Old image of Indonesia ‘may no longer apply’

Singaporeans need to update themselves about developments in Indonesia because the image they have may no longer apply, Trade and Industry Minister George Yeo said here yesterday.

Speaking at the start of the Young PAP’s goodwill visit, he said a “quiet revolution” had taken place which made it necessary for Singapore to understand even more what was happening in its “second closest neighbour”.

Comparing the five-day trip to one in 1994 when he last led a Young PAP delegation on a visit here, he noted: “It is like B.C. and A.D. We have got to consciously tell ourselves that the old conceptions about Indonesia may no longer apply. Some things have not changed very much. But others have changed.”

And one of the things that has changed dramatically is the political landscape.

The single-party dominance of the then-ruling Golkar has given way to a multi-party system – the result of a proliferation of parties after the fall of former president Suharto in 1998.

Describing Indonesia’s political elite as being much more “variegated” now, BG Yeo, who is chairman of the Young PAP, said that under the old system, it was “very simple” for the PAP as it dealt with just one party.

“The last time we came here, Golkar and its youth wing laid out our programme … This time around, it is a completely different configuration,” he said.

Apart from visiting the Golkar headquarters yesterday, the 23-member team also met the youth wing of the Nation Awakening Party – the political arm of the Nadhlatul Ulama that President Abdurrahman Wahid used to head. BG Yeo said the Young PAP’s key objective was to forge links with all the major parties, including the Indonesian Democratic Party-Perjuangan (PDI-P).

Apart from meeting Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri – re-elected as PDI-P chairman – the group will also call on Mr Abdurrahman tomorrow.

They also travelled to Yogyakarta to meet the National Mandate Party, led by People’s Consultative Assembly chairman Amien Rais.

BG Yeo was “cautiously optimistic” about developments in Indonesia without underestimating the multiple problems it faced. These included turning the military into a professional outfit, decentralising power and cleaning up the economy. Singapore was an “interested observer” because what happened in Indonesia would affect the Republic profoundly, he said. There was no guarantee Indonesia’s “experiment” would work, but Singapore would help where it could, he said, citing Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s January visit to spur investment.

“People in Indonesia must have faith that some good will come out of their ‘experiment’ and we being so close to Indonesia must share some of that faith that something good will come out,” BG Yeo said. “We must be positive about this and try our best to weigh the outcome in that direction.”

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