Indonesia: Elections, Suharto style

Developing Just Leadership

Hamid Papang

Muharram 25, 1418 1997-06-01

South-East Asia

by Hamid Papang (South-East Asia, Crescent International Vol. 26, No. 7, Muharram, 1418)

General Suharto, his ruling Golkar Party and the Indonesian armed forces have got it all wrapped up. The May 29 general election results in the largest Muslim country in the world have already been decided. (At Muslimedia press time, they were not held but the result is already known!).

Of the 425 seats being contested in the 500-member parliament - the military gets the other 75 seats, allocated to it by the government (generals in Pakistan, please note!) - Golkar has said that it wants at least 70 percent of the vote. The 68 percent vote it garnered in the 1992 elections is no longer considered good enough.

The chances are that Golkar will get it; not because the people support it but that its motorcycle-riding gangs, the police and the armed forces and the six million government servants who are campaigning for the ruling party, will ensure it. Scenes in Jakarta a week prior to the elections reflected what the ruling party thugs are capable of achieving.

On May 18, motorcycle cavalcades streaked through the city streets with yellow banners, the ruling party's colour, and forced motorists to the sides. All cars were ordered to tie a yellow flag on their antenas. Refusal to do so can result in one's windshield being smashed and much worse. This is democracy Suharto style.

Golkar has used other strong-arm tactics. For instance, last year, Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of the first president, Sukarno, was deposed from the leadership of the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI). Golkar and the Suharto regime played a leading role in this act of subversion of a rival political party and appointed Surjadi, deputy parliamentary leader in the outgoing parliament. Now Megawati is banned from contesting the election.

The government has even ordered a ban on people carrying banners proclaiming 'Mega-Bintang', a rhythmic combination of Megawati's name and Bintang (meaning star), symbol of the other opposition Party, the United Development Party (PPP). The banners imply that Megawati has entered into an alliance with the PPP. Megawati has denied it but done nothing to discourage her supporters from believing in it. This has rattled the government.

While proclaiming that Megawati is no threat, Suharto is taking no chances. His eldest daughter, Siti Hardianti Rukmana, also known as Tutut, has been wheeled out to blunt some of Megawati's appeal. The 48-year-old Tutut, a successful businesswoman, is being groomed as successor to the aging and ailing Suharto. In Indonesia, the presidency is a family affair.

Suharto is 75 and known to be in poor health since the death of his Catholic Christian wife, Mrs Tien, three years ago. Incidentally, she even performed Hajj, thanks to an honorary Muslim identity conferred upon her by the House of Saud.

Tutut is not only making waves of her own but she is also using tactics denied other parties and candidates. For instance, she appeared in public on May 18 with Abdurrahman Wahid, the head of Nahdatul Ulama, the country's non-political religious body. The Nahdatul Ulama claims a membership of 33 million.

Wahid declared to a cheering crowd in Yogjakarta: 'Tutut is a future leader.' He went further. Wahid declared that she had rhythmn. 'Thank God that Tutut has something in common with Nahdatul Ulama, at least when it comes to promoting unity. We believe Tutut will bring the rythmn of unity,' he added after the meeting between Rukmana and local Muslim leaders.

Under Indonesian law, it is forbidden to mix religion and politics except when one happens to be the off-spring of the president. Indonesia is ruled by Pancasila, an ideology based on kufr and shirk. There is no room for Islam in this poisonous brew in the largest Muslim country in the world. The 125 million eligible voters do not determine such matters.

Nor indeed are they really choosing their members of parliament, called the House of Representatives (DPR). The contest is for the presidency due next March. The 1,000-member People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) will meet to select the president.

All 500 members of the House of Representatives - the 425 elected in the May 29 election and 75 appointed from the military by Suharto - are members of the MPR. The other 500 members are again handpicked by Suharto. Thus, no opposition candidate has any chance to challenge the president or unseat him. In fact, under Indonesian law, calling for the removal of the president is considered treason. Only 100 percent loyalty to the incumbent is permitted.

Suharto's great democratic experiment is picking up steam and doing just fine. He is not going to allow anyone to challenge or criticise him. After all, there is democracy in Indonesia. Right?

Muslimedia - June 1-15, 1997

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