Home > South-East Asia >> Indonesia

Winning democracy in Indonesia

New stage for the progressive movement

This article originally appeared in Links - International Journal of Socialist Renewal, Issue #2, July-September, 1994

By Max Lane

On May 2, 1994, radical social activists from around Indonesia met at the offices of the Jakarta Legal Aid (YLBHI) Institute to announce that they had formed a new organisation to campaign for democratic change in Indonesia. The new organisation is called Persatuan Rakyat Demokratik (People's Democratic Union). PRD brings together local student, worker and farmer activists based in Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta, Solo, Semarang and Surabaya in Java, Medan in Sumatra and Menado in Sulawesi. This is the first attempt to form these local activist groups into a national organisation. Sugeng Bahagijo, elected Chairperson of the PRD after a three-day meeting of over 100 delegates from around the country welcomed "everybody as members, farmers, workers, students, intellectuals and others, as long as they are concerned about the development of democracy in Indonesia".

In its founding declaration, the PRD calls for a restoration of full democratic rights and freedoms, a return to civilian rule and redistribution of the wealth of society to the poor. The PRD declaration also goes much further than any previous pro- democracy group in Indonesia in the 1970s and 1980s by publicly calling for the restoration of full civil rights to the tens of thousands of former communist and nationalist political prisoners and also calling for a peaceful resolution in East Timor, without military intervention and recognising the human and democratic rights of the East Timorese nation. The PRD declaration is reprinted at the Appendix to this article. It is expected that another manifesto for achieving social change in Indonesia will also soon be released by the PRD.

Present at the launch of the PRD were a range of prominent figures in the democratic movement. These included Adnan Buyung Nasution, Director of the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute. Bang Buyung, as he is known, emphasised the necessity of strong organisation and leadership in any movement. Other figures present included Mohtar Pakpahan, head of the independent union SBSI (Indonesia Workers Welfare Union), Dede Triawan from the environmental organisation WALHI, and Mulyana Kusuma, also from YLBHI.

The significance of the public launch of the PRD can only be understood in the light of the terrible massacre and repression of the Indonesian left in 1965 under the then new military regime headed by General (now President) Suharto. Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Indonesia's foremost novelist and most respected left intellectual, who also welcomed the formation of the new group, hailed today's youth as braver than his generation as they were prepared to face an armed foe themselves unarmed.

History of repression

Before 1965, Indonesia had a large left and progressive movement which had developed as a part of the national revolution against Dutch colonialism. The Indonesian republican forces proclaimed their independence in 1945 and succeeded in forcing the Netherlands to formally recognise this new reality after four years of political and military struggle. In the years immediately following their 1949 victory, the left wing of the anti-colonial movement began the process of further developing its own political parties and mass organisations. The largest left-wing party to emerge was the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI, Partai Komunis Indonesia). There were also a number of smaller left organisations and individual Marxist and revolutionary personalities. These included the PKI, the left wing nationalist Indonesia Party (Partindo) and the "Trotskyist" Young Communist Generation (ACOMA, Angkatan Komunis Muda). In addition, a major polarisation had developed in the centrist Indonesia Nationalist Party (PNI, Partai Nasional Indonesia), which had developed a large mass-based left wing in many provinces. These forces were known as the PNI-Ali-Surachman or PNI-Asu, after its two main leaders.

Reaching a peak strength of several millions of members in the mid-1960s, the left in Indonesia was very much preoccupied with the immediate problems of fending off the increasingly aggressive and increasingly political armed forces, which had been aligning itself to the anti-left Muslim organisations, whose social base was the Indonesian merchant and land-owning class. There appears to have been some debate between the PKI, PNI-ASU, Partindo and ACOMA forces and within the PKI concerning strategy and tactics in the 1960s, however this is not reflected in any major documents. The political momentum, reflected in the growth of the PKI and PNI-ASU forces into millions of members, which had been created by the polarisation in Indonesian society on issues such as land reform, nationalisation of foreign companies, opposition to "foreign cultural influences", seemed to sweep all before the advance of the left until late September 1965.

The growth of the left, especially as it had the support of the extremely popular President Sukarno, caused major panic in the armed forces leadership which began to discuss moves against the government. Apparently trying to pre-empt this possibility, another group of officers, led by two colonels, launched a mutiny in the armed forces. In the course of this mutiny, several ranking generals were eventually killed. However, the mutiny was crushed by Indonesia's rapid deployment force (KOSTRAD, Army Strategic Command) under the command of Major-General Suharto who had apparently indicated originally to the mutineers that he would remain neutral.

The armed forces under Suharto seized power. Suharto accused the PKI of master-minding a coup, then banned the PKI and all affiliated organisations as well as Marxism-Leninism and communist ideology. He organised a national purge of the whole left, PKI, PNI-ASU, Partindo, ACOMA and individual leftists, which resulted in the slaughter of between 500,000 and 1,500,000 people. Almost 20,000 people were jailed for up to 15 years. Tens of thousands of people were forced to carry specially-marked identity cards and today still live under severe political restrictions.

The PKI attempted a last ditch relaunch of the party via guerilla struggle in 1968 but this too was crushed. Sections of the PKI also produced different self-criticisms after this tragedy but the party has not been able to play any significant role in Indonesian political developments since then. The exception is manifest only in the increased public role of a few bold individuals who were, in any case, not openly associated with the PKI in the past.

It was only 20 years after the Suharto purges, in the mid- eighties, that a radical political movement began to re-emerge. In the intervening years, there had been an increasingly vocal democratic opposition to the Suharto dictatorship, but its activities had usually been confined to within the broad social elite. It had spilled outside those confines only once when, in 1973-74, mass student demonstrations eventually erupted into riots in Jakarta. This opposition to the Suharto dictatorship had as its social base an increasingly discontented layer of intellectuals, professionals, and middle level businessmen alienated by either political repression or business nepotism or both.

In the mid-1980s this situation began to change very rapidly in response to increasing intra-elite tensions and growing industrialisation. There was a dramatic escalation of grassroots 3/ organisation among workers. Strikes for better pay and conditions broke out and several attempts were made to form independent unions (the government only recognises the Serikat Pekerja Seluruh Indonesia, SPSI, the official union federation). Close collaboration between students, workers and peasants around a range of locally-based struggles was seen. But until the launch of the PRD these local groups of radical activists were not organised nationally.

Responses to the PRD launch

Since the launch of the PRD on May 2, 1994, the Indonesian regime has threatened it with sanctions should it engage in any political activities. However the PRD has been receiving many offers of assistance and requests to join. At the same time, numerous figures from the more liberal wings of a number of mainstream organisations, for example, Jakob Tobing from Golkar and Aberson Sihaloho from the Indonesian Democratic Party, have also defended the PRD's right to engage in political activity.

Soon after the launch of the PRD, Soesilo Soedarman, the Minister for Politics and Security, stated: "The PRD is not legal. There are only three political vehicles recognised by the government, PPP [Partai Persatuan Pembangunan, United Development Party], Golkar [Functional Groups] and the PDI [Partai Demokrasi Indonesia, Indonesian Democratic Party]. The government will take firm action." The Director-General of Social Political Affairs of the Home Affairs Ministry, Sutoyo, also announced that if the PRD puts up resistance the police will "disband them forcibly".

This hard-line position has been countered by Harsudiono Hartas, former armed forces general and now deputy chairperson of the Supreme Advisory Council, a state advisory body appointed by President Suharto. Hartas was reported in Media Indonesia on May 5: "The PRD was formed because the political culture and mechanisms are blocked. The youth and students are looking for another way to struggle for their aspirations". At the same time, Jakob Tobing, one of the chairpersons of the government party Golkar told the press that the government shouldn't act too hastily in condemning the PRD as outside the law. On the other hand, Agung Laskono, Chair of the National Council of Leaders of Golkar stated sharply that the formation of the PRD was "unconstitutional".

At the centre of the controversy over the legality of the PRD is Law Number Three of 1985 (Law 3/85) which only allows three political parties in Indonesia. Professor Ichlasul Amal, from Gajah Mada State University, in a commentary in Detik, a weekly publication, pointed out however that the law only applies to political organisations participating in elections. "If they're not participating in elections, why ban them?"

However, Detik also elaborated on the fact that Law 3/85 itself has been defended constitutionally on the grounds that it is a law implementing Clause 28 of the Indonesian constitution which guarantees freedom of expression and organisation, which is to be organised by law. Detik points out that the problem is that Golkar controls the parliament and therefore can use the "organised by law" provision to pass laws guaranteeing its "political hegemony".

Aberson Sihaloho, from the Indonesian Democratic Party, stated his strong approval of the founding of the PRD by calling it a manifestation of current frustrations with the political infrastructure. According to Aberson, "Law 3/85 should be concerned with technical and other matters and shouldn't be imposing restrictions on people."

Pro-democracy movement

There have been several pro-democracy groups operating in Indonesia since the early 1980s. Those still going include the Petition of Fifty, a group comprising former leaders of traditional non-communist political parties, retired democratic- minded military figures, intellectuals and former student activists. This group has been consistently issuing statements demanding some democratic reforms. In the 1980s they were harassed and some gaoled on various trumped-up charges. Another group was the Forum Demokras (FODEM), a coalition of Muslim and secular liberal democrats, mainly intellectuals, who advocated democratic reform. A third group has been the students organised in the Pijar Foundation and the Indonesian Students Action Front (FAMI). One Pijar member, Beathor Suryadi, recently came out of gaol after serving a four-year sentence for distributing political leaflets. Twenty-one students from FAMI were recently put on trial for anti-government protests. And, of course, the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) has been a long-term courtroom defender and public spokesperson in defence of civil liberties.

A report on the national situation delivered to the PRD founding conference provided a tentative analysis of these opposition forces:

The first [group] that must be noted is the Petition of Fifty. This group has been the opposition since the New Order but has always been only half-hearted. It has no mass base, newspaper and has only weak international support. They have demanded that Suharto be brought before a special session of the Peoples Consultative Assembly to give an accounting [of his crimes and abuses]. Their recent relations with Minister of Technology Habibi, reflecting Suharto's attempt at reconciliation, has lost 3/ them credibility in the eyes of the people. Their main agenda is for a multi-party system, minus any left-wing parties.

As a political grouping, FODEM has failed to develop into a strong and broad formation, because it has not wielded any effective political tolls: it has no newspaper which openly and clearly advocates its political program, holds no real discussions, and no other publications let alone mobilises any masses under its banner. As Suharto has been expanding his own forces, FODEM should have been clearly telling the masses what FODEM wants to achieve. FODEM has the biggest potential to obtain international support.

Commenting on the student movement, meaning the trend represented by FAMI, that is, students who are not allying themselves in political activity with workers and peasants, the report states:
The increase in the scope and level of issues raised by the student movement leading up until the arrest of the 21 proves that the New Order regime has been unable to silence it. This proves the preparedness of the student movement to overcome the repressive measures taken against it, so that it can turn itself into an agent of democracy. It is true that so far there has not been the ability to maintain a persistence in some campaigns, such as the campaign around the 21 students. But the mass student movement can become a force that can effectively demand democratic change if it can overcome some political and organisational problems. These include the problems of inter- regional and inter-campus rivalry.

Working-class struggle

PRD represents a new phenomenon. It has emerged not simply out of the social justice and democratic concerns of students, intellectuals, political figures and professionals but has emerged out of the activism of the social solidarity movements that have been growing since the mid-1980s. Young students and intellectuals who have been active in solidarity committees with workers and farmers in many areas have now joined together with some of those workers and farmers to launch what could be the embryo of a political party with a genuine, organised mass base.

The basis for the emergence of a project like the PRD has been the revival in working-class industrial and political struggle since the mid-eighties. To properly understand the causes, nature and also the impact of the rise in industrial activity, it is also necessary to understand several important features of the general political and social situation.

The student protest movements of 1973-74 and 1978 had reflected a social democratic and liberal orientation and concentrated essentially on corruption, the abuse of power as it manifested itself amongst the middle class and the issue of the widening gap between rich and poor as a policy problem. For example, workers' rights were not a major issue. Moreover, most of the political figures involved in these protest movements were very sceptical about the applicability of class analysis and class politics in Indonesia. They also accepted the anti-communist definition of recent Indonesian history, namely, that the events of 1965 were based on a popular backlash against the Left and an intervention by the military and students to restore democracy in the face of encroaching communism and a PKI coup attempt.

The hegemony of this outlook was undermined in the 1980s as a result of the failure of the 1973-74 and 1978 protest movements. These failures stimulated a mass discussion amongst the student youth about alternative analysis of Indonesian politics and alternative forms of political activity. Discussion groups mushroomed in city after city as students set up radical discussion circles off campus. By the mid-eighties the most committed of the people involved in these groups had begun to become involved with a wide range of activist and community organisations. This move into new activist and community organisations was also facilitated by a government ban on political activity on campuses, thus encouraging those interested in activism to centre their activity off campus.

The increased concern for social and economic rights and the trend towards involvement in new forms of grassroots activism was given further impetus and a push towards developing a sharper class analysis by developments in the field of literature. In 1981 the novel Bumi Manusia (This Earth of Mankind) was published by released political prisoner and pre-1965 radical, Pramoedya Ananta Toer. The publication of Bumi Manusia caused enormous controversy with the book, and its sequels, becoming best sellers. With enormous publicity, the book was widely read in student youth circles and had a great impact. It put many young people in contact with Indonesia's radical traditions of the first six decades of this century. The Indonesian left had been the subject of enormous black propaganda during the previous 15 years. Now young people began to investigate for themselves: what did the radicals of the previous periods really stand for? This led to a flourishing of student research on the labour movements at the beginning of the century as well as after Independence.

Flowing from this was an increase in respect for the pre-1965 radical tradition and a questioning of the role of the social democratic and liberal forces in the past. In any case, the new framework began to provide a theoretical and ideological basis for the new interest in the social and economic rights of the people. In fact, more and more activists began to look at workers and peasants as the basis of distinct social classes. Student involvement in supporting worker protest began to be envisaged as a student-worker alliance, as a form of political solidarity.

Committees in solidarity with particular groups of workers in struggle began to emerge as a regular phenomenon. Groups began to emerge with a specific focus on providing solidarity and assistance to workers. There are now several such groups.

Political developments by 1990 had, therefore, produced the ironic combination of increasing confidence in the stability of the New Order political arrangements amongst significant sections of the elite on the one hand and an increasing section of student youth with a revived interest in left-wing ideas and in building student-worker solidarity on the other. These conditions have been conducive both to a tolerance of limited worker protest by the middle classes and encouragement of worker protest by radicalised youth.

Working class expands

There has been a second wave of expansion in the working class in the late 1980s. This expansion was brought about as a result of the encouragement of manufacturing industry by the Indonesian government as a means of increasing the country's non-oil and non-gas exports. Sudden drops in the prices of oil and gas in the early eighties threatened the Indonesian economy with a major crisis as revenues declined rapidly.

Statistics from the 1990 census indicate approximately 8.2 million people working in manufacturing compared to estimates of 3.5 million in 1980. Analysis of the 1990 census also indicates that there are about 20 million workers now residing in urban centres in Indonesia. While the statistics in this area must be treated with a certain caution, it is very clear that the expansion in the size of the workforce has been both sizeable and rapid. This is not only reflected in the statistics regarding the overall size of the workforce but also as regards the growth in the number of factories established in the industrial areas such as Tangerang, outside Jakarta.

In 1978, there were 528 companies registered with the Industrial Registrar for Tangerang region, with a total official investment of US$516 million. By the end of the 1980s this had increased to over 900 companies.(1) It is unclear just how many people that are now employed in Tangerang manufacturing but available figures point to at least 100,000 workers. Most of the factories operating in areas like Tangerang are light manufacturing industries, often producing plastic, rubber or tin products as well as some textiles.

The rapid expansion of the factory workforce has involved the recruitment of large numbers of workers from rural areas. But despite this it is also clear that the educational level of most factory workers has also increased. Both the numbers of workers who have completed junior high school as well as senior high school, including senior technical high school, have markedly increased.(2) This is a result of the expansion of the urban education system on the one hand and the shortage of jobs for skilled people on the other. The Indonesian population remains a young population with over 100 million people under the age of 20. There is enormous pressure for high school graduates to enter factory employment, given the shortage of clerical positions provided by either state or private employment. Special security measures are needed whenever government bodies receive an employee intake to prevent rioting by the tens of thousands of people who cannot be accepted.

Activists working among factory workers are also beginning to note the breakdown of the "conservative village" mentality that used to exist amongst the communities of factory workers living around factories and in industrial areas. In the early 1970s, factories recruited from the surrounding areas themselves or used agents to bring in workers from villages further afield. These workers brought with them memories of their recent experiences in the villages, of enforced deference to the local authorities, especially prevalent after the suppression of the peasant and youth organisations active in the villages before 1965. Also, the nature of worker-boss relations in much rural agricultural work was, at that time, still coloured by the existence of family, religious or long-term community relations. They were often characterised by a patron-client situation, where the employee was both subjected to exploitation and was the "beneficiary" of patronising and paternal attitudes on the part of the landowner.

Role of youth

The breakdown of this "conservative village" mentality is due to the greater proportion of recruitment from youth with a high school education. Moreover, there has also been a cultural revolution underway amongst urban youth. Indonesian cities, and also the large number of middle-size towns, has not been immune from the influences of cosmopolitan culture. Indonesia has seen a burgeoning of new newspaper and magazine publication as well as the continuing expansion of the influence of both foreign and domestic popular culture, including modern popular music. Both these literary and musical forms of popular culture have introduced some of the espoused values of the middle class, such as individual independence, the value of education, the rule of law, contempt for corruption and nepotism and so on. At the same there has been a considerable erosion of the credibility of traditional authority. One clear manifestation of this has been the regular mass street fights, often in defiance of police instructions, between high school student populations.

Another parallel development has been the twice-repeated phenomenon of mass youth involvement in the more rowdy election campaigns of the Indonesia Democratic Party. Although these campaigns have always been managed to ensure that they do not develop into any kind of serious threat to the government, the campaigns were able to draw in over one million youth in both 1987 and 1992. The youth participation was due to the PDI's more outspoken rhetoric on social justice issues and the party's appeal due to its association with the Sukarno family. Despite 28 years of New Order propaganda Sukarno's image is still one of being a leader close to the little people. During both election campaigns, the mass rallies of the PDI were able to attract at least a million young people, all wearing their red t-shirts. The atmosphere at these rallies was more rowdy or angry rather than militant, however once again they are further evidence of a youth culture that would be conducive to young high school trained factory workers being receptive to the idea of protesting, should they feel their conditions so warrant.

Contributing to the development of a receptivity to ideas of independent working class action has been the expanded reporting of protest actions by the mainstream media. Editorially most newspapers have tended to urge workers to resolve their problems without recourse to protest action. Not infrequently, worker protests are reported as being a threat to stability. However, many newspaper reports, especially on the newspapers with mass working-class readerships, do feature worker protests in a more- or-less sympathetic manner. In some ways, strikes and protests and other disruptions are treated as equally dramatic events as thefts or murders which also get featured treatment in the popular media. While reporting on political opposition is strictly suppressed, reporting on industrial action remains relatively uncontrolled.

The same characteristics that fostered the first wave of unrest in the late 1970s are to be seen again but on a wider and deeper scale: the emergence of a more socially aware, better educated, literate and youthful working class. At the same time there has been no appreciable improvement in conditions. The official minimum wage for workers in Tangerang in 1990 was set at 2100 rupiah (US$1) per day. This compares with R750 per day in 1981 which at that time was worth US$0.85. It was increased again in September 1992 up to R2600 and then to R3000 as from 1 January, 1993. However, even the R3000 per day still barely covers daily food and transport costs. According to the Ministry of Labour itself, the minimum amount needed to meet minimum physical needs is R6000 per day. The official minimum wage remains at about 60 per cent of the government's own estimate of the income needed to fulfil basic physical needs. Furthermore, the system of widespread employment on a casual basis persists. When employees are taken on for a longer term, employers deduct "attendance allowances" when they are unable to work because of sickness.

Strike waves

Reports from worker support groups in Jakarta and Surabaya in early 1993 indicate that strikes are now essentially a daily occurrence. The level has increased to such an extent that the government is resorting to blaming "third parties" for stirring up trouble.

The centre of strike activity has been in the industrially concentrated area of JABOTEK (Jakarta-Bogor-Tangerang-Berkasih), especially Tangerang. One government estimate stated that 90 per cent of all strike activity in 1992 occurred in JABOTEK. The expansion of the workforce has been the most rapid here. Another factor encouraging the rise of industrial unrest in the Tangerang area has been the emergence of strong worker communities. Workers are often housed in dormitories or in clumps of local housing where they rent rooms from local residents.

This centralisation of workers' residential location is sometimes also paralleled with a centralisation of workers employed in different factories of the one conglomerate of companies in a single industrial compound. As the industrial estates have opened up, business conglomerates come in and buy or lease large areas of land where they build several factories producing different goods under their various subsidiary companies. This can concentrate 10,000 or more workers in the one complex. Often the workers are even given the same uniforms to wear. This concentration of workers in the one residential and industrial complex seems to have increased the sense of group identity and also allowed for easier communication between workers in this area.

The launch of the PRD is an outcome of the process of activists orienting to this increased worker activity (and to a certain extent also to an increase in spontaneous protests by small farmers losing their land to industrial and commercial developments). The period from the mid-eighties until the present has been marked by the emergence of a large number of locally based solidarity groups conducting campaigns in support of or together with workers and farmers. During this period a specific emphasis emerged in the strategy of these groups, namely, to launch as many locally based modest mass actions that would help break down what these activists called the "culture of silence". During the 1980s, these groups organised scores of protest delegations to Ministry offices, to the national and local parliaments, to press offices and disputed land sites.

Some of these actions in the mid-1980s and early 1990s were quite large, involving thousands of workers or farmers, but were still locally based or concentrated on local issues. During the last two years, apart from scores, if not hundreds of smaller actions, there have been:

  • mobilisations of thousands of people in Central Java to put out white election boycott flags during the 1992 elections plus a several thousand strong rally on Gajah Mada University against the undemocratic administration of the elections;
  • a 15,000-strong demonstration in July 1993 against new traffic regulations which had enormous potential for expanding police corruption and increasing the burden on the public transport system, especially the sector servicing the poor; a threatened transport strike in Jakarta eventually forced a government back- down;
  • a 15,000-strong street march and demonstration in Yogyakarta in March 1993 against the corrupt multi-million dollar state lottery, involving Suharto's children (follow-up mass actions were held outside the presidential office in Jakarta to force the abolition of the lottery);
  • a demonstration of 13,000 workers, mainly women, in Solo against Minister of Labour Abdul Latief in February 1994; and
  • a 25,000 demonstration in the major city of Medan, North Sumatra, in May 1994 (six days of riots ensued after a stand-off with the military).
  • This strategy of concentrating on the immediate demands of workers and farmers or on issues of popular concern such as the state lottery or traffic regulations rather than the issue, for example, of presidential succession or anti-party laws, enabled these protests to continue for a considerable period of time while obtaining sympathetic press coverage and a minimum of harassment. As these protests increased they also began to have a major impact on the general political atmosphere with issues such as land, wages, trade union rights and so on becoming more and more frequently discussed in the media.

    Popular-radical current

    The underlying thrust of this strategy is to promote the revival of popular radicalism. But there have been some disagreements among the local solidarity groups flowing from this strategy. In the mid-1980s, as student activists, in particular, broke away from social-democratic and liberal orientations, the essence of the ideological rupture focussed on the new orientation to the problems of workers and peasants. This too was a feature of the strategy to revive popular radicalism but was not synonymous with it. Absolutely fundamental to the popular-radical strategy was the conscious encouragement of open protests in the streets by workers, farmers and students.

    But a kind of "trade unionism" or "economism" has developed among some of these groups who have pulled back from open campaigning and emphasised organising worker discussion circles and cooperatives. While such groups also become involved in strikes from time to time they tend to take a more cautious approach. This caution essentially stems from the absence of a broader political project, namely, the building of an open political movement for change. This position is often justified on the grounds that the general political situation is not yet ready for any open political movement which bases itself on a pro-worker program. Taking a low profile approach is often put forward as a more serious method of work.

    Disagreement on this point has lead to polarisation and splits in organisations on a number of occasions. The assessment of the popular-radical current to this polarisation was best summed up in an article published in 1992 in the now banned Progres magazine which has been the main publication of this current. The article by Madjid "History Teaches That it is the Movement that Revolutionises" was re-published in Win Democracy with the People's Strength which containes the documents that were the basis of discussion at the conference that founded the PRD.

    ...the radical-popular-progressive movement of the 1980s has succeeded in opening up democratic space that can be used as a weapon, an instrument, for the process, for the motion forward, to build a revolutionary movement. The democratic space that has been won by the movement includes:
  • popular issues, oriented towards the people, are more popular, or are more felt amongst the masses now. Today more people and with greater confidence are willing to speak about the issues that effect the people, even the New Order regime has been forced to demagogise about this. The word rakyat or "people", long marginalised in Indonesian politics, is being used again;
  • both directly and indirectly, the level of agitation and propaganda has spread to all sectors of society. The important thing is that there is greater awareness of the degeneracy of the regime and a stronger yearning for an alternative. This is what is being called an emptiness, a vacuum, that must be quickly filled by the movement;
  • mobilisations, the movement of the masses, at specific levels can no longer be held back by the regime. Mass actions, whether organised or unorganised, are more and more launched by all sectors of society;
  • the level of militancy and radicalisation amongst the masses continues to increase. Various forms of repressive measures by the New Order regime have not stopped the forward motion, the increasing level of the issues raised or the form that the masses are using to put forward their demands;
  • the formation of alternative mass organisations, up to a certain level, has already been implemented and has not been able to be held back by the regime; and
  • the progressive forces in the movement, both those who have declared themselves and those still uncertain, are in a majority.
  • Our task in responding to the polarisation that has taken place is to maximise these six positive achievements by consolidating the progressive forces into a more solid organisation. The aim is clear: to isolate conservative elements and revive those progressive elements demoralised by the polarisations that have occurred.

    Majid's assessment rings true. The persistent launching of open protest actions, which have often resulted in detention and torture for some activists, has clearly opened up democratic space and popularised a range of social and political issues that had previously been taboo. This is reflected in the PRD's founding declaration (see Appendix).

    The challenge now faced by the movement is to fill the new democratic space. In the national situation report presented to the PRD founding conference, the reporter, Santa Adil, makes these points as he calls for the formation of a new organisation:

    The people's movement has not yet reached the stage where it can force political change. With the formation of the SBSI (3), the workers' movement's prospects has improved. Even though the SBSI may yet display some sectarianism. But the recent call by the SBSI for a general strike indicates that it is not just a paper organisation or a social club. With the ongoing strike wave and the declining credibility of the SPSI, the opportunities for building an independent trade union are constantly improving. Even the SPSI has been in the end forced by international pressures and by the increase in strikes to liberalise itself. This was a political concession made in order to obtain foreign assistance and cooperation.

    The openness and "freedom" is real, such as in the increased freedom in the mass media, the birth of the Democratic Forum, the emergence of the SBSI, the growth of various more radical NGOs and the tremendous increase in all kinds of mass actions. This proves the increasing "openness" for political action. It is clear that this openness must be filled with activity that takes us in the direction of giving this space real democratic substance. This must be so for those in the upper layers of society, but even more the case for the marginal layers such as workers, farmers, the urban poor and so on.

    The activists of the mass democratic movement that have worked for democratisation and liberalisation must make the most of this present political climate. So we need a new format which can encourage increased participation of movement activisst as agents of renewal and democratisation. What therefore is most needed is an organisation that can become a network for the collaboration of the activists of the mass democratic movement throughout Indonesia.

    It is important in relation to the launch of the PRD and the understanding of what it represents to understand the class character of the project. This is reflected, first of all, in the open appeal by Sugeng Bahagijo quoted earlier for worker and peasants as well as students and others to join the PRD. It is also clear in the very nature of the PRD and the popular radical current's emphasis on forging an organisation out of the experience of increased open mass actions and campaigns in contrast with the narrow projects of other groups which, while also adopting left theory on the working class and forming worker circles, have stepped back from the processes needed for the working class to increase its political influence and power.

    Another trend, among some student militants, has been to separate the act of open protest action from any movement-building strategy. This is most evident in the activities of the FAMI. The activists in FAMI have often carried out small but militant actions, especially those calling for an end to Suharto's rule and to military violence. Separated from any strategy of building a mass organisation, their tactics are often heavily affected by the need for alliances with sections of the ruling elite. Even so, their protest actions have contributed significantly to the changing political atmosphere. Twenty-one FAMI activists were sentenced in May to six months gaol for "insulting the head of state" at a demonstration outside the national parliament.

    However, the popular-radical current, of which PRD is a major product, is itself very conscious of the need for a working-class mass base and participation. In a document published in Winning Democracy with the Power of the People and entitled "Human Rights and Workers in the New Order", Susetro makes a very clear statement:

    Human rights, in the form that it has often been presented, has been essentially an elitist issue of concern to the middle classes. The struggle for justice and equality before the law will be in vain while one class dominates over another. When one class controls the economy (always accompanied by political power) then slogans like justice, equality and so on become nonsense. And even the demands for democracy by the middle class will not succeed unless supported by other classes, and especially the working class, which is the most oppressed class under capitalism in the New Order. The form of democracy that results from social change very much depends on who are the agents for change in that process. Long live democracy!


    1. M. Arief Rusli, "Draft Laporan Penilitian LINK-YMB", typescript, 1992.
    2. op cit., p. 42.
    3. Serikat Buruh Sejahtera Indonesia, an independent union formation, was launched by outspoken human rights lawyers and worker support activists in 1992. It is not identified with any radical political tendency.


    PRD Declaration

    We believe that a humanistic development must be accompanied by the opportunity for citizens for political participation which must be possible through democratic political institutions.

    We believe that there must be political renewal whereby the state is prepared to accommodate democratic demands.

    We believe that the articulation of democratic aspirations at this point will help the political process in Indonesia develop more healthily and achieve greater maturity.

    We believe that in order to achieve this progress all democratic groups need to co-operate in order to help complement and assist each other's efforts in these difficult tasks.

    So we who have now organised in the People's Democratic Union recommend and put forward the following demands and invite all democratic groups to work together to fulfil them.

    Democracy in politics

    Return to the people their right to organise and their right to unionise: the right to establish mass organisations and political parties beside those now allowed by the regime; that all parties have the freedom to carry out their activities at the national, provincial, district, as well as village level and in their workplaces, guaranteeing their rights to campaign freely, democratically and independently.

    Return the right of the Indonesian people to think and hold opinions freely: including freedom of the press, the right to demonstrate, the right to hold public rallies, campaigns, strikes and other constitutional and democratic means of expressing their aspirations.

    To hold elections based on the district system to directly elect people for the presidency, the legislature and judiciary for a maximum of two terms. The elections must be free, fair and honest and all citizens must be able to participate.

    To return supremacy to civilians with a review of the concept of "dual functions" [for the armed forces] and of all aspects of the "security approach".

    To guarantee full protection under the law to all citizens in all civil and criminal cases holding high the concept of "innocent until proven guilty".

    To return all civil rights to former political prisoners and current political prisoners as Indonesian citizens.

    To guarantee human rights to all Indonesian citizens based on universal applicability through an independent Human Rights Institution comprising elected members.

    Support the peaceful resolution of the East Timor problem (without military intervention) recognising the human rights and democratic rights of the East Timorese nation.

    To eliminate all forms of cultural, political and social discrimination based on religion and belief, race, ethnicity or regional origin.

    Democracy in the economy

    To eliminate all forms of monopoly practices and collusion between businesses and the authorities; the elimination of all exploitative practices of the people by the conglomerates and giant capital and the distribution of these economic assets to cooperatives, and small and medium business.

    The application of a progressive tax on the conglomerates.

    All repayment of foreign debt and interest should be made from national revenues collected from the progressive tax and should not be financed by further foreign debt.

    Protect the products of the people's agriculture and ban imports of agricultural produce.

    The elimination of manipulative practices in the name of the People's Plantation System through the redistribution of land to the people.

    Democracy in culture

    Provide free, democratic-spirited and people-oriented education for the poorer layers of society.

    Return creative freedom in the arts, in academic and intellectual endeavour in all its manifestations and return the right to democratic access to information.

    Eliminate discrimination against women.

    End all practices of enforcing cultural conformity by the dominant powers in society.

    Jakarta, May 2, 1994

    See also:

    Home | Site Map | Calendar & Events | News Services | Links & Resources | Contact Us Us