Issue 232 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published July/August 1999 Copyright © Socialist Review
Indonesia's recent elections have resolved nothing, and millions of voters have learnt what a fraud capitalist 'democracy' is.
The elections were called to elect 462 representatives to the new 700 member assembly. It is from this that the new president will be chosen in November this year. The military will still have 38 seats in the new assembly. Also, because of Indonesia's complicated constitutional arrangement, the military will still be able to control about 10 percent of the votes for the new president.
Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) topped the poll, expressing millions of people's desire for an end to economic and social crisis and an end to rule by Suharto's corrupt Golkar party. Mass rallies of her supporters dominated the campaign. Yet the Golkar party was still a contender for the presidency, and the forces behind Suharto, particularly the army, remain a power in the land.
The main thing militating against Golkar is its lack of popular legitimacy, especially in Java where the party was often driven off the streets during the campaign. 'Even if Golkar insists on holding out as the ruling party,' said the political observer Hermawan Sulistyo in mid-June, 'for them to survive even a year would be remarkable.' If Golkar is not a viable option, however, the rulers will not have any problems with Megawati.
She is a member of the ruling class, a product of Suharto's political system. She is close to the military top brass and the generals can work with her. Her economic policies are compatible with theirs too. Megawati's adviser Kwik Kian Gie was one of the first public figures to welcome IMF intervention last year. So the new government has little to offer ordinary people amidst the terrible crisis afflicting Indonesia.
It is true that, on the face of it, the economy is bottoming out. The Asian Development Bank is forecasting 2 percent growth in fiscal year 2000, after a 13.7 percent contraction in fiscal year 1998 and a slight contraction in the current fiscal year. Inflation will be 17 percent for 1999 and 9.5 percent in 2000, compared to 58 percent in 1998. But even if the economy climbs out of crisis, the solutions will all be achieved at the expense of the workers, the peasants, and the poor, whichever capitalist politician is in power. Even so, illusions in liberal democracy have been a big obstacle to those struggles this year, most conspicuously in the student movement.
The biggest single problem was confusion about the elections. At a national conference in Bandung early this year the majority of activists, agreed to accept the elections as legitimate. Meanwhile thousands of students were drawn into party campaigns or election monitoring, as opposed to militant struggle. Although a later conference of the more militant student groups launched a series of demonstrations around the country, these have never got beyond a few thousand participants. Big workers' strikes like those in Surabaya last February have not established firm links with the political movements.
Part of the problem is that many activists believe in the stages theory of revolution: first, a democratic revolution that gets rid of all the existing dictatorial features, such as the military's 'dual function' that allows it to intervene in politics. Then, using the expanded 'democratic space', the way would be open to launch a struggle for socialism.
This view, though wrong, is based on real and important facts. The left forces are still weak and relatively isolated from the workers and peasants. Moreover the labour movement is extremely underdeveloped. So far the organised workers' movement consists only of the very moderate and passive SBSI led by Muchtar Pakpahan, and some fairly small, rather fragmented militant groups. Some of the latter have recently formed the Indonesian National Front for Labour Struggles (FNPBI)--an encouraging sign but this new national organisation is still not very large.
The majority of Indonesians, including students, undoubtedly place their hopes in liberal politicians. Many activists were drawn into electoral politics, or into election monitoring in the vain hope that this would keep the polls fair. The more radical students understood that the elections were fundamentally flawed but could not agree on what to do about it.
One section called for a boycott. This was meaningful in Timor, West Papua and Aceh. But for the great mass of the population in the rest of the country, the call sounded odd or even reactionary. In Solo, a left wing centre, attempts to hold a 'boycott' rally on the eve of the poll only attracted 50 people. Some of the Yogyakarta students also confessed that their original boycott calls had just isolated them. Indeed, when Suharto himself made a statement that the elections would not be fair, some people had thought the students were lining up with Suharto! So they had switched to the slogan 'Don't trust the elections.'
The left wing People's Democratic Party (PRD) shocked a lot of people by putting forward candidates. Recognising that the mass of people looked to the elections, the PRD decided to use them as a platform to argue for a radical programme. The programme included explanations that the electoral system was not fair. Candidates included jailed leaders like Budiman Sudjatmiko and Dita Sari. Even so, a lot of students saw this as a sell out.
Regardless of who sits in the presidential palace, ordinary people will still have to fight. The struggle will initially be fought around democratic slogans and immediate economic questions. As the votes were being counted, 600 people in Manado demonstrated against ballot rigging, while 1,000 striking workers from the Mayora food company rallied outside the finance ministry in Jakarta for a pay rise and against sackings.
But the challenge for socialists is to find ways to take the argument further, so that at least a minority of students, workers, peasants and the poor begin to see the possibility of a brighter future than the bourgeois politicians can offer them.
Tensions between North and South Korea escalated dramatically last month after South Korean patrol boats rammed at least three North Korean vessels, sinking one of them and killing dozens of North Korean sailors, and threatening to increase instability in the region with the possibility that China and the US may be drawn into any conflict.
The dispute began over crab fishing. The fishing grounds are in the buffer zone south of the 'northern limit line', which the South treats as the demarcation line between North and South in the Yellow Sea. The North has never acknowledged the northern limit line as the boundary it was imposed unilaterally by the UN after the Korean War, and its ships venture south of the line about 30 times a year, particularly in the crab season. But while North Korean vessels normally back off in the face of South Korean warships, this time they stood their ground.
The dispute comes at a time when both South and North Korea have forged closer military alliances with the world's main superpowers. The US has recently developed the 'theatre missile defence system' with South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. This allows all four countries to share use of Patriot and long range missiles from ships in the surrounding seas. This was in response to an increase in military activity from both China and North Korea.
The response from Japan's ally the US has been to increase troop levels in the South from the 37,500 they have there already, as well as sending an aircraft carrier to the sea of Japan. If the conflict between North and South Korea continues it could very quickly escalate to involve the world's superpowers.