Muscle politics in Indonesia


Instigators with sinister motives have been blamed for the rash of riots breaking out across Indonesia. One target of the accusing fingers is the Pemuda Pancasila. Some of its members were arrested recently in the Ambon and Ketapang riots. DERWIN PEREIRA reports on the seven-million-strong paramilitary group.

In the movie Forrest Gump, a simpleton character wanders blithely into scenes that are later regarded as historic. A variation of that happened here recently.

Indonesian newspapers carried a picture of former President Suharto recently together with respected Muslim leader Abdurrahman Wahid. The story was about the serious subject of national reconciliation and the grisly violence tearing Indonesia apart.

In the background of that picture, a Forrest Gump-like character appears, in the form of the bearded and plumpish Yorrys Raweyai.

However, he is anything but an innocent intruder onto the scene.

Rather, as one of the leaders of the Pemuda Pancasila organisation, usually referred to here as Preman Pancasila or “Pancasila thugs”, he was reputedly the country’s No. 1 hatchet man for the Suharto regime.

The 51-year-old former sailor from Irian Jaya is not shy of being associated with the world of gangsters.

Displayed prominently at the entrance of his house is a poster of Al Pacino in his signature role in the film Godfather III.

Asked about the poster, he said he had seen the Godfather sequel several times and admired the Mafia’s code of conduct and strong loyalties.

He sees his seven-million-strong para-military outfit as akin to the “Capo regime”.

His “best friend and soul mate” is Mr Suharto’s eldest son Bambang Trihadmodjo. And for him, his Godfather is none other than Mr Suharto.

He tells Sunday Review in an interview: “Suharto is Indonesia’s Godfather. He is our true leader. He built the country into what it is today and protected his people and followers. Without him, we have become a weak and divided society.” The organisation’s connections with Mr Suharto and his family reveal the darker underside of Indonesian politics and explain why the New Order regime survived for 32 years.


THE Pemuda Pancasila was set up in October 1959 by the then military commander General A. H. Nasution. By forging an alliance with other mass organisations like HMI and Ansor, it aimed to act as a counterweight to the communists.

It went into political oblivion, albeit temporarily, after the emergence of other influential youth groups in the early ’70s.

But with the backing of the government and ruling Golkar party, the Pemuda Pancasila was revived in 1978. Branches were established throughout the 27 provinces and its membership mushroomed.

Mr Yorrys and his shadowy counterpart, Mr Yapto Suryosumarno, a relative of the late Ibu Tien Suharto, formed a potent partnership in leading the organisation.

Many members of the group are ex-convicts and hoodlums from slum areas. Mr Yapto is unabashed about the type of people Pemuda Pancasila recruits.

“They are Indonesian citizens and they have rights as any other Indonesians,” he says. “Why can’t we give them a second chance in life? Yes, they don’t understand the law. But we can help them to do so. We are also giving them a source of income. What is wrong with that?”

Equally, he defends the military-style training they receive from the armed forces (Abri).

All recruits go through a three-week basic military training in different parts of Java to improve discipline and group solidarity. Members wear a tiger-like orange and black-striped uniform and army boots, and carry accessories like walkie-talkies.

He notes: “There is always proper command in the military. There are levels, hierarchy and procedures to follow.”

That military affiliation is expressed in helping Abri in its political and economic programmes down to village level. Members also help out in intelligence-gathering activities and establishing armed civilian militias. Golkar has also, to a large extent, depended on the Pemuda Pancasila, as one of its main youth groups, to mobilise support for the party during general elections.

To improve its image as nothing more than “a rag-tag group tied to the power centre”, the Pemuda Pancasila has tried, particularly in rural areas, to build Islamic boarding schools and hold Quran recital competitions.

However, such efforts have been undermined by the activities of some members for using intimidation, violence and bribery to get their way in protection rackets, debt collection and land disputes.

In April 1997, for example, 60 of its members were arrested for attacking five amusement centres in a Jakarta shopping complex. Their story: to wipe out gambling in the city.

Their victims tell a different tale. They said the louts wanted protection money that would be used to finance the construction of a new office for the Pemuda Pancasila.

Mr Yorrys is quick to counter such allegations.

“We are not hoodlums. We are the guardian angels of Indonesian society.”


PROVOCATEURS – This is the popular catchphrase in Indonesia today to describe the “invisible hand” in much of the rioting, sectarian violence, looting and mysterious killings in the last year, leaving behind a trail of untold deaths and mass destruction.

Ambon, Ketapang, Medan and Banyuwangi, just to name a few, are periodic reminders of what a politically motivated group can do to tug apart the loosely-knit ethnic and religious yarn of the sprawling archipelago.

The Commission For Missing Persons And Victims (Kontras) alluded to the involvement of Indonesia’s new bogeymen when it said recently that the violence in the strife-torn eastern Indonesian island of Ambon was engineered to discredit certain political leaders.

Kontras chief Munir said that two weeks of investigation by his human-rights group revealed that there was mobilisation of strangers before the riots, pamphlets and documents inciting religious passions, people with guns and the use of walkie-talkies and cellular phones during the unrest.

“The instigator seemed like he knew this situation very well and made this vulnerable issue the trigger to a bigger and broader riot,” he says.

He rejected a government explanation that the unrest was sparked off by a fight between a public vehicle driver and a thug.

But Mr Munir does not offer any clues as to who is behind the violence.

Respected Islamic scholar Abdurrahman Wahid believes that Suharto loyalist and pro-status quo elements within Golkar are responsible. With the Godfather gunned down, his supporters are fighting back.

Their aim? To cause sufficient problems in the country to signal the former leader’s continuing power and influence. There are already indications that people in rural and outlying areas are yearning for the Suharto past.

Noted a Cabinet Minister: “This is the work of people around Suharto, not necessarily Suharto himself. Some of the Pemuda Pancasila have been let loose to harass Islamic forces supporting Habibie because they see these forces as a threat to their survival.

“There is also a sense that Habibie and Wiranto have done little to protect Suharto and his family. It is a wake-up call to them.”

In the case of Ambon, Mr Wahid says the riots were incited by “someone living in Ciganjur”, interpreted by many here to mean Mr Yorrys, who lives in that area in south Jakarta and, by sheer coincidence, next to Mr Wahid’s house.

Abri chief General Wiranto has also alluded to the Pemuda Pancasila’s involvement by asking Mr Suharto to stop his “terrifying loyalists” from spreading more terror and bloodshed.

Lending credence to such views is the arrest of several Pemuda Pancasila members in Ambon and the Ketapang riots. Mr Yorrys denies such charges. When asked to respond to Mr Wahid’s allegation, he shoots back: “Why not Yapto? Why me? I know provocateurs were caught in Ambon. But does it mean that I am involved?”

The chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Mr Marzuki Darusman, who is also Golkar’s faction chief in Parliament, however, argues that too much credit is being given to the group for the violence.

“People are making them look bigger than what they are. Their influence is exaggerated and on the wane now.”

But is it?

As the largest youth group in Indonesia, the Pemuda Pancasila still commands significant weight at grassroots level to affect political outcomes.

Indeed, Golkar and Abri made use of large networks across the country to mobilise support for the ruling party in previous elections.

It is highly probable that it will do so again in the June election to preserve the old constellation of forces in the form of Golkar or newly-formed pro-Suharto groups like the Indonesian National Party and the Republic Party.


INDONESIAN independence in 1945 was won by the parallel efforts of Western-trained intellectuals and uneducated, armed volunteers in their fight against the Dutch colonialists.

Fast-forward half a century later. As Indonesia experiences the destabilising double blows of an economic and political crisis and election looms in the background, the forces of muscle politics appear to be on the rise.

The Pemuda Pancasila is not the only group accused of seeking to shape the contours of national politics from the underworld.

There are also radical Islamic groups like the Dewan Dakwah and Kisdi, which have also been accused of agitating the grassroots.

But nothing can be proven. And this is not surprising. Indonesian politics operates much like a giant mill fuelled by endless streams of rumours and innuendoes.

If asked, none of these groups will admit to be anything but perfectly legitimate social, political or religious organisations.But then Al Capone also thought of himself as a legitimate businessman. For years, he masqueraded as one despite deep suspicion of his activities. He was undone finally when courageous and incorruptible law enforcers convicted him.

The sad thing for Indonesia in 1999 is that the law enforcers’ modern-day equivalents are few and far between.

Consequently, Indonesian-style Al Capones and their supporters go about their business with relative freedom.

Select the fields to be shown. Others will be hidden. Drag and drop to rearrange the order.
  • Image
  • SKU
  • Rating
  • Price
  • Stock
  • Availability
  • Add to cart
  • Description
  • Content
  • Weight
  • Dimensions
  • Additional information
  • Attributes
  • Custom attributes
  • Custom fields
Click outside to hide the comparison bar