Gordon Feeney, Jakarta – Leading Indonesian journalist-turned-political activist Goenawan Muhamad today predicted President Suharto would rule for another 10 years amid greater repression.
Goenawan, chairman of the independent Election Monitoring Committee (KIPP) and former editor of banned Tempo magazine also said he had received information that another political crackdown was "imminent".
He said such a crackdown could be directed at KIPP, whose activities have angered the government which argues that its own election body already monitors polls here.
After anti-government riots last year, the regime launched a major crackdown on political and labour activists with a series of criminal prosecutions.
Goenawan said he saw no reason why Suharto, 75, would not rule for another 10 years. "He's very healthy," he told members of the Jakarta Foreign Correpondents' Club.
He said many people saw Indonesia's general elections due in May this year as "a joke" but that KIPP's role was to encourage a respect for democracy.
"The most important thing is to think beyond the coming election - try to instil in the minds of the people that the election is something good.
"So the idea of elections should be purified, so to speak. That's what our concern is, because without elections you tend to go other ways... to change the situation," he said.
Goenawan said he believed the key issue for the Suharto regime at the coming polls was a lack of legitimacy in the wake of last year's ousting of opposition figure Megawati Sukarnoputri.
He said the regime's political neutralising of Megawati was the most blatant political intervention by the regime.
The removal of Megawati as chairwoman of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) led to mass riots in Jakarta in July last year. "There were always interventions in the past (by the regime), there were always restrictions in terms of political freedom.
"But interventions... like what you saw during the Megawati and PDI affair was never in people's minds in the past.
"So the crucial thing about the elections is the question of legitimacy, and it will continue to haunt the regime for a time to come.
"And the more the regime is unsure about its own legitimacy, the more repressive it will become," Goenawan said.
[the statement "because without elections you tend to go other ways... to change the situation", suggests that Gunawan may be giving a double message ie Suharto is healthy, he will stay in power, there will be more repression, the elections are illegitimate so don't have illusions in them, its time to do something else... or is it just my imagination? - JB]