Danger of widespread social unrest in Java, say analysts


LARGE-SCALE social unrest could erupt in Java and other parts of Indonesia in the next six months if the government fails to rescue the country’s ailing economy and push back rising food prices, analysts said.

They said that 60 per cent or 120 million Indonesians living in villages and engaged in agriculture in Java were now “politically dormant” but were on the verge of becoming politically “alive” if the economic crisis deepened.

“The worst-case scenario for Indonesia is when large numbers of people from the villages join forces with those in the cities in demonstrations,” said political sociologist Lukman Sutrisno from the Gajah Mada University in Yogyakarta on Sunday.

He said signs were emerging of developments that could push political forces in this direction.

Many unemployed labourers from the cities are returning to the rural areas for jobs.

But they are finding it difficult to get jobs in the villages and are placing additional pressure on food and resources in farms.

One way for them to “vent their frustrations was to link up with opposition forces like student and labour movements in cities like Jakarta, Surabaya, Bandung and Yogyakarta”, he said, warning:

“The bottled-up tensions could just explode.

“If there is instability at grassroots level, there will be general instability at national level.”

Economist Wiratno from the University of Diponegoro in Semarang said that Java would be worst hit because of overpopulation and limited resources in this sprawling archipelago of 200 million people.

For example, farmers are now barely able to support their families on small holdings that are shrinking in size on the overcrowded land.

Most of the key industries feeling the brunt of the economic crisis are also located in the island.

“Java is the political hotbed in these difficult times,” he said. “The other provinces outside Java will face problems, but at a lower level.”

Mr Wiratno said that one way to defuse tension was to implement the measures of the International Monetary Fund, which, among other things, promises subsidies for basic food items.

He noted that people in villages were still relatively better off than those in urban areas because they still had food supply from earlier harvests and were “nowhere near starvation”.

He said that a large number of farmers and villagers were at this stage “powerless” to do anything. “They are too frightened of the security apparatus,” he said.

The Indonesian armed forces stations troops and maintains a pervasive political apparatus stretching down to the village level in all provinces that allows it to influence and counter any anti-government force.

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