Fwd from GLW: INDONESIA: Budiman Sujatmiko: democracy is yet to be won

Alan Bradley alanb at SPAMelf.brisnet.org.au
Sun May 7 08:22:17 MDT 2000

>From the current issue of Green Left Weekly (http://www.greenleft.org.au)

INDONESIA: Budiman Sujatmiko: democracy is yet to be won

BUDIMAN SUJATMIKO, chairperson of Indonesia's People's Democratic Party
(PRD), has been active in the movement for democracy in his country since
1988, when he was a student at Yogyakarta's Gadjah Mada University. After
having been jailed for more than three years by dictator Suharto's ``New
Order'' regime, Sujatmiko was released in December 1999, six weeks after
the election of Abdurrahman Wahid to the presidency.

Sujatmiko, together with Timorese Socialist Party general secretary Avelino
da Silva, visited Australia last month on a speaking tour organised by
Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor (see advertisement on
opposite page). Green Left Weekly's NICK EVERETT spoke to Sujatmiko in
Sydney on April 12.

Since his election, Wahid has continued the reform of Indonesia's political
system begun by his predecessor, B.J. Habibie. The reforms Habibie
initiated -- legislating for multi-party elections, reducing the armed
forces' representation in parliament, withdrawing some repressive labour
laws and instituting a UN-supervised referendum in East Timor -- were
forced by the growing strength of a mass anti-dictatorship movement
demanding ``reformasi total''.

Since Wahid's election, the government has forced Golkar-appointed military
commander General Wiranto out of the cabinet, released the remaining
political prisoners and launched its own investigation into human rights
abuses by the Indonesian armed forces in East Timor last September.

IMF `reforms'

These reforms have been widely touted by Australian and other Western
governments as proof of the new government's commitment to democracy.
However, as Sujatmiko said: ``These are just the minimum criteria for

``Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, these offer the chance for the
majority to rule. But if those liberties do not actually result in majority
rule, we do not have democracy in the true sense.''

Sujatmiko conceded that Wahid, unlike his predecessors, ``is not a
bureaucrat''. However, ``he has no policy to deliver better living
standards and end the threat of unemployment. His policies cannot deliver
people-friendly outcomes.''

This is most clearly demonstrated, Sujatmiko said, by Wahid's pursuit of an
economic restructuring program imposed by the International Monetary Fund.
``If the policies dictated by the IMF are fully implemented in the next
three years, the majority of the people will have to bear the burden of an
increased cost of living, driving them under the poverty line. The 1997-99
economic crisis resulted in 37 million unemployed; this figure will
continue to rise if the IMF policies are implemented further.''

``Wahid has given a commitment to the IMF that he will make cuts to state
subsidies, resulting in increases in petrol, electricity and transport
prices and increased education fees'', said Sujatmiko. ``He said he has to
do this to reduce dependency on foreign debt and the IMF.''

Mass opposition to the proposed price hikes forced Wahid to delay the fuel
price increase.

Two poles

``Wahid is playing between two poles'', noted Sujatmiko, ``the IMF and the
people. He wants to win sympathy from the people, but his concessions are
still not enough. He has created anger by proposing to increase salaries
for the first echelon bureaucracy by 2000%.

The PRD believes that the Wahid government remains loyal to the dictates of
the IMF and Western governments and that Wahid ``is seeking to use his
popular following to position himself to implement this austerity
program'', Sujatmiko said.

He explained that there is no serious opposition to this economic program
emerging from the parliamentary parties. ``The PRD is the only political
party criticising this program.''

``This is occurring ``in unity with the student movement and trade unions.
Workers and students have come to the parliament to protest the cutting of
subsidies and teachers have mobilised in many centres in Indonesia
demanding a 300% salary increase. Bus drivers, taxi drivers and others have
taken action against the increase in transport costs.

``This has given confidence to the people: they can now act as political
groups to put pressure on the government so that it must listen to the

Growing opposition to the IMF's demands has strengthened the PRD's advocacy
of an alternative economic program. ``We have already met with
parliamentary members and presented our proposals'', Sujatmiko said. He
explained that the PRD advocates cancellation of the foreign debt,
implementation of a progressive tax on high incomes, taxes on luxury goods,
a reduction in the military budget and expropriation of the assets of
Suharto (estimated to be worth US$16 billion), corrupt bureaucrats and
military businesses.

``One of these proposals has been accepted already: taxes on luxury goods.
These measures are required to create a fund for maintaining state
subsidies for essential items and services.''


Commenting on the prospects of Suharto being tried, Sujatmiko said: ``There
are student protests almost every day in Indonesia now. These have included
attempts to occupy Suharto's house and demand that he face a `people's
tribunal'. The students have no confidence in the Indonesian justice

The PRD supports this demand. ``A fair trial of Suharto, corrupt
bureaucrats and the generals responsible for human rights abuses cannot
possibly occur under Indonesia's current justice system'', Sujatmiko said.

XN P Body Text al tribunal to try the generals responsible for the violence
in East Timor, Sujatmiko observed: ``The UN is not demanding an
international tribunal, but is there any alternative?

``The campaign for an international tribunal not only has the potential to
address past injustices, it will draw attention to the political role of
the armed forces in Indonesia. While the factions in the parliament have
agreed not to give seats to the armed forces in the next parliamentary
term, the structural issue of the role of the military in the regional
command has yet to be addressed.''

Last month, Wahid indicated his intention to introduce legislation to
un-ban communism, while retaining a ban on the Indonesian Communist Party
(PKI). Sujatmiko added that Wahid has issued a statement of apology to the
PKI for the murder of more than 1 million PKI members and sympathisers
following the Suharto regime's seizure of power in a military coup in
October 1965. ``Wahid has no phobia about any ideology and permits people
to live with any faith or ideology in Indonesia; he is liberal-minded.

``However, both the conservative Islamic forces and the military are
opposed to this, including forces inside the cabinet such as the Star and
Crescent Party and Amien Rais [chairperson of the National Mandate Party].
Vice-president Megawati is silent on the issue. Opposition within Wahid's
own cabinet pressed him to concede to maintaining the ban on the PKI.''

Sujatmiko explained, ``While the un-banning of communism would enable the
distribution of Marxist literature, the question of whether we would openly
campaign for socialism is a tactical one.

``We need to give a socialist perspective, not as something that is
attainable in the near future, but as our longer-term objective. More
immediately, we must continue to campaign for `people's democracy' ... this
lays the basis for raising consciousness.

People's democracy

What does the PRD mean by the term ``people's democracy''? ``The Indonesian
economy, while capitalist, is dependent on imperialism'', Sujatmiko
replied. ``That is, the economy is still dominated by foreign capital.
Imperialism represses, contains the development of the Indonesian people.

``We cannot defeat imperialism and advocate socialism at the same time. It
is not a question of delaying the tasks for achieving socialism, but ending
the most reactionary elements of the present system.

``The challenge for us now is to understand how the workers and peasants
could progress to managing our country, and to encourage the development of
Indonesia's productive forces, which still cannot compete with those in the
imperialist countries. The struggle for liberating Indonesia's productive
forces from the domination of imperialist powers is a struggle which is
still capitalistic in nature, in the sense of developing productive forces
under the control of a people's revolutionary democratic government.''

Reflecting on the repression the PRD experienced under New Order rule in
Indonesia (its members have been hunted down, jailed, kidnapped and killed
by the regime), Sujatmiko said, ``Commitment [to the struggle for
revolutionary change] is something that cannot be explained in a few words.
It has to be explained in deeds. You have to look for the answer in
practical experience.''

He stressed, ``For us, the existence of the PRD does not depend on the
objective political situation. Democracy or not, we are still there.

``The new democratic space provides us with an opportunity to develop and
disseminate our ideas, which have been discussed and debated since the
founding of the PRD.

``Based on a solid theoretical and ideological standpoint, we believe that
the struggle for democracy and socialism in Indonesia is a struggle that
has to be based on the development of a working-class movement. That is why
we have the slogan to give spirit to our cadres: `Build the party, build
the working class'.

``These are two aspects of one thing: rebuilding the movement. The party is
the organiser of the working class and the working class is the class that
gives the party its direction.''

Sujatmiko explained that the PRD draws on the lessons of the revolutionary
struggles against Dutch colonialism in Indonesia and of people's movements
around the world. ``If you want something worthy you have to pay for it'',
he said. ``You may have to go without, to live in prison to win bigger
freedom for the people you want to defend. If you live in a society where
the exploitation is very naked and very repressive, your decision to fight
for the greater liberty of all by reducing your own personal liberty is

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