Indonesia: Corruption, crisis and disillusionment

As over 120 Millon Indonesians went to the polls on April 5th they were faced with a stark choice. Of the two major parties on offer was incumbent Democratic Party of Indonesia led by President Megawati Sukarnopoutri which for the past 5 years has failed to tackle any of the problems facing the ordinary people of Indonesia. The other major "choice" open to voters was Golkar, the party machine which supported the military dictator of 30 years, Soeharto.

The election this year is the second since the revolutionary events of May 1998 which overthrew the dictatorship of Soeharto. The students and workers who led this overthrow, however, had much more in mind than the inept do nothing leadership of Megawati Sukarnopoutri. They demanded an end to corruption, nationalisation of key industries, increased wages and conditions and improved living conditions.

Unfortunately the government has delivered nothing to the heroic participants of May 1998 and only delivered further corruption and cuts. The almost halving of its vote, decimation of its parliamentary representation and the fact that it was outpolled by the party of a former dictator is a reflection of this anger.

The increase in support for Golkar, however, should not be seen as support for the party or it’s policies but rather disillusionment with the political system and the lack of a viable alternative- a socialist alternative. The incredible 11 million (more than half of Australia!) informal votes is testament to this disillusionment. As one Age reporter noted: "The sight of former president Soeharto happily walking to a nearby polling booth to vote perhaps more than any other event demonstrated the absurdity of this week’s Indonesian election. I, like many others no doubt, had assumed that the billionaire former dictator was bedridden. He had after all been declared unfit to stand trial on charges of corruption. Once again, it was shown that in Indonesia you can get away with practically anything. And that is where the near-futility of Indonesian elections comes in."

Indonesians have experienced first hand the harsh reality of capitalism. The dictatorship of Suharto was maintained by resting on the global economic boom of the 70’s and 80’s but once this inevitably came to an end any illusions in the Suharto regime were shattered. After the Asian economic crisis hit Indonesia unemployment skyrocketed while wages and living conditions plummeted as inflation grew. This economic crisis drove millions more Indonesians below the poverty line while Suharto and his cronies lived in opulent surroundings as they fleeced the country bare. Capitalism guarantees crisis after crisis and is no solution.

Corruption in Indonesia has become so rife that ruling bourgeoisie barely bothers to mask its control over parliamentary "democracy." As one age reporter noted: "Democracy is a good thing. But what is the point of it when the state apparatus is so corrupt that most laws are subverted to the point of irrelevancy? Who cares whether this or that leader is elected when corruption will mean that their policy platforms are unlikely to be implemented, and certainly not in the way that they would intend?"

The only way forward for the Indonesian people is to come together to form a new mass workers party and to fight for the socialist transformation of society. Indonesia is rich in revolutionary history and the first step forward is to learn the mistakes of the past.

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June 2004