Issue 225 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published December 1998 Copyright © Socialist Review
Once again students and workers have taken centre stage in Indonesia. A series of demonstrations over three days in the middle of November to coincide with a special parliamentary session by the Habibie regime culminated in a march of over 100,000 on the streets of Jakarta in which the army opened fire killing 18 people and injuring over 400. The result of these recent protests has been to increase the pressure on Habibie to resign; there have also been reports of splits in the army as they grapple with the growing revolutionary movement. Clearly, as we go to press the Indonesian revolution has reached another turning point.
The protests were not simply confined to Jakarta. In Medan and Ujung Pandang thousands occupied the airport demanding that they be flown to Jakarta to join the protests. In northern Sumatra protesters took 16 local politicians hostage until they signed a statement that Suharto be put on trial. Large protests also took place in Bali and at Lampung.
But Jakarta was the centre of the action. For three days running, students marched and held cavalcades through the city. They were joined by the urban poor and workers who left shops, banks and offices in support. A mock parliament was set up by the students at Proclamation Monument which became a rallying point for the marches throughout the city.
Demonstrators sang songs calling on the army to dissolve itself and chanted, 'The people united will never be defeated.' Time and again the chanting workers and students were able to break through the barricades that had been set up by the police and the army.
At times there were several simultaneous marches which converged on the parliament as the students tried to repeat their occupation of last May. As they marched, local people joined them and ran ahead of them trying to push the police and army aside. As they got closer to the parliament building the troops were ready for them - they were well entrenched and a tense confrontation ensued. Eventually one student yelled at a colonel, 'There are 100,000 of us and we're ready to fight you.'
The army opened fire - at first with rubber bullets and then, indiscriminately, with live ammunition. This enraged the local population which poured onto the streets to support the protests.
The order to open fire clearly came from the top. Habibie appeared on television the following day in support of the army - he has shown himself to be just as ruthless as the old dictator Suharto. Now he says the students must 'avoid anarchy' and demands that the transition to democracy must take time. Clearly he will take whatever measures are necessary to quell the protests.
In this he is given the full support of the army. General Wiranto was also in charge when Suharto was in power. After the revolution in May he strengthened his position after Suharto's son in law was kicked out. The army still plays a dominant role in the politics of Indonesia - a position it is clearly not prepared to relinquish without a fight.
The response of the students to the army massacre has been to call for a three day general strike. As Socialist Review goes to press it is still not clear how successful this has been. But it is clear that only mass protests from below can bring real change - it on this that the fate of the Indonesian revolution depends.
Thanks to Tom O'Lincoln for additional information.
For more see Review of the Year pages 15-20
'We struggle with the people against the regime. We have had a long march of 100,000 people from Salemba to Gedung MPR/DPR (the Parliament building). On Friday 13 November the military killed the people--we call it Bloody Friday 13th. They used weapons with real bullets, teargas, sticks and snipers on the building around the Semanggi Flyover. The killing took place between 3pm and 2am the next day. Again and again the military shot--they never stopped shooting the people. The people struggled only with rocks and a few molotov cocktails. The military hunted the people who had run to save their lives and then shot them. Many people have been killed and injured. At the Polda(Police Headquarters), Gatot Subroto Street and Slipi, the military shot the people. The worst was at Semanggi. We are alright. Our friends have been injured and shot, but not seriously. Send our greetings to comrades for their solidarity. Revolutionary greetings.'