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Megawati calls for democracy in manifesto: but only symbolic

Buisiness Times - April 18, 1997

S N Vasuki – Indonesian opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri yesterday issued a manifesto, ahead of next month's parliamentary elections, warning that a "restoration of democracy" was the only solution to the country's economic and political problems.

However, the manifesto only has symbolic value because Ms Megawati is not contesting the elections as the government does not recognise her faction of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI).

But in a sign that she has considerably sharpened her political skills, the opposition leader did not hold a formal meeting to release the manifesto. Such a move would have invited criticism from the government.

Instead her party faction appears to have discreetly circulated copies of the 20-page document in Bahasa Indonesia to key supporters who in turn released it to news organisations yesterday.

The manifesto reaffirms the PDI's commitment to capitalism and free markets as the best system for Indonesia.

Ms Megawati pointed out that the Indonesian economy is currently "distorted" by monopolistic practices.

In an indirect attack on the First Family, she said the economy is characterised by cartels and the granting of monopoly rights by the government to business cronies and relatives of government officials.

The manifesto lamented the fact that indicators of Indonesia's economic growth, such as per capita income, are considerably lower compared with those of other South-east Asian countries.

Ms Megawati painted a bleak picture of Indonesian politics and social stability. "We have to do something to ensure that Indonesia remains a nation living within the state of law," the manifesto said.

"There is a strong impression that Indonesia is disintegrating as a pluralistic society. I therefore consider restoration of democracy as the most important agenda."

The manifesto hinted that Ms Megawati is in favour of granting a semblance of autonomy, at least in the economic sphere, to Indonesia's diverse ethnic groups. "The mass riots and flare-ups that have occurred within various parts of Indonesia lately are, in my opinion, unavoidable consequences of the one-sided policy that we have been pursuing so far," she said.

The relatively harsh tone of the manifesto surprised political analysts who feel that the opposition leader did not pull her punches in criticising the government. A familiar complaint of Ms Megawati's supporters in the past was that she pursued a deliberately "safe" strategy in engaging the government.

"This time the gloves are off," said an Asian diplomat yesterday.

Although there was no immediate reaction from the government to the manifesto, senior officials warned Ms Megawati's faction that they would take "harsh action" if it organised any more demonstrations during the run-up to the elections.

On Tuesday, over 3,000 supporters of Ms Megawati marched to Parliament House, snarling traffic in south Jakarta. Home Affairs Minister Yogie Memet said yesterday that Tuesday's demonstrations should be the last of its kind, adding that it did not have an adverse impact on the government's preparations for next month's elections.

Armed Forces spokesman Slamet Supriyadi warned that the authorities would take "stern" action if Ms Megawati's supporters marched again. "They should not have come in such large numbers."