Jakarta – In relation to the government's plans to cut fuel and electricity subsidies, on February 21, the People's Democratic Party (PRD), led by chairperson Budiman Sudjatmiko, met with President Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) at the Bina Graha presidential offices [in Central Jakarta].
Budiman, accompanied by PRD general secretary Petrus H Harianto and the head of the Central Leadership Committee, Faisol Reza, met with the president after holding a demonstration in front of the presidential palace to protest planned cuts to fuel and electricity subsidies. During the meeting which lasted around half-an-hour, Gus Dur said that the policy to reduce subsidies on electricity and fuel was something which could not be negotiated. "In this matter we are of a different opinion, because we believed there are still many ways to prevent it" said Budiman.
However Budiman said he agreed with the government's plan to increase joint work with the other Asian countries such as China and India to increase the bargaining position of developing countries against the developed countries which provided aid.
According to Budiman, the withdrawal of fuel and electricity subsidies would harm the people who are still suffering from the impact of the monetary crisis. "If the [price of electricity use] increased for [those who consume] 900 watts or more, the companies which use electricity above that [amount] certainly won't be silent, and will certainly pass on the [price] rise to the cost of production. As a result, in the end the people will be buying goods at a high price", he said.
"It is the same with fuel. The subsidies which are enjoyed by companies, if fuel [prices] rise, those companies will certainly pass it on to the cost of production. So, again the price of goods will increase. So on principal, there [should] not be cuts to fuel and electricity subsidies because the people's economy has not yet recovered", he said.
Budiman said that during the meeting, Gus Dur has said that the withdrawal of subsidies must be done by the government because if not, it would encounter problems obtaining funds from the International Monitory Fund (IMF). "Gus Dur said, this situation is the 'force majeure'. So, it must be done, it cannot not be done", quoted Budiman.
Gus Dur also said that the government would try to reduce dependency on the IMF and foreign aid in stages. "We also spoke about many examples in South America, where the IMF has also applied the same recipe, which clearly did not result in prosperity [for the people]. What actually occurred was [an increase] poverty", said Budiman, who was in the process of leaving the Bina Graha in a presidential guard vehicle.
Before being received by Gus Dur, the PRD begun gathering at the Monas square from 9am. Using seven hired busses, the group traveled from Rawamangun in East Jakarta [where the PRD's national office is located - JB.] in an orderly fashion as they prepared their members for the demonstration. However the police continued to come up to them them asked what the intention and goals of the demonstration were.
Around 9.10am, the PRD were invited by the police to move away from the front of the Department of Home Affairs towards the presidential palace. After being received by Gus Dur, around 11.30am, Budiman and the others returned to the demonstration.
[Translated by James Balowski.]