What Indonesians want – Change


On the eve of another political milestone, Indonesians look at the future with a simple reasoning: they voted for change and a new leader four months ago. This is what they will look for in the presidential election. Their expectations will be heightened by the presence of thousands of Megawati supporters who have arrived in the capital. If the poll produces a leadership who has little support among the people, many fear cynicism with the political process could explode into violence.

INDONESIANS went to the poll four months ago for change.

Their votes in what was considered to be the first free and fair election in 50 years shattered the edifice of status quo forces that had long dominated the face of politics.

Golkar, the political juggernaut of Mr Suharto’s New Order regime for 30 years, saw its votes tumble from 70 to 24 per cent.

But the winner, Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri’s Indonesian Democratic Party-Perjuangan (Struggle), fared only slightly better with 10 per cent more of the votes. For some, this was enough justification for a new government.

Political analyst Soedjati Djiwandono wrote in the English-language Jakarta Post daily recently: “The logic of the man in the street may be simple: he wants change.

“And a change of leadership is what he understands best. His understanding of democracy is also simple: the new leader is to be the one whose party won the largest number of votes in the general election. He does not want to feel his vote was for nothing.”

But two out of three Indonesians who did not vote for the daughter of former President Sukarno do not think this way. On the eve of another crucial footnote in national politics, the presidential election, much of the elite and 200 million Indonesians still remain divided and confused on who they want as their leader for another five years – for reasons of ethnic and religious identity, ideology and even gender.

The choices presented to them were clear though.

Under Ms Megawati, change will be in the secular-nationalist direction with a strong anti-corruption law-reform agenda. Political observers believe that would present a much better prospect for a clean break with the past to allow Indonesia to embark on a process of self-renewal – something that could attract businessmen to put their money back into the ravaged economy.

She is also likely to be able to assert civilian authority over the armed forces (TNI) and make more strenuous efforts to put an end to military excesses in Aceh, East Timor and other trouble spots.

On the other hand, a Habibie presidency could increase the level of inter-religious disquiet, leading to weeks, if not months, of street protests.

The German-trained engineer, renowned for his quixotic style of decision-making, will engage in more dramatics but may still fail to deal with thorny issues such as corruption.

His biggest liability, of course, is his close links with former President Suharto.

In a foreboding sign, Dr Habibie’s nomination by Golkar this week unsettled Jakarta’s financial markets with fears that this could trigger unrest.

The Indonesian capital yesterday was braced for massive student unrest and conflict between rival supporters of Ms Megawati who, said intelligence sources, were coming into Jakarta “by the thousands”.

Hundreds of soldiers were deployed early in parking lots and buildings near a roundabout in Central Jakarta that has been the scene of rallies in recent days.

Anti-riot shields were lined against a low fence not far from Mr Suharto’s residence where soldiers have camped for the past few months.

Police and soldiers were also stationed in strategic locations around the city including the central business district, parliamentary building, offices, shopping malls and department stores.

The scene seems all too familiar.

The current disposition of Indonesians is one of fatigue with the roller-coaster rides they have had to endure since the crisis.

There is a strong desire for political stability and an end to elite bickering.

But there does not appear to be a mood for compromise at this stage.

The worry is whether cynicism with the political process which could arise if a figure or group with little public support comes into power, will express itself in a violent venting of anger and blood-letting.

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