Indonesia: New clashes

Supporters of Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid clashed violently with police last week in the capital Jakarta. This follows renewed efforts by the national parliament to impeach the head of state.

On 30 May MPs voted overwhelmingly to convene a special session of the People’s Consultative Assembly within the next two months. This body has the power to impeach Wahid. If this were to happen his arch political rival, Megawati Sukarnoputri, would become President.

Impeachment proceedings against Wahid began over his alleged involvement in two financial scandals. However, this complex constitutional process represents a far wider factional struggle.

Wahid was elected president 19 months ago, following the magnificent revolutionary movement in the late 1990s that overthrew the former ‘New Order’ dictatorship of Suharto. Important sections of the armed forces support Megawati, the Vice President, in the belief that she can restore some of the privileges and power they enjoyed under the old regime. Wahid’s power base is in East Java, where Nahdlatul Ulama, the mass Muslim organisation he used to lead, is particularly strong. Under the Wahid presidency the already dire economic situation has worsened and bloody religious, ethnic and secessionist conflicts continue.

None of the politicians can provide a way out of the misery facing workers and the urban and rural poor. All the main parties advocate the market economy, which since the 1997 Asian financial crisis has brought mass unemployment and widespread poverty. The currency has lost almost 20% of its value this year, inflation is going into double figures, and the budget deficit is out of control.

The military and supporters of the Suharto years are carrying out a "purge of communism" in order to defend their power base. They recently formed an ‘Anti-Communist Front’, and have stepped up attacks on pro-democracy and Left activists. The Front calls for the ‘dispersal’ of the Democratic People’s Party (PRD), and is suspected of being responsible for the disappearance of the local PRD leader in Medan.

A new Left group, the Democratic Socialist Association (PDS) has called for the working class to lead the way in the struggle against these reactionary forces. They correctly point out that working people can have no illusions in Wahid, who tries to present himself as the defender of democratic rights. Under his brief rule workers in struggle have faced brutal police repression, next to nothing has been done to tackle endemic corruption and cronyism, and military operations have been launched against national minorities seeking self-determination. Wahid’s real attitude towards ‘democracy’ can be gauged by his threat to call a state of emergency in order to stay in office – a decree that military commanders say they will disobey.

Left parties, trade unions, workers’ organisations, genuine pro-democracy groups and students and youth need to mobilise together to resist the Anti-Communist Front, the remnants of Suharto’s regime and the government’s neo-liberal policies. This can speed the development of a mass socialist alternative to all the pro-market parties and capitalism as a whole.

This article was first published in the Socialist, weekly paper of the Socialist Party, on 8 June 2001 

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June 2001