Re New left party formed in Indonesia

Peter Boyle peterb at
Thu Jul 31 23:01:28 MDT 2003

The following article, p iublished in JAKARTA POST, August
1, 2003 - Opinion pages

Nurcholis Madjid, Dita Sari and the 2004 elections

by Max Lane

The 2004 election campaign has started. There are two kinds
of issues that people seem to be looking at. The first
relate to the so-called major parties, those with
substantial numbers the current parliament. These are the
Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), GOLKAR, the
United Development Party (PPP) and the National Awakening
Party (PKB). Because the chairperson of the National Mandate
Party (PAN), Amien Rais, is also the chairperson of the
Peoples Consultative Assembly (MPR), sometimes PAN is also
considered a major party.

The second group of issues are those that relate to
initiatives that appeal to the broad anti-elite sentiment in

The most reported such initiative is that of Nurcholis
Madjid who has been “campaigning” to be nominated as a
Presidential candidate. Madjid has no large political
organisation and no significant history as a politician. It
is precisely these “qualifications” that have made it
possible for him to be considered, by some at least, a
serious candidate. Madjid, who is now warmly referred to as
“Cak Nur” (Elder brother Nur”) in the press, is more
well-known as an intellectual and academic. He is seen as a
“clean” figure outside the “elit politik”.

Being seen as outside the “elit politik” is what constitutes
his basic appeal in a period when all polls and opinion on
the street is vehemently hostile to this elite. The problem
for Madjid is that he stand only very partially outside the
elite, if it all. It was Madjid who offered to head up a
“Reformasi Committee” to be established by the former
dictator Suharto in the last weeks of the dictatorship. This
was offered as a means to facilitate a smoother transition
to some new system, with Suharto still presiding. This
proposal was rejected by the student and mass movement and
Suharto was forced to resign.

More recently, Madjid’s ties to this “elit politik” have
been manifested in his announcement that he would seek the
nomination as presidential candidate from the most elitist
of all parties, GOLKAR. GOLKAR was founded by the military
and headed by Suharto for most of the dictatorship. GOLKAR
was the only party from which Suharto drew Cabinet
ministers. The New Order dictatorship was essentially a
Suharto-GOLKAR dictatorship. All the crimes and disasters
presided over by the New Order should be laid at the feet of
both Suharto and GOLKAR. Since the fall of Suharto GOLKAR
has been a key element of the ruling elite, except during
the Presidency of Abdurrahman Wahid. Frightened by Wahid’s
liberal agenda, GOLKAR worked with the PDIP to oust him.

Recent reports indicate that Madjid might reconsider his
efforts to seek GOLKAR’s nomination. There is no doubt his
intention to seek GOLKAR’s support caused a drop in his
popularity on the streets. Perhaps among the middle class,
who are more familiar with his name, he might retain some
support. However, among the masses, as well students, trade
unions and others, coalescing with GOLKAR immediately
weakened his position.

Interestingly, Wahid seems to be keeping another option
open. Last week he also attended a congress organised by the
Banteng National Awakening Party (PNBK), led by former PDIP
leader and anti New Order figure, Eros Jarot. He was given a
warm welcome at the congress, attended by thousands of
members. Jarot invited him up onto the stage where Madjid
said he would be happy to be adopted “in some way or
another” by the PNBK. Jarot flattered him with the comment
that surely “Cak Nur” would not lower himself to compete
with a convicted criminal – referring to GOLKAR Chairperson,
Akbar Tanjung, who has been convicted of corruption by a
Jakarta court.

Majid’s campaign contrasts with that recently initiated by
labour leader, Dita Sari. Last weekend also, Sari chaired a
meeting of around 300 representatives of over 50
organisations who formed a new political party: the Party of
United Peoples Opposition (POPOR). Among the fifty
organizations were trade unions, including the very large
and politically independent Food and Drinks Union, as well
as farmer organisations, teacher unions, NGOs, and human
rights organisations, such as PAKORBA, an association of
former political prisoners.

POPOR’s campaign only shares one similarity with that of
Majid’s. It also seeks to respond to the desire for a
political leadership based outside of and representing
non-elite sectors of society. Beyond this, the two campaigns
are very different. Madjid’s concentrates on the single
position of the Presidency. The POPOR campaign concentrates
on social empowerment. KOMPAS quoted a student leader, Iwan
from the National Student League for Democracy, a POPOR
affiliate, as saying “"To date, the people's struggle
against the corrupt elite has had no structure. So we are
attempting to build a structure for this struggle.” These
fifty organisations are now convincing others to help them
set up branches throughout the country.

Another difference is, of course, in the arena of policy.
What are Madjid’s policies for dealing with the economic,
social and cultural crisis in the country? Do we presume
that they are the same as those of GOLKAR from whom he is
seeking support? GOLKAR’s basic policies are the same as
that of the PDIP: accept the neo-liberal economic recipe of
the IMF, (who will continue to monitor the government’s
obedience); continue the military operation in Aceh; go slow
– super-slow – on the trials of corruptors and human rights
violators during the Suharto era. At POPOR’s founding
congress, polices and resolutions on almost all key areas
were formulated and adopted. Among other policies, POPOR
rejects economic neo-liberalism; calls for an end to the war
in Aceh and the speedy trials of all corruptors and human
rights violators.

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