ASIA/INDONESIA - Old policies and a new course: path bristling with obstacles for Indonesia’s fragile democracy

Saturday, 3 July 2004

Jakarta (Fides Service) - “Ghost of the past may return”: this is the observers’ fear on the eve of presidential elections on July 5. Reliable Fides sources in Jakarta say that the present day political scene feels the weight of events of recent years, marked by dictatorship, presence of the military, exploitation of religion.
The country which became an independent republic with Sukarno on 17 August 1945, was governed by a brutal dictatorship under Gen. Suharto from 1966 to 1998. In those years power was concentrated not only in politics it involved the entire social sphere of the country, the economy in particular: Indonesia became a classical example of chorine capitalism, a term coined to describe the Marcos regime in the Philippines.
The fall of the dictatorship in 1998, came about precisely on the wave of the Reformasi Movement which fed on two elements: the economic crisis which struck South East Asia in 1997, particularly serious in Indonesia; a change of strategy of an ample sector of the army, first dominated by the dictator and then protagonist of a new political season. The military advanced during the transition. The man who impersonated the change from the start was another general: Wiranto, (Javanese tradition often identifies a person with forename only). Wiranto, who with Suharto had risen to the height of military command, became Minister of Defence and with the new elections in 2004 (first legislative, then presidential), is once again a major figure on the political scene.
In 2004, the country’s second legislative election since the coming of democracy rewarded two elements: secular Parties and the old Golkar, Suharto’s party. Partai Golongan Karya (Golkar) won 21,18%. Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan led by Megawati Sukarnoputri obtained 19,40% (in the previous election it came first) seriously penalised compared to the previous vote. There emerged the brand new Partai Demokrat winning 7.54% which confirmed the good performance and ascent of another rust-proof general: Susilo Bambang Yudoyono.
On the Islamic front, the Partai Kabankitan Bangsa wins 11.77% and it is the one which registered the best performance. But it is also the most moderate of a die which includes also more radical organisations. Among the other parties the Partai Persatuan Pembangunan of former president Hamza Haz obtains 8.32%, Partai Keadilan Sejahtera with 7.19%, Partai Amanat Nasional led by Amien Rais with 6.47%, Partai Bulang Bintang with 2.57%. If we sum the votes of parties which refer to radical Islam- PPP led by Haz, PKS and PBB - they do not reach 17%. And since a transversal alliance among them is excluded, the victory of the secular-nationalist parties means also the sunset of any immediate Islamic hypothesis.
The secular front sees therefore above all the affirmation of the Golkar, where different souls exist side by side: the secular-nationalist and the soul with a soft spot for Islam which it could also use for its own aims. Penalisation of Megawati and her party seem instead to mark the decline of the democratic and popular which the PDI-P and “Mega” incarnated after the fall of the dictatorship. Megawati failed to make the necessary reforms, she did not to touch the lobbies of the old regime and, in the end, she sided with the military.
What observers fear is a scenario where, behind a screen of formal democracy, the country will fall back into the hands of the army and an elite of individuals and families. In a young and fragile democracy like Indonesia control economy and the media, reduction of human rights organisations, protection of the judicial system could once again guarantee the old caste the consensus eroded during the years of Suharto.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 3/7/2004 lines 58 words 580)