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Why the Suharto dictatorship is trying to destroy the PRD

By Max Lane

During June and July 1996 the Suharto dictatorship hardened its repression against two important sections of the broad Indonesian democratic movement, namely, the worker based, radical democratic party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PRD) and the moderate, pro- democracy party, the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI).

In June, the dictatorship intensified its manoeuvres against the leadership of the PDI. The PDI's grass roots base is among small town business people, petty traders, small farmers, workers and unemployed. At the leadership level, there is also influence from middle level Jakarta based business interests. Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of Indonesia's first President, won the leadership of the PDI in the face of opposition from the dictatorship in 1992. Her defiance of the regime's intervention in the internal affairs of the PDI has made her very popular among broad layers of Indonesian society.

On June 20, the dictatorship backed an anti-Megawati faction in the PDI which organised a renegade "PDI congress" without reference to the constitution and rules of the PDI. This "congress" elected a new PDI leadership which quickly received recognition from the dictatorship. At the same time, the government withdrew all recognition of the Megawati leadership, which still had the support of the majority of the PDI membership. This meant that the new, puppet PDI would be able to participate in the scheduled 1997 elections and that Megawati's PDI was disenfranchised. The dictatorship was afraid that Megawati's growing popularity may have resulted in a militant and potentially radical election campaign and an embarrassingly strong electoral showing for the PDI and a decline in support for the dictatorship's own party, GOLKAR (1).

Workers' protest

On July 8 the dictatorship also moved against another political force which had become increasingly prominent during the previous twelve months, the PRD.

The regime mobilised army, marine and police forces to violently disperse a 20,000 strong workers' demonstration in Indonesia's second biggest city Surabaya. The demonstration was organised by the Peoples' Democratic Party (PRD) and the Indonesian Centre for Labour Struggles (PPBI). The violent dispersal of the demonstration itself was not a new policy by the dictatorship. Neither was the arrest of the PPBI's president, Dita Sari, who led the demonstration, or other activists at the demonstration, namely, Hussein Coen Pontoh and Mohammad Sholeh.

What was new was the accusation hurled at Dita Sari that she was a communist. The accusation of `communism' is often used to terrorise workers and peasants who are constantly reminded of the fact that the military organised the slaughter of over one million people accused of being communist in 1965-66. The accusation of communism against Dita Sari was the first time a prominent political leader and activist had been accused of being a communist since the trials of Indonesian Communist Party leaders during 1965-68 (2).

Opposition start to converge

The PDI operated inside the formal political system maintained by the regime. The PDI participated in elections and the parliament, essentially still accepting the "rules of the game". Among these rules were the stipulations that only the PDI, Golkar and the officially recognised Moslem party, the United Development Party (PPP) are allowed to participate in elections and that no parties are allowed to open branches in villages or district towns. The increasing outspokenness of the PDI on issues of nepotism and interference in the internal affairs of the PDI represented a moderate opposition from within the officially sanctioned system.

The PRD based its strategy on mass action, street demonstrations, building strength and militant protest activity by workers and peasants and operated outside the officially sanctioned system. It was built out of the PPBI, Students in Solidarity with Democracy in Indonesia (SMID), the National Peasants Union (STN) and the Peoples Art Network (JAKER). The PRD was not recognised as a political party that was allowed to participate in elections and the PPBI was not recognised as a union that was allowed to openly organise in the factories. Even so, the PRD's protest mobilisations developed for itself an increasing prominence.

A chronology of actions during 1995 and 1996 carried out by PRD and associated groups is included in Part I of this booklet.

The dictatorship's backing of the June renegade PDI conference and their support for the newly installed PDI leadership of Suryadi greatly angered much of the mass base of the PDI, especially students, workers and unemployed who had joined the PDI since the election of Megawati as the PDI president and where there was no PRD or other more radical group to join. In several cities street demonstrations were organised to protest the dictatorship's manoeuvre to set up the Suryadi PDI. Many of these protests were organised jointly with the PRD, including a demonstration of 15,000 people in Jakarta on June 20 which came into direct confrontation with the military. (See chronology in this section.)

In Jakarta, the supporters of Megawati refused to leave the PDI headquarters and barricaded the office. A wide range of political organisations, including the PRD, as well as human rights groups, supported this action. Almost 30 organisations banded together to form the Indonesian Peoples' Assembly (MARI). The PDI headquarters was transformed into a venue for an ongoing open political discussion forum for the broad democratic opposition.

Crackdown starts

Military and regime officials gave several warnings that the Megawati PDI supporters should hand the PDI offices over to the dictatorship's installed leadership. The PDI members in the PDI offices refused. Then on the morning of July 27, young men in PDI T-shirts attacked the PDI offices with stones and then charged inside with the military and police looking on. Regime officials stated that the young men were members of the Suryadi PDI, however most activists in the human rights movement in Jakarta say they were ABRI (army) commandos. Human rights activists report over 60 people killed in the attack. Two months after the attack the government appointed but increasingly assertive National Human Rights Commission confirmed 5 dead and 74 "missing". The regime still says there were only three killed.

PDI supporters massed and about 10,000 began a protest march. This march was violently dispersed by the military again. As news of the attack on the PDI offices and of the protest march and dispersal spread in Jakarta, spontaneous rioting broke out. The rioting lasted most of the night and continued sporadically the next day. Almost 200 people were arrested during the rioting on July 27 and the sporadic clashes on July 28.

The regime against the Megawati PDI

The attack on the PDI offices was a direct effort to make sure that the PDI under the leadership of Megawati was not only disenfranchised from participating in the formal political system but that it was also prevented from developing activities outside the formal system and on the streets. The mass protest march of June 20 and the development of the PDI headquarters as a political centre for many different political groups, almost all of which were extra-parliamentary, pointed to the potential for the political defiance against the regime, symbolised by Megawati, developing into a united front mass protest against the regime. The withdrawal of official recognition for Megawati's PDI and the installing of Suryadi was aimed at preventing her from participating in the formal electoral system. The attack on the PDI offices, the use of terror in doing so, and escalated harassment of PDI leaders was aimed at curtailing the Megawati PDI's activities outside the system. As of October 1, the regime has made no move to arrest any PDI leaders or activists or to prevent Megawati PDI groups from holding meetings. The dictatorship has however, closed down a new office opened by Megawati. The primary tactic of the dictatorship has been the unleashing of terror on July 27 aimed at the PDI's activist mass membership. The secondary tactic has been the harassment of its leaders, through summonsing them for day-long interrogations.

The regime against the PRD

On July 28, General Syarwal Hamid, head of socio-political affairs of the Armed Forces, announced that he had evidence that the rioting on July 27 had been organised by the PRD. Furthermore, he reinforced the line the dictatorship had taken since July 8 that the PRD and its affiliated organisations were "communist", used "communist methods" and so on.

On television and radio and in the newspapers, the PRD was accused of attempting to revive communism and socialism -- officially banned ideologies -- and of using the PDI issue for its "own purposes". In a press briefing following a meeting of the Politics and Security Committee of cabinet, the co-ordinating minister for politics and security, General Soesilo Soedarman, stated, "The unrest of the weekend was manipulated by a third party, called the Peoples Democratic Party". He stated that they used "Indonesian Communist Party methods".

Holding up the PRD manifesto, Soedarman complained that the PRD does not mention the official ideology of Pancasila anywhere, but states that it is based on "popular social democracy". He also explained to the press that the PRD program calls on the different sectors of society to oppose the "New Order dictatorship". "For me this is the same as the Indonesian Communist Party", Soedarman told the press.

In a separate briefing, the director general of social and political affairs of Armed Forces headquarters, General Sutoyo, told the press,

"The armed forces will go after all the members of the PRD. We are not on the defensive here, we are on the offensive. The Anti-Subversion Law will be used against them."
The military have now ordered the arrest of all PRD personnel. The regime has been hunting down PRD leaders and members and detaining them. This repression has forced the PRD into operating as an underground organisation. The massive propaganda campaign against the PRD is aimed at its total destruction. "We will wipe out the PRD down to its very roots," says General Hamid repeatedly. As of October 1, the dictatorship has detained at least 35 members of the PRD.

The regime has focused its repression on the PRD out of its fear of the emergence of a well-organised, mass activist, worker based radical democratic movement. The PRD has been building a movement outside the formal system set by the dictatorship, defying the limits set by Suharto. The PRD's campaign directly defies the dictatorship's official policy of treating the mass of the population as a "floating mass". This English language term adopted by the dictatorship in the 1970's refers to the policy of eliminating all mass participation in politics. The PRD has led the way in subverting the floating mass policy of the dictatorship.

Human Rights Watch/Asia, Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Centre for Human Rights commented in a report issued soon after the crackdown:

In 1995 and 1996, as PRD, SMID and PPBI have emerged as prominent elements of the pro-democracy movement, street protests have become larger, more frequent, better organised, less focused exclusively on the grievances of specific groups of workers or peasants (although those grievances are still forcefully raised), and more explicit about demanding political change at the top.
This assessment is also reflected in some of the dictatorship's own comments. General Hamid's central propaganda attack on the PRD as "communist" is that the PRD sees organising the working class as the most important way to achieve a genuine multi- party democracy. Commenting on the PRD's effectiveness in doing this, the army newspaper, Berita Yudah wrote of the PRD:
"They operate in strategic areas, among students and workers, forming public opinion through leaflets and publications. Wherever there are leaflets and an action of over 1000 people, it's the PRD behind it. They are very clever and intelligent young people. They are not only very theoretically brilliant, rivalling any scholar, but also throw themselves into the field. They are not only brilliant orators casting a spell over the people, but also understand the people in great detail. That's the PRD."
In Surabaya, in early September, Major General Soebagyo Hadisiswoyo, accompanied by several other high ranking military, informed the press that from captured documents:
"It is clear that the activities of the PRD group are not as simple as previously thought. It is obvious from its manifestos that the thinkers and planners of the PRD are very intelligent people who have a very great understanding of the course of Indonesian political developments".
A major fear of the regime has been that the general popularity of Megawati among Indonesia's urban poor might link up with the organisational capacity and commitment of the PRD and its mass base in factory areas and on certain campuses. The fear of worker unrest is particularly great. The only political figure arrested after July 27 who was not from the PRD or an affiliated organisation was Muchtar Pakpahan, the outspoken labour advocate and president of the moderate, US supported trade union, SBSI. Pakpahan also supported the free speech forums at the PDI headquarters. Like the PRD leaders, Pakpahan is likely to be tried for subversion or slandering President Suharto.

The dictatorship is also systematically summonsing for interrogation almost every political figure who has had any level of co-operation with the PRD. Given that the PRD has been at the forefront of such initiatives as Indonesian Solidarity for a Free Press (SIUPP), the Independent Election Monitoring Committee (KIPP) and the Indonesian Peoples Assembly (MARI), established to support Megawati Sukarnoputri's struggle to defend her leadership of the PDI, almost every active democratic leader in Indonesia has had dealings with the PRD leaders. This systematic summonsing is also clearly aimed at intimidating democratic activists from linking up with the PRD.

Defiance continues

The majority of PRD, PPBI, SMID, STN, and Jaker leaders and activists have avoided capture and now carry out their organising work underground. Andi Arif, the president of SMID, has emerged as the underground PRD's spokesperson in Indonesia. Arif remains able to organise secret meetings with the press so that interviews presenting the PRD's views still appear in the media. An interim underground leadership has been established and outside Indonesia, the PRD has set up an Overseas Representative Office headed by PRD International General Representative, Nico Warouw. The PRD leaders in prison maintain an attitude of defiance refusing to sign their interrogation reports. They have also received strong support from their friends and family.

Megawati's PDI refuses to accept the legitimacy of the dictatorship's installed leadership. In East Java a meeting of the local puppet PDI group was picketed by hundreds of real PDI members. Megawati has attempted to open a new national PDI headquarters. Megawati continues her defiance, with a strategy that remains confined within the formal political system. Most of her initiatives to date have taken the form of legal challenges through the courts, actions which keep the issues in the media and before the public's eye.

While the regime has successfully frightened some democratic figures away from the PRD, others have taken a principled stand of solidarity in defence of the PRD activist's democratic rights. Most prominent among the latter, is the former publisher and journalist Goenawan Mohammed, human rights lawyer Haji Princen and Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Indonesia's foremost novelist. Indonesia's community of civil liberties lawyers have also stood firm and are providing legal counsel for all PRD prisoners as well as Muchtar Pakpahan. They have also tried to help the more than 100 other people arrested during the anti-government rioting.

International solidarity

The actions of the Suharto dictatorship since July 8, which have escalated since July 27, represent the most severe crackdown since 1978. The PDI is curtailed and harassed, as are many other individual activists and NGOs. Some like Muchtar Pakpahan face the possibility of long prison sentences. The PDI's and PRD's grass-roots supporters are subject to acts of terror, such as the military dispersal of the peaceful July 8 PRD worker's demonstration, the violent and murderous attack on the PDI office and the mass arrests during the anti-government rioting on July 27. The PRD is subject to a campaign by the dictatorship aimed at its total destruction. Many PRD leaders and activists face long prison sentences or even death.

But both the moderate and radical democratic forces remain organisationally intact and defiant. The regime still faces a challenge from the potentially most powerful alliance of democratic forces it has had to face.

In this period, political and material support is urgently needed in Indonesia. The political and civil rights of all sections of the democratic movement must be defended. All democratic minded people everywhere must demand the freeing of all political prisoners in Indonesia.

Most pressing is the need for political solidarity with that section of the movement now under the most severe attack because of its leading role in building a strong, militant, radical worker based political organisation, the PRD and its associated groups. The PRD needs the maximum international support today. The destruction of an entire organisation -- the first organisation to develop under the Suharto dictatorship as a national, radical democratic activist organisation -- will be a loss to the whole movement in Indonesia.

ASIET calls on all concerned people to join it in an international campaign in solidarity with the Indonesian people in their struggle for democracy. As one contribution to this campaign, ASIET is happy to publish this booklet so that more people can come to understand what is happening in Indonesia and exactly what kind of organisation is it that the Suharto dictatorship is currently trying so hard to destroy.


  1. Golkar or Golongan Karya, literally means Functional Groups. It was established by the Army in the early 1960s as a political organisation supposedly without an ideology. After Suharto came to power it was used as the electoral vehicle to directly represent the dictatorship in the "elections" that are held every 5 years.
  2. In these elections, only three parties are allowed to participate. These are Golkar, the PDI and the Moslem United Development Party (PPP). The PDI and PPP have been consistently subjected to intervention by the dictatorship to ensure pliant leaderships. The rise of Megawati Sukarnoputri in the PDI has been the first challenge to this.
  3. No political parties are allowed to open branches below the administrative level of provincial capital. All election candidates are vetted by the military. All civil servants, including village heads, are obliged to support Golkar through a policy called "monoloyalty" of civil servants.
  4. In the 500 member House of Representatives only 400 are elected. In the 1000 member Peoples Consultative Assembly, which elects the President, 600 are appointed by the President. The other 400 are the elected members of the House of Representatives.
  5. Taking advantage of confusion created by a mutiny against the Army High command on 30 September 1965 by left-leaning mid-ranking army and air force officers, Army Strategic Command chief, Major-General Suharto launched a pogrom against the Indonesian Communist Party and all other radical mass organisations. At least 1 million people were slaughtered by the army and right-wing gangs. Almost 20,000 people were gaoled without trial for 14 years. Several others were tried and given death sentences or life imprisonment.

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