Jakarta likely to pass law banning protests

INDONESIA IN TRANSITION

Abri chief Gen Wiranto is believed to have taken the initiative on the law, which will give the military a legal basis to act against radical groups.

THE Indonesian government is likely to pass a new law soon to ban “disruptive” political rallies and demonstrations which the powerful armed forces (Abri) say is undermining confidence in the country’s economy.

The proposed regulation, which sources said was the initiative of Abri chief General Wiranto, will give the military “a legal basis to crack down on pro-reform groups causing anarchy” in the capital and 26 other provinces.

“This country will never recover economically if there are political squabblings and daily protests,” said a senior government official who was consulted by the military on the matter.

“Our aim now is to concentrate on rebuilding the economy and we cannot be sidetracked by all these groups pushing for political reform overnight.

“No businessman would want to put his money in an unstable country.”

An Abri source said the new regulation could be passed in a week or two and a team of experts was now deciding the best way to push it through.

It could take the form of a presidential decree, but some are sceptical it would be well-received if done that way, and instead want Parliament to debate the proposal before it becomes law.

But the new rules would not give Abri carte blanche to ban all forms of protest.

Said the source: “Political parties and pressure groups are free to demonstrate but they need to get permission and give assurances they will not violate other people’s freedom.

“This is the practice in most countries, including the United States. So what we are demanding now is nothing extraordinary.”

He added that the Abri leadership was keen on a new law because of “an escalation in protests nationwide”.

“Street demonstrations in Jakarta brought down Suharto,” he said. “People in provinces are now using the same approach to bring down local governors and officials who they think are corrupt.”

Analysts believe the proposal was also the military’s response to threats by the chairman of the Indonesian Prosperous Labour Union, Mr Muchtar Pakpahan, to organise nationwide demonstrations unless the government holds a special session of the People’s Consultative Assembly.

Over the past few weeks, many labourers in Jakarta have gone on strike and staged rallies demanding better salaries and the elimination of corruption.

A three-star general said that there were undisclosed groups trying to bring down the Habibie administration, adding: “They are being engineered for political purposes.”

A team of senior military officers, led by Abri socio-political chief Lieutenant-General Bambang Yudhoyono, has been working for the last three weeks to decide the best way to handle growing unrest in Indonesia since Dr Habibie took over from Mr Suharto on May 21.

A source with links to the military said that initial plan was to clamp down on all political activities.

But Abri officers decided against this “extreme measure which, while restoring stability, could be suicidal for the economy”.

There were fears of a backlash from foreign countries and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which could withhold aid to the country, battering the troubled economy even more.

A source said: “Some might think that we are taking a step backwards in democratic reform by pushing through this law.

“But we are sure many moderates will support it because they know that without stability, there will be no economic recovery – only chaos for many more months ahead.”

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