Wednesday, October 20, 1999

Indonesian students demand: military out of politics!

By Chris Latham

Indonesia's People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) is expected to elect a new president on October 20. Sections of the ruling Golkar party have raised the possibility of dropping their candidate, President B.J. Habibie, and supporting Megawati Sukarnoputri, who polled highest in Indonesia's general election in June.

Habibie has invited the head of the armed forces and defence minister General Wiranto to be his vice-president. Megawati, in an appeal for nationalist support, has called for a delay of the vote to ratify the result of the August 30 independence ballot in East Timor. Who the president will be remains uncertain.

On October 14, 1000 students clashed with the military on the streets of Jakarta. The protesters pointed out that Habibie is a continuation of the status quo. The troops involved in the clash were drawn from the 60,000 members of the Indonesian military (TNI) stationed in Jakarta to defend the MPR session.

Students are leading the battle to remove the major obstacle standing between the Indonesian people and their aspiration for a more democratic society  -  the TNI.

Military out of politics!
Since Suharto's resignation last year, the demand to end the military's dual role  -  in "defence" and politics  -  has gained widespread support. The TNI has unelected representatives in parliament at every level. The territorial structure of command in Indonesia places TNI personnel at every level of society, right down to the village, in order to block attempts to organise the mass sentiment against the regime.

The brutality of the TNI has been further exposed by its recent terror campaigns in East Timor and Aceh, which have deepened the Indonesian people's distrust of the TNI. In response, the regime has made a number of "reforms". There is now a formal division between the TNI and the Indonesian police (Polri), members of the military are no longer able to hold positions in the public service, and there is wide agreement among the elite about the need to phase out military seats in parliament (although this is not expected for another five years).

These reforms are superficial and the struggle remains to enforce and extend them. Last month, the TNI attempted to reassert itself through the introduction of a state security bill which would have given it greater powers to declare martial law, censor the press and detain people without trial. The bill was sneaked through the old military dominated parliament on September 23, in its last few hours of existence.

Three weeks of demonstrations by students, in which eight students were killed, and the impact of the TNI's defeat in East Timor, stopped Habibie from ratifying the bill, but it remains a threat. The bill could be ratified any time the military feels it can get away with it.

Students lead the way
Students were at the forefront of the movement which brought down Suharto. Whoever Indonesia's new president is, dwi fungsi remains. Students are intervening in the presidential battles with demonstrations to demand "Habibie out!" and an end to dwi fungsi.

Students from a range of different organisations have formed the National Student League for Democracy (LMND). The LMND has supported the development of workers', urban poor and farmers' groups, and participated in protests for workers' rights. In Jakarta, student groups that are now in LMND participated in May Day protests with members of the Workers Committee for Reform Action.

End military ties!
Political and financial support provided by the Australian government has helped the TNI maintain its powerful position in Indonesian society. This support has assisted the regime's violent repression of the movements for democracy in Indonesia and for self-determination in East Timor, West Papua and Aceh.

Even after the recent events in East Timor, the Australian government has cancelled only a few joint training exercises with the TNI. The defence treaty between Australia and Indonesia was cancelled by the Indonesian government. Australian businesses with investments in Indonesia, and their representatives in government, see the TNI as vital to protecting private profits.

The solidarity movement can play an important role in the struggle for democracy in Indonesia by maintaining the campaign to force the Australian government to end all military ties with the Indonesian regime. Resistance will continue to support this campaign.

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October 20, 1999

Originally published in Green Left Weekly #381

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