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Perppu Ormas: Muzzling democracy, elite conflict and the rise of fundamentalism

Arah Juang - July 2017

On Monday May 8, Coordinating Minister for Politics, Security and Legal Affairs (Menkopolhukam) Wiranto, Justice and Human Rights Minister (Menkumham) Yasonna Laoly, Home Affairs Minister (Mendagri) Tjahjo Kumolo and National Police Chief (Kapolri) General Tito Karnavia issued a statement at the security affairs ministry on the dissolution of the group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI).

A week earlier, Wiranto said that the government would issue a government regulation to dissolve the HTI. On Wednesday July 12, he announced that President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo had signed into law Government Regulation in Lieu of Law Number 2/2017 on Social Organisations (Perppu Ormas).

According to Wiranto there were three considerations in issuing the Perppu Ormas: An urgent need to quickly resolve a legal issue, to address a legal vacuum that is not covered by existing laws and, because this legal vacuum cannot be resolved by creating new legislation.

Although the propaganda by President Widodo's administration and reported in the mass media has tried to imply that the Perppu would only target the HTI, the fact is that the law can be used to muzzle any organisation that that is against the regime.

Article 59 Paragraphs 3 and 4 of the Perppu state that a social or mass organisation can be banned if it misuses, blasphemes against or desecrates any of the officially recognised religions in Indonesia or carries out hostile acts against a given group, including state officials. It also prescribes separatist activities that threaten the sovereignty of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI) or adhere to, develop or spread teachings or ideas that conflict with the state ideology of Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution. This includes atheism, Marxism and Leninism.

Violations of this article can result in the Kemenkumham or Kemendagri revoking an organisation's permit, life imprisonment or a jail sentence of between five and 20 years.

Despite earlier assurances on the same day Laoly asserted that it would not just be HTI that would be disbanded but that there were several other social organisations that could be dissolved using the Perppu.

Several days after the Perppu was signed, Attorney General HM Prasetyo said that the AGO along with other government agencies such as the National Police (Polri), State Intelligence Agency (BIN) and the Indonesian military (TNI) were collecting data on social organisations that are against Pancasila.

The Perppu Ormas can also be used to muzzle minority religious groups on the grounds of blasphemy or insulting religion, or individuals as in the case of former Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama. Accusations of blasphemy will inevitably be followed by the kind of persecution suffered by religious groups like the Ahmadiyah, Syiah, Gafatar or even Christian groups.

Organisations articulating demands for West Papuans to resolve the Papuan problem democratically through self-determination will also be repressed.

And how many organisations have been accused of being communist when they resist oppression? Even just wearing a T-shirt with "Indonesian Coffee Lovers" – the initials being the same as the banned Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) – can result in being dragged in for questioning by the TNI. The Perppu Ormas can easily be used to muzzle anyone by charging them with "... spreading teachings or ideas that are against Pancasila".

Too much democracy

Amid the struggle between different factions of the bourgeois class and the political confusion this entails and the growth of reactionary groups creating fears that Indonesia will end up in a mess like Syria, the bourgeois class has found a common enemy – democracy. Specifically democracy for the working class and the oppressed.

Widodo in a speech on February 21 stated that democracy in Indonesia had gone too far and that democracy had reached or even exceeded its maximum point. Because of the democratic conditions are no longer ideal and in disorder. The evidence being the politicisation of SARA or ethnic, religion, race, inter-group inspired conflicts.

Former Special Forces commander and Gerindra Party chairperson retired General Prabowo Subianto meanwhile has often asserted that democracy in Indonesia is the main source of corruption and other national ills. In the first debate during the 2014 presidential election, Prabowo criticised "destructive" democracy and said that he wanted to develop a democracy that was "productive". Moreover at a reunion of retired military officers Prabowo even said that democracy "is making us tired".

Similar views have been expressed by Indonesian military (TNI) commander General Gatot Nurmantyo. The view that democracy has gone too far was also expressed by People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) speaker Zulkifli Hasan. Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu has said that the State Defense program could prevent excessive democracy. Suharto's daughter and Golkar Party politician Titiek Soeharto has called on society to continue Suharto's "struggle" and step back from this excessive democracy.

Democracy is being blamed for the country's ills by labeling it as "excessive" and having "gone too far", resulting in disorder, the rise of racism and fundamentalism, and the growth of reactionary groups. Anther more refined argument claims that fundamentalism or reactionary groups have grown by taking advantage of democratic freedoms.

These arguments however contain fallacies. First, the view that there is too much democracy in Indonesia or that democracy in Indonesia is continuing to develop. This view is supported by most contemporary political observers of Indonesia. Edward Aspinall for example in a 2014 Indoprogress article titled Prabowo and the Dangers to Democracy in Indonesia, wrote: "... many contemporary Indonesian political observers – including myself – over the last few years have tended to have a positive view or the democratic achievements in Indonesia. Many things have already been achieved, press freedom that continues to improve and the emergence of a strong civil society. Efforts to thwart the democratic process have almost always been defeated by public resistance. Indonesian democracy it seems continues to be consolidated".

New Order concessions

The 1998 reform movement (reformasi) led by students and the ordinary people succeeded in overthrowing the Suharto dictatorship, resulting in opening up democratic space and an explosion of mass actions and organisations. However these democratic revolutionary tasks were unable to be completed. The greatest fear of the bourgeois class that sought to take power post Suharto was the very people's movement that was the principal force in his overthrow. Because of this the bourgeois continues to attempt to make concessions with ruminants of the Suharto military regime.

The Ciganjur declaration by "reform" figures Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid, Megawati Sukarnoputri, Amin Rais and Sultan HB X is an example of this. Students and the ordinary people poured into the streets to thwart the 1998 Special Session of People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) which they rejected because the regime of President Habibie – the former vice president and Suharto's hand-picked successor – represented the remnants of the Suharto military regime. They demanded total reformasi and a transitional administration free of New Order elements. The bourgeois class however wanted Habibie to give them an election, abolish the dual function of the ABRI (now called TNI) in stages and thus maintain the remnants of the Suharto regime.

Elections in 1999 saw Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) win a majority of votes but the MPR instead "elected" Gus Dur as president. Gus Dur's reformist agenda however proved too much for sections of the bourgeois class and in 2001 he was impeached by an alliance between remnants of the New Order: the military, Suharto's former ruling party Golkar, the PDI-P and the so-called Central Axis – a coalition of Islamic-based parties made up of the National Mandate Party (PAN), the National Awakening Party (PKB), the United Development Party (PPP), the Justice Party (PK) and the Crescent Star Party (PBB).

Megawati along with her running mate Hamzah Haz were "elected" president and vice president paving the way for neoliberalism. Democratic space was also curbed with the Mega-Hamzah regime having the record of jailing the largest number of activists since Suharto.

In the first direct presidential elections in 2004 Megawati was defeated by former military general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY). After serving two terms, in 2014 Widodo and Jusuf Kalla were elected as president and vice president. This period did not however see any improvements in democracy in Indonesia.

To this day, the numerous human rights violations committed by the Suharto regime have yet to be resolved. Human rights activists such as Munir have continued to be assassinated and the criminalisation and jailing of activists continues to occur. There has been no justice for the crimes against humanity committed by the TNI in Aceh and East Timor and in Papua the military remains in control and rights violations continue. The TNI's territorial command structure which mandates the deployment of military command posts and detachments at all levels of the civil administration remains intact.

Repression has also been legalised through legal mechanisms. Generally this is done by providing loose definitions of what violates the law making it easy for the regime to criminalise anyone who seen as being against them. Thus the slightest resistance can result in arrest, jail terms and other forms of repression.

At the same time legislation has been passed to block people's movements that are seen as different, organised and politically active. This can be seen from the enactment of the law on social organisations, the national security law, the intelligence law, the law on handling social conflicts, the state defense reserve component law and 31 Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) made between the TNI and private companies or government ministries allowing the military to become increasingly involved in civilian affairs.

Rise of fundamentalism

The second error is the view that fundamentalist groups have grown because of democracy. In an Arah Juang article titled "Fundamentalism 101" in July we wrote that the rise of Islamic fundamentalism is "... a result of imperialist intervention and domination. Imperialist forces (primarily the US) play an active role in maintaining, funding and supporting Islamic fundamentalist groups. These groups are used to oppose nationalists or the left. It is these Islamic fundamentalist groups that have then sized or filled the political vacuum left behind by the nationalist and the left. This cannot be separated from the internal contradictions and the failures of nationalism and the Stalinist left. Including the failures of nationalist regimes and the Stalinist left to resolve economic problems and crisis by relying on capitalist methods. These Islamic fundamentalist groups are able to offer an "Islamic" solution through their broad charity networks."

The growth of fundamentalism, racist and reactionary groups in Indonesia is not because of democracy but is closely linked with the interests of the bourgeois class in suppressing the people's movements and ensuring the victory of certain bourgeois factions. They have also been able to grow rapidly in conditions of crisis when the bourgeois class has been unable to provide solutions while left forces are as yet unable to become an alternative that can be broadly accepted by the working class and ordinary people.

This is also because there is no real democracy in Indonesia – democracy for the working class and oppressed. What does exist is plenty of democracy for the bourgeois class. They are free to be corrupt, commit crimes against humanity, incite racist riots, play people off against each other, murder and rape, with legal impunity. They even continue to live in wealth and hold prominent positions.

While seeking to blame democracy, the bourgeois class has increased its chauvinistic propaganda. Pancasila, NKRI, Bhineka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity) and national integrity as grounds to justify repression and garner mass support. These are the same themes used by the Suharto dictatorship and are still being used today as a means of control and repression against anyone who is against those in power. These concepts also obscure class contradictions. As if the bourgeoisie has the same interests the working class and the oppressed majority, as if it wants to save the working class and the oppressed majority from fundamentalism, racism and reactionary groups.

More powers to protect democracy

There is a common perspective among the pro-democracy movement as well as the left, that in the face of attacks by reactionary groups they should demand that the bourgeois state carry out its function of upholding the law and safeguarding democratic space. The other unspoken response is to disguise yourself in order to avoid attacks by such groups.

In addition to this there is also a logic that argues the working class and ordinary people should be encouraged to demand legal protection from attacks by reactionary groups because this channel of struggle is seen as a way to expose the true nature of the state apparatus and the capitalist system.

Meanwhile fighting back through mass mobilisations (including physical confrontations) against reactionary groups is seen as being as bad as the reactionary groups themselves. There is also a view that the progressive movement is still too small to be able to fight back.

By negating a class analysis of society all groups in society are thus seen as being able to live side by side with the state as its mediator. So if there is a problem between them, then the state trough its legal apparatus can act as an impartial mediator. This is the democratic mechanism, this is good democracy according to the indicators of freedom, this is democracy for all social groups, according to the followers of this perspective.

Lenin however, in his work The Proletariat Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky wrote, "A Marxist will never forget to ask: [Democracy – Ed] for which class". Certainly bourgeois democracy is better than the theocracy of the feudal era. And it is true that the current democracy in Indonesia is an improvement on the military regime of Suharto. But bourgeois democracy, "... will always be limited, incomplete, and hypocritical, a heaven for the rich and a trap and sham for the oppressed, for the poor. It is this truth that forms the most important part of Marxist teachings...".

The task of revolutionary socialists is to respond to all forms of oppression. To demonstrate the nature of the oppressive state and call for the liberation of the proletariat to overthrow capitalism and establish socialism. It is not the task of socialist revolutionaries to call on the state apparatus or the bourgeois class to carry out its functions.

This perspective by many pro-democracy groups and even some elements of the left assists the bourgeois class to manipulate the fear over the growth of terrorism, racism and reactionary groups. In the end this provides a justification for the view that the bourgeois state – its legal instruments and law enforcement – need to be strengthened.

This negates the fact that the state is a tool of oppression by the class that is in power – the bourgeois class. Thus strengthening the state means strengthening the oppression against the working class and the ordinary people. And now, this logic has resulted in the Perppu Ormas, as if it is a tool for the bourgeois class to confront reactionary groups.

Why the bourgeois can't fight fundamentalism

Those supporting the Perppu Ormas take the view that the Perppu is a means by which to fight reactionary groups.

In the December 2016 issue of Arah Juang we explained how the bourgeois class cannot do away with fundamentalism, racism and reactionary groups because they are rooted in capitalism and bourgeois society itself. We can see that all of the bourgeois factions – Widodo, Prabowo, SBY and the military – have a relationship with these reactionary groups and seek to maintain racism.

Wiranto and former State Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief AM Hendropriyono – who are now part of the Widodo camp – worked hand in hand with retired General Kivlan Zen (now a staunch Prabowo supporter) to establish the para-military groups Pam Swakarsa (civilian militia) and Rakyat Terlatih (trained civilians or Ratih).

Pam Swakarsa, which was used to counter the student and people's movement in 1998-99, was made up of a number of groups, some under the command of Furkon (Faisal Biki, an umbrella group of 24 Islamic groups), the Center for Information and Development Studies (CIDES, affiliated with the Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals or ICMI) and groups under the control of the ultra-conservative Indonesia Ulama Council (MUI), the Indonesian Committee for Solidarity with the Islamic World (KISDI), the Hizbullah Brigade BKUI, the Indonesian Youth Movement (GPI), the Al-Furqon Mosque Youth in Bekasi and the Bandung Islamic Students (MIB).

Also involved was the New Order's paramilitary group Pancasila Youth (Pemuda Pancasila or PP), the Pancamarga Youth and the Communication Forum for Children of Retired Police and Military Officers (FKPPI). Funding for the Pam Swakarsa came from Suharto crony Fadel Muhammad. Support also came from former long-time Suharto minister Abdul Gafur and East Java military commander and later Jakarta military commander Djadja Suparma.

During the Gus Dur presidency, the military endeavored to undermine his administration by organising racially motivated riots. One example of this was the riots in Ambon in which Muslims were provoked into attacking Christian communities over allegations that they wanted to revive the separatist South Maluku Republic (RMS).

The Pam Swakarsa was trained by the TNI as paramilitary force and sent to Ambon to create the riots. A network of active and retired military officers were involved in this such as Hendropriyono, Suaidy Marasabessy, Sudi Silalahi, Budiatmo, Nano Sutarmo, Rustam Kastor, Rusdi Wihasanussy and H Rusdi Hassanusi, a senior police officer and chairperson of the Maluku MUI at the time. On January 7, 2000 a religious mass meeting was held calling for a jihat (Holy War) in Ambon. Present at the event were figures such as Amin Rais, Hamzah Haz and Fuad Bawazier along with 22 Muslim organisations such as the KISDI, the PPMI, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and the Maluku Muslim Association. The paramilitary group Laskar Jihad or Holy Warriors which were sent to Ambon also had ties with the Islamic-based Justice Party (now Justice and Prosperity Party or PKS) through its ideological leader Drs. H. Abdi Sumiati alias Abu Rido.

A recent report by US journalist Allan Nairn published in The Intercept titled Trump's Indonesian Allies in Bed with ISIS-Backed Militia Seeking to Oust Elected President illustrates the relationship between the bourgeois class and fundamentalism, racism and reactionary groups.

According to Nairn an alliance was formed by Prabowo through Gerindra Party deputy chairperson Fadli Zon with ethnic Chinese business tycoon Hary Tanoesoedibjo (known as Hary Tanoe), the Suharto family, right-wing elements of the TNI and the FPI.

The report also says that a part of the funding for the protests originated indirectly from SBY through mosques and schools. Harry Tanoe, who is known as Trump's Indonesian business partner, has direct links with FPI spokesperson Munarman, who is also the attorney for the US owned PT Freeport gold-and-copper mine in West Papua, which is controlled by Carll Icahn, a close friend of Trump's.

Their aim was to overthrow the Widodo administration and block the military from being held accountable for the 1965 anti-communist purge. The initial step in this was using fabricated allegations of blasphemy against Ahok to thwart his bid for reelection as Jakarta governor.

Under the leadership of the FPI, the National Movement to Safeguard the Indonesian Ulema Council's Fatwa (GNPF-MUI) was formed which led a series of massive anti-Ahok protests in Jakarta in December last year which according to a Tirto.id article titled Those who are United and Hostile at the November 4 Demonstrations, was dominated by the FPI, Indonesian Mujahidin Council and the HTI.

Racism has indeed long been used by the Indonesian bourgeois class as an extremely useful tool to maintain their power. Reactionary groups have been maintained, trained and used to attack those with the courage to oppose the bourgeois class. Although these days the number of racially motivated riots has declined, racist, homophobic and anti-communist actions continue to be organised.

Attacks by reactionary groups are carried out against minority religious groups and freedom of association and expression as in the case of attacks against film showings and discussions on 1965. These attacks are often carried out in cooperation with the political elite, police and military, or the police allow them to take place.

Racism is also useful for the bourgeois class in order to garner mass electoral support. The political elite also enact various sharia or religious based regional regulations to gain support from reactionary Islamic groups. Meanwhile the mass media, newspapers and literature continues to indoctrinate people with religious based moral values.

More working class democracy, more revolutionary struggle

Socialists do of course reject the Perppu Ormas. However we also reject the logic of liberals and the liberal left that believes that we should fight for democracy for all, including reactionary groups like the HTI, FPI, MMI, FUI and PP.

Revolutionary socialists also call for resistance against reactionary groups. But we fight them not in the hope of receiving help from Jokowi, the bourgeois state apparatus or the Perppu Ormas.

The working class must take an independent position. Not depending upon Jokowi and not giving space to reactionary groups. The principal need therefore is a revolutionary party as a political force of the working class that is capable of fighting independently for the interests of the working class.

The first most important task is the ideological struggle to put forward an alternative vision to the chauvinism and racism of the bourgeois class. This ideology is socialism. Propaganda for a socialist solution will explain in a comprehensive way and show that all forms of oppression, suffering, discrimination and poverty are a result of capitalism. This ideological struggle means criticising the bourgeois class, reactionary groups and the relationship between them, and how they use racism to attack democracy and maintain their power.

This needs to be accompanied with the political task of building solidarity and unity between the working class and the oppressed in order to convince people of the correctness of the revolutionary socialist perspective in practical struggles.

Socialist politics encourage militant struggle against the bourgeois class and reactionary groups by means of building solidarity and unity between the working class and the oppressed. This includes launching mass mobilisations to defend discussions, seminars, democratic space and places of worship that are attacked by reactionary groups as well as launch counter actions against mobilisations by reactionary groups, including building militia units to defend themselves.

[Translated by James Balowski for the Indoleft News Service. The original title of the article was Berebut Memberangus Demokrasi - Perppu Ormas Serta Pertarungan Antara Rezim dan Oposisi Borjuis. Arah Juang is the official website of the Political Congress of the Working People's Organisation of Struggle (KPO-PRP).

Source: Arah Juang Newspaper. No link available

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