Back to Common Ground Archive


Program 0140
October 2, 2001

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.

A LEADING DEMONSTRATOR: [via an interpreter]: He said, “Long live Indonesia!”

KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, crisis in the world’s largest Muslim country.

SILVIA TIWON: I think it is important that the military not merely mouth the term “professionalism,” but really show that they are under the control of the civilians. I don’t see that happening just yet.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, DC, much of the world’s attention is being focused on Afghanistan, the Middle East, and the Persian Gulf. But you may be surprised to learn that Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country. Last July, amid political turmoil, terrorist bombs exploded in Indonesia. Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in the streets. A special assembly voted to remove the president. When it was all over Megawati Sukarnoputri emerged as Indonesia’s new leader.

MCHUGH: But analysts say she will have a tough time running the volatile country. Common Ground special correspondent Reese Ehrlich was in Indonesia during those fateful days in July. For the next two weeks Reese will recall his experiences and the challenges facing the new government. We begin our two-part special report on the crisis in Indonesia with the delicate transfer of power.

REESE EHRLICH: Tensions were rising all over Jakarta. President Abdurrahman Wahid had issued an emergency decree dissolving Parliament. Wahid had been in office only 21 months and now a special consultative assembly was about to vote on removing him. Translator Max Surjadinata and I jumped in a taxi and headed over to the Parliament building.

[sound of the taxi’s dispatch radio playing in the background.]

EHRLICH: The taxi driver was among the many Indonesians who still supported President Wahid

EHRLICH: [speaking to the taxi driver through the interpreter] What does he think the President should do?

[The interpreter asks the taxi driver the question]

INDONESIAN TAXI DRIVER: [speaking through the interpreter] In his opinion the President should hold his ground until five years hence. He was elected for five years.

[The taxi driver speaks again]

INDONESIAN TAXI DRIVER: [speaking through the interpreter] It will effect the people below. He agrees with the President’s firmness. He is courageous and it is clear he is a true Muslim.

EHRLICH: Indonesia, with 225 million people, is the world’s largest Muslim nation. And President Wahid is the former head of the country’s largest Muslim organization. But many Muslims also oppose the President, including a large majority in Parliament. More importantly, the military, the real power in Indonesia, also opposes him.

[Sounds of a large public demonstration]

EHRLICH: Arriving outside the Parliament grounds, hundreds of people are milling around. Inside the gates, soldiers armed with assault rifles are bivouacked next to their armored vehicles. They guard delegates to the People’s Consultative Assembly. Under Indonesia’s constitution the Assembly can remove a president for major crimes, much like impeaching an American president. In reality President Wahid was being removed because he had lost favor with powerful elements in Indonesian society. Syamsul Mú Arif admits as much. He’s parliamentary leader of Golkar, one of the major opposition parties.

SYAMSUL MÚ ARIF: [via an interpreter] What are his sins that he should be replaced? Since he took office in the area of economics and politics and national security-in terms of law enforcement-we were not really pleased with his performances in those areas.

EHRLICH: That’s not surprising since Golkar was the party of former dictator Suharto, who ruled the country from 1965 to 1998. Wahid had tried to jail corrupt former officials and prosecute military men for human rights abuses. But Wahid was also unable to turn around the country’s severe economic crisis, which eroded his popular base of support. Meanwhile Wahid cabinet members and other officials were accused of corruption. Al Bin Lee is a member of Parliament from the political party of Megawati Sukarnoputri.

AL BIN LIE: I do not believe that Indonesia is blaming Wahid for not achieving success. We can, we thoroughly understand that what we are going through is not an easy problem to solve. So while we can tolerate failures and some unsuccessful attempts we cannot tolerate a government that is not honest to the people. The reason why we had Wahid as president in the first place is that because we had the hope that given his religious background he could be a trustworthy person.

EHRLICH: Lee says Wahid’s credibility was weakened when the president admitted accepting large amounts of money, supposedly for personal, not political use.

AL BIN LIE: While it is still up to the court of law to prove whether or not he was directly involved, and he should be responsible for that, the parliament focuses on the moral side of that. The fact that he publicly announced that he received $2 million from the Sultan of Brunei, that itself, we believe, has breached the trust of the public.

EHRLICH: But this was more than a struggle among politicians. On the first day that the Consultative Assembly convened, someone exploded bombs in Catholic and Protestant churches, injuring 70 worshippers. So far no one has been arrested. Many Indonesians think elements within the military are responsible. Human rights attorney Johnson Panjaitan represents several low-ranking soldiers accused of a similar political bombing last year. He suspects that military supporters of ex-dictator Suharto bombed the Jakarta stock exchange in December 2000 in an attempt to destabilize President Wahid, known by his nickname, “Gus Dur.”

JOHNSON PANJAITAN: [via an interpreter] Every time President Suharto was implicated there would be some bombings or things of that sort happening. At that time Gus Dur is trying to replace some of the military leadership. Certainly there would be measures taken in order to prevent Gus Dur from accomplishing those efforts.

EHRLICH: Panjaitan says he has solid evidence of a military connection in the stock exchange bombing.

PANJAITAN: [via an interpreter] It is our information that the bomb that he utilizes originated with Kosrat in the military. And the process is only to the point of calling witnesses and him being accused. We are concerned to resolve this because up to the present none of these bombings has been resolved.

EHRLICH: Is it conceivable to you that a second corporal could carry out a bombing of the stock exchange and kill so many people without having orders from above.

PANJAITAN: [via an interpreter] When we first received the case we were informed by the police that these bombs originated from the military. And that’s why we are determined to try to get at the bottom of this.

EHRLICH: But it’s not just the political progressives who suspect the military. So does member of parliament Mú Arif, whose right-wing Golkar Party has close ties to the army.

MÚ ARIF: [via an interpreter] Suharto has many children. And they have followers among the military. The military is trying to control those wild, the wild elements. If a national reconciliation is to take place, that these people would not do those underhanded things.

EHRLICH: If the terror bombings were aimed at destabilizing Wahid’s presidency, however, they didn’t intimidate his followers.

[Sounds of a large public demonstration]

EHRLICH: On July 23 the Consultative Assembly voted to remove Wahid and swore in Megawati Sukarnoputri as president. In a last-ditch effort to save Wahid his supporters from around the country flooded into Jakarta and held a massive rally in front of the presidential palace that night. Young people stood carrying huge flags, and occasionally pounded the flag poles on the ground in anger.

[sound of the flag poles being pounded against the ground]

[someone speaking over a loudspeaker at a large public demonstration]

A LEADING DEMONSTRATOR: [via an interpreter] He said, “Long live Indonesia!” “Long live Gus Dur!” He said the parliament no longer speaks from their hearts. They are merely concerned with their own self interest and their own positions. They are acting against the constitution and against the nation.

[The crowd applauds]

EHRLICH: This Gus Dur supporter form Jember, in East Java, excited the crowd with a combination of populism and calls for Islamic solidarity.

A LEADING DEMONSTRATOR: [via an interpreter] We from Jember are the regular people, the ordinary people. We know that the economic system of the old order is capitalism. The poor becomes poorer. Gus Dur has attempted to raise the standards of living of the poor people. Therefore let us stand firmly to support him. If those of you who are present are really a religious people then you have to support our President!”

[sound of another street demonstration, with chanting, singing, and clapping]

EHRLICH: Some of Wahid’s supporters urged him to refuse to leave the presidential palace and provoke a confrontation with Parliament. This student called for mobilizing people’s power.

INDONESIA STUDENT: [via an interpreter] The tyranny of the legislature has to be opposed by the power of the people. And the people should remain here in front of the palace to support him.

EHRLICH: But such talk proved empty. After a huge nighttime rally demonstrators dispersed without incident. Few came back the next day. Wahid had failed to generate enough popular support to overcome the many forces arrayed against him. Soedjati Dijwandono, of the Research Institute for Democracy and Peace in Jakarta, says Indonesians are fed up with politicians of all stripes.

Soedjati Dijwandono: The people are fed up with what has been going on among the elite. Most people think that these politicians are not really thinking of their interests anyway. They think of their own interests or the interests of their political parties. And they are, they have been busy cow trading, you know.

EHRLICH: Within a few days Wahid left the presidential palace and went to the U.S. for a medical checkup. Gunawan Mohammed, a columnist for Tempo Magazine, says Wahid had a lot of good ideas, but no sense of practical politics.

Gunawan Mohammed: The problem is with Wahid is he has vision but he doesn’t have strategy. And that’s bad. You are a chief executive. You are not the prophet..

EHRLICH: So in other words he has this long-term vision of what he’d like to do but no way of carrying it out?

Gunawan Mohammed: No. That’s always his problem. That’s why I don’t think, I never thought that he would be a good president. He is a good prophet.

EHRLICH: Muhammed points out that Wahid was a learned Muslim scholar who had once headed a religious school. He says that intellectual background was both a strength and weakness.

Gunawan Mohammed: He tends to be more like a writer than a president. He likes to talk with people with original, shocking ideas. But he doesn’t know how to time, to throw strategy to mobilize people. He alienates his, even supporters. You know, it’s like a writer. A writer among a writer doesn’t care about the public.

EHRLICH: Silvia Tiwon, who teaches Indonesian Studies at the University of California-Berkeley, says Wahid should never have become president back in 1998. Megawati had won the plurality of votes in that year’s presidential election but Wahid came to power through back room political deals. While he had a progressive political platform, she says he never had the support to carry it out.

SILVIA TIWON: His biggest mistake was to accept the presidency. I respect him as a person, I respect his values, and I really, really respect him for having tried to fight for human rights, women’s rights, and for that I think he deserves commendation. However, accepting the presidency at that time, just after the general elections, ensured that the whole process, the whole democratic process, became screwed up.

EHRLICH: By the end of July Wahid was out and President Megawatti was in. But even now, few Indonesians know her political views, according to analyst Juwandono.

Soedjati Dijwandono: She always keeps silent. So she keeps everybody guessing by her silence. But what does that silence mean? I don’t know. Perhaps she doesn’t even know much. Whether she learns a lot, whether she is a learner or, I don’t know. Very few people really understand what, what she stands for.

EHRLICH: But Megawatti can’t remain silent forever. As we’ll find out in Part II of this special, “Crisis in Indonesia.”

[sound of Indonesian music]

MCHUGH: Common Ground Special Correspondent Reese Ehrlich got a firsthand look at the recent political turmoil in Indonesia. In the first segment of his special report, “Crisis in Indonesia,” Reese explained how President Wahid was removed from office and succeeded by his vice president, Megawati Sukarnoputri.

PORTER: As our special report continues, Reese examines the political controversies already surrounding the new president and the US role in Indonesia.

[sound of Indonesian music]

EHRLICH: The film, The Year of Living Dangerously, is set against the backdrop of the military coup in Indonesia in 1965. Angry demonstrators surge into the streets.

[The sound of a street demonstration, from the movie’s sound track]

EHRLICH: And a very young Mel Gibson, playing an Australian journalist, learns about the coup.

MEL GIBSON: [dialogue from the movie sound track] What’s going on? I’ve got to get to the airport? What is it? What’s going on?

UNKNOWN ACTOR: Some people have taken over government. Troops have moved to the President’s palace.

EHRLICH: Later, while trying to escape Indonesia, Gibson sees civilians being massacred by army troops.

[Sounds of gunfire, screaming, yelling]

EHRLICH: The film shows just a few of the horrors that faced Indonesians in 1965. Hundreds of thousands of people were arrested, tortured, and murdered when General Suharto came to power. Documents later revealed CIA participation in the repression. The US strongly supported the coup and backed the Suharto dictatorship for decades. Then, in the mid-1990s, after widespread human rights abuses in Indonesian-occupied East Timor, the Clinton administration cut back military aid. Syamsul Mú Arif, a leader of the pro-Suharto Golkar Party, blames the US for the fall of Suharto and the subsequent lack of political stability in his country.

SYAMSUL MÚ ARIF: [via an interpreter] The wind of democracy and change came from America. And they swept throughout the NGO forces within the country. Or they swept through the university, through the campus and the university students. Yeah? It has a snowball effect in Indonesia

SILVIA TIWON: The right-wingers have long held the view that NGOs are agents of Western conspiracies.

EHRLICH: Silvia Tiwon teaches Indonesian studies at the University of California-Berkeley and is currently doing research outside Jakarta. She finds it ironic that Golkar tries to blame others for its own failures.

SILVIA TIWON: Golkar has been mainly responsible for saying that the NGOs are responsible for infiltrating society with Western values that do not harmonize with local values, national values, and traditions. Without recognizing the fact that they have been the ones who have introduced these, these enormously wide-ranging structural changes. They welcome globalization and liberalization when it’s economics. But they will have nothing to do with globalization and liberalization when it’s political and social and cultural.

EHRLICH: Tiwon says the US actually did little to promote democracy within Indonesia. She says the nongovernmental organizations opposing the Suharto dictatorship were not under American influence.

SILVIA TIWON: Very, very few NGOs or human rights NGOs really care that much to be affiliated with American institutions. A lot of them have rejected aid from USAID, for example. They don’t want to get too close to the Americans. It’s simplistic to blame the US, because most of these NGOs really base their actions on UN conventions, that incidentally, have been ratified by Indonesia.

EHRLICH: The US government has paid of lot of attention to developments in Indonesia. US corporations have billions of dollars invested in oil, natural gas, and mining. Indonesia straddles strategic shipping lanes between the US and southern Asia. Professor Tiwon says the Bush administration hopes to alter US policy towards Indonesia.

SILVIA TIWON: When the Republicans came to power there was a sense that now was the time for change in the relationships. And they hoped, they very strongly hoped, that there would be a reversal of what they saw to be a Clinton administration position on banning military relations. I think they were disappointed. I think they didn’t realize quite how strong Congress can be and how strong the lobby has grown for human rights in Indonesia.

EHRLICH: Recently the Bush administration has floated plans to resume limited military aid, focusing on training Indonesian soldiers and policemen. Magazine columnist Gunawan Mohammed favors resuming such aid.

Gunawan Mohammed: It’s not a bad idea, actually. If, on one condition, that they should offer, encourage the army to have a good plan-maybe 10 years’ plan-to make them professional and not involved in politics.

SILVIA TIWON: I don’t think it’s a good idea to restore any kind of relations with the Indonesian military before they have really proven a number of things.

EHRLICH: Silvia Tiwon.

SILVIA TIWON: One of the main things is that, A) there is a real commitment to bringing to justice the perpetrators of the crimes against humanity, and not through the military courts, but through the human rights courts. There are provisions, there are legal provisions, for this in Indonesia itself. I think it is important that the military not merely mouth the term “professionalism,” but really show that they are under the control of the civilians. I don’t see that happening just yet.

EHRLICH: But other analysts disagree. Soedjati Dijwandono, of the Research Institute for Democracy and Peace, says the military is too strong and it may take many years for Indonesia to seriously address its history of human rights violations.

Soedjati Dijwandono: You know, expectations among the people are too high, you know. They are at getting corruption and taking legal proceedings against corrupt people under Suharto and so on. That’s not the job of just one government. We need a series of governments.

EHRLICH: So you’re saying that it’s, it’s just not realistic to seek justice in this relatively short period of time.

Soedjati Dijwandono: That’s right. It’s not realistic at all.

EHRLICH: Many human rights advocates say there’s no time to wait because the military continues severe abuses against separatist movements in various parts of the country.

[sounds of a Moslem call to prayer]

EHRLICH: Fundamentalist Muslim groups in Aceh, a province at the far western tip of the archipelago, call for an independent state. Most Indonesian officials now admit that Aceh, rich in oil and natural gas, has received little benefit from its wealth. Similarly, West Papua, in eastern Indonesia, has a vast mineral wealth but poor roads, schools, and medical care. Columnist Gunawan Mohammed says the brutal tactics by the Indonesian military have alienated many ethnic minorities.

Gunawan Mohammed: The military is responsible for the demise of Indonesian integrity. They were supposed to be responsible to guard the territorial integrity, but in fact they are the ones, they are the culprits of this disintegration because of their abuses of human rights in those areas, especially in Aceh

EHRLICH: Al Bin Lie, a member of Parliament from Megawati’s party, would like to see improved social services and government spending on infrastructure in Aceh, but he says the army must be supported.

AL BIN LIE: I believe that the military should not be pushed aside for solving problems. But what we are against is a violation of human rights. So what we need is actually to use military in its, within its function and there should be a close watch on the execution itself. Make sure that what we want to avoid is the excess. Because with while dealing with separatist problems there are times when they have no choice but we have to rely on military powers.

EHRLICH: Many analysts consider President Megawatti a conservative nationalist who will be unlikely to stop military abuses. Professor Tiwon.

SILVIA TIWON: I suspect that she will give the military a freer hand, because it fits in with her very nationalist stand, maintaining the “territorial integrity” of the Republic of Indonesia.

EHRLICH: During the years of Suharto’s dictatorship Megawati headed a small opposition party, but she accepted many of the premises of that regime, including repression of separatist movements. She even campaigned hard to prevent East Timor from voting for independence. East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, was not part of Indonesia until Suharto invaded and annexed it in 1975. One of Megawati’s main party leaders in East Timor headed up a brutal militia and is today sought by the UN for war crimes. Tiwon worries about Megawati’s nationalism.

SILVIA TIWON: She will risk jingoism and insist that the army, then, take a stronger position on Aceh, a stronger position on West Papua. She needs to confront these issues. Is she going to go that way or will she take a more measured stance?

EHRLICH: In July a disparate group of political parties voted Megawati into power. The parties included right-wing Moslems, conservative nationalists, and secular liberals. Golkar Party leader Mú Arif doesn’t have much faith in her administrative capabilities, but he thinks she can hold the coalition together.

SYAMSUL MÚ ARIF: [via an interpreter] She’s able to accommodate these other forces. As a manager she’s not really quite competent. What I would like to say is that she has as her interest unity. And secondly, she will put the right people for the right positions.

EHRLICH: But that’s not the opinion of many intellectuals, students, and NGO leaders, who participated in the mass movement to overthrow the Suharto dictatorship in 1998.

UNKNOWN SPOKESPERSON: This is a joint communiqué read by Gunawan Mohammed.

EHRLICH: At a press conference the group of NGO leaders declare that they offer no honeymoon to the new president. Gunawan Mohammed spoke for the group.

Gunawan Mohammed: She should not ignore or forget what the students and the people want and the sacrifices that were paid by the students. Reform means trained government, a just legal process and structures, and a united Indonesia which respects freedom of choice in terms of faith and political conviction, and also solving the problems with other islands peacefully.

EHRLICH: For the moment President Megawatti enjoys the support of Indonesia’s political and military elite. But as that warning from the NGOs indicates, if she does not begin to resolve the country’s pressing problems she faces difficult times ahead. For Common Ground, I’m Reese Ehrlich in Jakarta.

[sound of Indonesian music]

PORTER: Tune in next week for the conclusion of our special series, “Crisis in Indonesia,” when Reese Ehrlich examines the country’s independent media and censorship.

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security