Jakarta – Intellectuals are calling on students to continue with their struggle for political and economic reforms, lending greater weight to a youth movement that has grown into a formidable force over recent months.
Selo Soemardjan, a professor of sociology at the University of Indonesia (UI), and political observer Arbi Sanit encouraged 500 students attending a discussion on Saturday at the UI campus in Depok. West Java, to continue giving voice to people's aspirations. "I tremble at your use of the word 'struggle', but continue, continue your struggle. I was once young, I understand your aspirations," Selo told the students. All students present rejected the parallel, much publicized government-sponsored dialog involving 16 cabinet ministers, military leaders and 50 student representatives which was held at Jakarta Fair Ground in Kemayoran, Central Jakarta on Saturday.
A mere 30 kilometers from Depok, 3,000 students and lecturers from various universities assembled for a discussion at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB). Students said they all had a common vision and shared the same goal namely bringing about change.
Colleges represented at the Bogor meeting included University of Indonesia, Yogyakarta's Gadjah Mada University (UGM), Surabaya's Airlangga University, Brawijaya University in Malang, East Java, the Bandung Institute of Technology, Jakarta Teacher Training Institute and the private Ibnu Chaldun University in Bogor.
Student bodies from these colleges have rejected the Kemayoran dialog, which was held to also discuss economic and political reform and ways of fighting corruption, collusion and nepotism.
At the Depok meeting, Selo warned the government that students could no longer tolerate the deterioration in national political ethics. He said "the situation had forced them to take action since the House of Representatives had shown itself to be incapable of fulfilling its duty and acting as the mechanism for controlling the government."
The professor blamed the legislative body's ineptitude on the concentration of power in the hands of a few members of the country's political executive branch.
Arbi said the trend to use particular causes and gesture politics to further interests was one of the main ways in which the country's political ethics had deteriorated. "It's natural that people use one another," he said. "But the practice of taking political advantage of other people is unfair. The parties used gain nothing."
Arbi cited reports on the distribution of coupons for free meals at food stalls. "What does a few free meals mean for a person who has lost his job?"
Despite its trivial nature, he argued the government gained a lot from the gesture and boosted its image as a caring and considerate administration.
Other indications of the erosion of political ethics, he said, included the increase of political violence and of people "lying without feeling remorse, and even with a feeling that one is right."
The Bogor meeting was opened by Pallawarukka, an assistant to IPB rector Soleh Solahuddin, who underlined in his written speech the importance of the meeting. The rector also said such a meeting was needed in order to help design the agenda for political and economic reforms.
"With discussions, students will come to understand the problems facing the nation and will strive to seek solutions to them," he told the unprecedented gathering of university student activists, academics and administrators.
"As of now, we students are no longer seeking to unify our views, because we already share the same vision, namely change," said Cahyo Pamungkas, a student leader from Gadjah Mada University.
"To keep silent means treason, and silence means (we will continue to be) oppressed," Cahyo said, adding that students sought a "peaceful revolution."
Meanwhile, the Association of Alumni of University of Indonesia (ILUNI-UI) issued a statement here yesterday hailing the recent call by the Nadhlatul Ulama (NU) Moslem organization for the Armed Forces (ABRI) to protect students and join their movement for reform.
The association said ABRI should stand by those fighting for reforms, democracy, good governance, and against collusion, corruption and nepotism.
"The association reminds ABRI that they are part of the people, not the tool of those who hold power," the alumni said. "With this in mind, it is hoped that violence directed at students and academics staging demonstrations will end."
The association also criticized the Kemayoran dialog, which was organized by the Armed Forces Headquarters, because among the recommendations it issued was another warning against students holding protests, even peaceful ones.