-cent increase.
The result of this folly was an orgy of
plunder, pillage and arson, claiming the
lives of up to 500 people. The economy, the
stock market and the rupiah have all but
collapsed. That the IMF has escaped
criticism is simply because there is a
greater evil in Indonesia: Suharto, his family
and his friends.
Yet for those who clamour for an end to the
Suharto regime, the IMF austerity
measures, weird that it might seem, came
as a blessing in disguise. Indeed the IMF's
once-size-fits-all economic orthodoxy, far
from always bringing stability, sometimes
spurs revolution. Then again, perhaps that
is the only piece of good news for the
Indonesians this year.