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Megawati takes power with army backing

Tapol Bulletin 162 - August 2001

On 23 July, Vice President Megawati was installed as Indonesian president after the People's Assembly sacked the man it had appointed two years ago. The same state organ that intrigued against her then has now promoted her, with the full backing of a regenerated military. Though former President Wahid fought to the bitter end, the odds were stacked against him: mutiny by the armed forces and large sections of the police who openly defied his orders, a huge majority in the People's Assembly bent on ousting him and a largely hostile press.

While Megawati Sukarnoputri's party, the PDI-P, holds the largest block of seats in the People's Assembly, the MPR, and has mass support in the country, her assumption of power bodes ill for the principles of reformasi that were supposed to have been at the core of Wahid's policy.

Most will agree that it was not realistic to expect anyone to carry out a comprehensive pro-reform policy in Indonesia in the short term, having inherited a country damaged almost beyond repair by 40 years of autocratic rule and a paralysed economy. In hindsight, it could be said that Gus Dur, as Wahid is known, was bound to fail. Will Megawati Sukarnoputri do any better? Will she face the array of foes who were determined from the word "go" to stab Gus Dur in the back? Only time will tell.

But Indonesia's present political crisis is not merely a crisis of the presidency. The deep economic crisis, the absence of the rule of law and the lack of democratic institutions cannot be blamed on the president. These are the results of a long term strategy during the "New Order", when the population lived in a perpetual state of fear. Virtually nothing has been done in the three post-Suharto years to change all this.

A huge power vacuum

As the new regime takes over, it is salutary to examine why Gus Dur failed to function effectively as president and promote the policies expected of him by civil society. As soon as he tried to dismantle the power base of the old forces, they rallied against him, sabotaging his every move. The irony is that, under the authoritarian 1945 Constitution, the president of Indonesia has enough powers to become a dictator, but Gus Dur was not given the chance even to implement a modest reform programme. Isolated and maligned by the very political elite who catapulted him into power, he become a pathetic figure, hoping against hope that his huge religious following could rescue him, while being afraid to bring them out onto the streets for fear of clashes and bloodshed.

In the closing months of Gus Dur's presidency, there was a power vacuum in Indonesia, while regional conflicts and military crackdowns in many places continued unabated. The fact is that none of the political forces in Indonesia has been able to cope with the debilitating crisis. The old New Order gang, with massive resources stashed away and a bevy of supporters, has been mortally wounded. At the apex is Suharto and his cronies and family; they have lost much of their political clout and no one believes for a moment that they will ever make a comeback. But their staggering wealth is being used by sinister forces to finance covert and overt operations to sabotage the government and create instability. They have done everything possible, often by acts of terrorism, to frustrate efforts to bring about change and accountability. Their basic aim is to retain the system of privileges that was one of the hallmarks of the former regime.

The army has once again become a formidable political force and a killing machine, dedicated as always to the "security" approach, but it too is incapable of coping with the present crisis. The 1997 economic meltdown also delivered a severe blow to the TNI as the armed forces are known, forcing many TNI companies to close shop. In compensation, the TNI has become mired even deeper into mafia type activities in the regions. The escalating conflicts in Aceh and West Papua and ongoing problems in Maluku, Kalimantan and Sulawesi have overwhelmed the capacity of the security forces, even though they are themselves largely responsible for the mayhem. Troops have joined forces with the warring parties in some of these local conflicts, but as the power struggle in Jakarta reached a climax, the TNI top focused their attention increasingly on these events. Whilst it was not predicted that the army would try to grab power, Indonesia's rudderless government suited them admirably. They have recently been claiming to be "force for peace" as civilian politicians fight it out in total disregard for the ailing economy and lawlessness everywhere.

The vast majority of parliamentarians in the DPR (Parliament) and the MPR (People's Assembly), were united in their determination to get rid of Gus Dur but apart from that, each of the parties have their own political agendas. Golkar, the former ruling party, is a shadow of its former self in Java, where they are despised as part of the old regime. But outside Java, the party is more or less intact, with its people occupying virtually all the positions of power, from governors and district chiefs down to village heads. The bureaucracy outside Java is still a Golkar stronghold which explains why it was more interested in keeping control of regional spoils than in the power struggle in Jakarta.

The politics of Islam are far more complex today than during the Suharto era. The first two post-Suharto presidents, President Wahid and his predecessor, President Habibie, represent the two major streams in Indonesian Islam, the urban-based and the more rural-based Islamic communities, but they are both secular Muslims. It was once widely accepted that political Islam in Indonesia is a majority with a minority mentality, but this is no longer true. The top Muslim politicians, including Gus Dur, show distinct Machiavellian tendencies in their attitude towards state power and having tasted the sweetness of power they show the same credentials as any average politician on this globe.

The rift between the pro- and anti-Gus Dur camp ran largely along urban and rural lines. Gus Dur still enjoys support in the rural hinterland of East and Central Java where the organisation that he led for years, the Nahdatul Ulama, enjoys a huge following. Elsewhere, the NU is relatively small among urban-based Muslims outside Java. Political Islam was always quite plural and are at least seven Muslim political parties competed in the general elections, each with their own agenda and distinct political subculture. Political Islam in Indonesia remains very divided, with no prospects of unity. As with all the other parties, clientele and money politics are still the dominant feature.

Poisoned by intrigue from the start

There have been many examples in the world of transitions from autocratic regimes to democratic government, but they have varied enormously from place to place. In some cases transition has been accompanied by disintegration. Cynics will say that, despite the profound crisis in Indonesia, the country has not reached such a stage for the simple reason that the main components of the old New Order are still largely intact.

From the start, Gus Dur's presidency involved many compromises with these components. He was catapulted into the presidency through an unholy alliance of Muslim parties which included two components of the New Order: Golkar and the PPP. This unholy alliance was strongly represented in his first cabinet: military and New Order politicians held important posts and as a result of numerous reshuffles, (at least fifteen up to the time he was sacked) in less than two years, New Order elements became even more prominent. The military gained richly from the chops and changes, even winning back the post of defence minister. The deadly alliances saved the skin of many officers who should have faced indictments for corruption and abuse of power.

During the first two years of his presidency, Gus Dur pursued a puzzling two-pronged strategy, trying to take the path of reformasi while trying at the same time to please everybody, including New Order forces. The strategy soon backfired as the army and the New Order politicians and bureaucrats managed to regroup in such a favourable climate. The strategy forced Gus Dur to zigzag his way along creating yet more enemies at every turn. Let's take a look at this broad alliance, starting with the TNI-AD, the army.

A military comeback

The Suharto regime was basically a military regime. A junta in the early years, with Suharto at the top, it was later changed to be ruled by the same Suharto assisted by a small group of cronies and members of his family. The role of military intelligence remained important throughout with the army functioning more and more as an oppressive force to crush rebellions and opposition in the cities. When Suharto was forced to stand down, there were very few top officers capable of functioning as politicians. The army was in a bad shape, with its image in tatters. They had suffered humiliating defeat in East Timor and their acts of gross human rights violations were now widely publicised.

Sad to say however, things changed dramatically after Gus Dur became president. In 1998, the atmosphere was favourable enough to expect that General Wiranto, then the TNI commander-in-chief, would be charged for his role in mass murder in East Timor, Aceh and elsewhere. These days, Wiranto feels confident enough to go onto the offensive. In May, he and several other senior officers filed a lawsuit against Dr. Thamrin Tomagola for "falsely" accusing them of involvement in the Maluku riots. The chances of indictments against senior officers are now very remote and the former president's faltering efforts to reform the army backfired and only helped to unified the several army factions. The 1999 general election helped to clip the wings of TNI and its representation in the DPR was reduced to 38 seats (although they resisted any suggestion that unelected representation should end). In those days, TNI top-ranking officers were saying that the military would now take a back seat in politics but two years on, things are very different. The TNI parliamentary fraction voted in favour of censuring the president (their supreme commander) in May while adopting a position of "neutrality" in the second vote. Being one of the smallest groups in parliament did not detract from that weight attached to their statements. The TNI spokesperson, Major General Hari Sabarno, was one of the most biting in his criticism of the president, thus clearing the way for impeachment.

While Gus Dur was forced onto the defensive in clinging on to power, the military made no attempt to conceal their intransigence. The second censure vote further eroded the president's position, though he continued to behave as if nothing could prevent him from holding on to power.

When he made moves to replace the top TNI leadership in preparation for declaring an emergency and dissolving parliament, the top generals took counter-moves. The bitter irony was that now, a democratically elected head of state was contemplating dissolving parliament while the military, an institution without a shred of democracy in its being, claimed the moral high ground in their determination to oppose such an authoritarian move.

The weaker Gus Dur grew, the more audacious the military became. In 2000, they had offered no resistance when General Wiranto was sacked and went along with the appointment of a civilian as defence minister. There was talk of gradually downsizing dwifungsi, which allows the military to run the political system and the bureaucracy. But as Gus Dur weakened, they saw this as their chance to strike back. With the army being the most solid and best organised political institution in the country and the political elite bickering furiously, the army paraded itself as "a stabilising force".

A creeping coup d'etat

On 24 May, General Endriartono Sutarto, the army chief-of-staff, convened a meeting of senior officers and key retired officers. The purpose was clear, to reject any move by Gus Dur to replace the TNI leadership and to reject any move to declare a state of emergency. As supreme commander of TNI, Wahid certainly had the powers to do all this so the meeting was an act of insubordination, in fact part of a creeping coup d'etat.

A new unity had been forged in the TNI while the event passed off without anyone condemning it as an act of mutiny. All the factions were now on board, including retired officers. This was not the first time that the Indonesian armed forces had forged unity after being torn apart by rupture and division. Gus Dur's efforts to overhaul the TNI had come to a sticky end; instead the TNI's position as "a state within a state" had been reinforced without a shot being fired.

Since May one incident after another has only resulted in the erosion of civilian supremacy. On 28 May Gus Dur granted special powers to Lt General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), the then coordinating minister for political, social and security affairs, as a step towards issuing an emergency decree. The general was given powers to take "all necessary actions, in co-ordination with the security forces, to handle the crisis and enforce order, security and the law as quickly as possible". In effect, this made SBY the most powerful man in the land. But a few days after treating the general with such trust, Gus Dur sacked him and appointed Lt. General Agum Gumelar in his place. Gumelar was soon to be appointed defence minister as well in a later cabinet merry-go-round. SBY, it turns out, was against issuing a decree so had to be removed.

Police chief refuses to go

The most bitter (and public) of Gus Dur's confrontations occurred when he announced the dismissal of Police General Bimantoro, the national chief of police. Bimanoro had made no secret of his intention to round up Gus Dur supporters, including members of the PRD. Bimantoro rejected his dismissal and won the support of most top-ranking officers in the force. In his defence, the police chief of Jakarta, General Sofyan Yacub convened a rally of police and military units close to the presidential palace in defiance of the president, complete with tanks and armoured personal carriers. For the first time since the official separation of the police from the TNI in 1998, the two forces had been united and were pursuing a common cause.

When Gus Dur later ordered the arrest of Bimantoro, the order was ignored. His senior security affairs minister, Lt General Agum Gumelar urged the president to cancel the order while units of Brimob, the police crack troops, took up positions around Bimantoro's residence.

There were many shows of open defiance from the top of the TNI: a "roll call" of Kostrad troops, with its commander making a speech atop a tank, the placing of troops round the residence of Bimantoro to protect him from being arrested, a joint press conference by the speaker of the MPR and the TNI commander-in-chief endorsing the holding of a special MPR session. These were moves that made a mockery of the TNI's professed neutrality.

Golkar and the other parties

The principle of pluralism was upheld in the 1998 elections but many of the parties that won seats were new kids on the block. Only Golkar, often described as the ruling party in the New Order, the PPP, the Muslim political federation and the PDI were old timers. Golkar had the advantage of a solid infrastructure and most of the bureaucracy. PPP enjoyed fewer advantages as did the PDI (now the PDI-P). who fought the election under a new leadership. As was to be expected, these three parties came out as the big three in the elections. The other relatively new parties had to struggle hard to win votes. For the vast majority of voters, this was their first experience of free elections.

The new parliament is a ragbag of old and new faces. Despite its image as the first parliament in the reformasi era, old-style politics have remained with the same old pattern of patron-client relationships. Becoming a member of parliament has turned out to be a privileged chance to climb the ladder of success and line the pockets of the "people's representatives" Genuine reform has had little place in their endeavours following a few months of reform minded actions.

The declining national cake

The members of the unholy alliance of Muslim groups plus Golkar tha brought Gus Dur to power were expecting to have juicy bits of the national cake come their way. But Gus Dur had little to offer, and what he did have went to his own followers. Very soon he was at loggerheads with his former promoters and removed some of his key Muslim ministers who had been appointed to "repay" members of the central axis for their support.

Two scandals were used against Gus Dur, the so-called Bulog-gate and Brunei-gate. Despite being cleared by the Attorney General's office of involvement in the two cases, it was evident that cronies within Gus Dur's inner circle were involved in these relatively minor scandals. Gus Dur, himself a product of the patron-client system, had allowed this to happen. It would appear to be true that deep resentment in certain Muslim circles towards Gus Dur was simply based on the fact that the "trickle down" effect had not applied to them. On the other hand, one of the failures of the Gus Dur government was its inability to end corruption or at least to bring it to "manageable" levels.

Megawati and the PDI-P

Two years ago it was widely expected that Megawati would become the president. A clear winner with 31 per cent of the votes, it was a matter of finding suitable coalition partners for her government. But a loose coalition of Muslim parties, the Central Axis, supported Gus Dur. History, it seems, has now corrected this injustice.

Megawati has proven ineffective as vice president and probably agreed to be second fiddle to calm down her supporters gathered on the streets. Although the two are always presented as being "the best of friends", having known each other since childhood, she was clearly not comfortable as his deputy and often acted wearing her other cap as chair of the PDI-P to express her frustrations. Her "good friend" Gus Dur often insulted her in public with slurs and "jokes" about her femininity, suggesting that she does not have the qualities to run the government.

In the second year, the relationship between them soured and, apart from the formalities required by their offices, they were not on speaking terms for months. At the 2000 MPR session, Gus Dur was heavily criticised and agreed to concede day-to-day governing to Megawati, retaining for himself the broad outline of government policies and the power to appoint ministers and other state officials. But the division of labour never worked, leading only to indecision and confusion.

For her part, Megawati kept a low profile after losing the presidency. She kept her followers off the streets and retained the support of the majority of her party, while avoiding playing a direct part in the ousting Gus Dur. As the daughter of Sukarno, she inherited a huge following but has yet to prove her skills as a political leader.

PDI-P fractions

Rifts within her own party have grown and the test will be whether she can keep the factions together or have to move to expel some people from the party. Broadly speaking, the PDI-P is the main secular party in Indonesia and is in essence a nationalist party. The nationalist wing within the party is quite conservative, representing the petty nationalist views of the past. There are two wings in the nationalist bloc: one wanted to preserve the Gus Dur-Megawati alliance while the other wanted to oust Gus Dur.

The military wing in the party has grown in importance, not only because of the retired TNI generals among its members but also because it enjoys the support of key active TNI officers. Previously Golkar was the political vehicle of the military but today's top echelon officers feel more at home in the conservative PDI-P.

Another small but important wing is the group of powerful businessmen around Arifin Panigoro, an oil tycoon who switched loyalties after 1998 from Golkar to the PDI-P. One of the few achievements of the post-Suharto era has been the requirement for key public office holders to reveal their personal wealth. Arifin Panigoro emerged as the richest member of parliament with over US$200 million, according to his own admission. Many reformers say people like him should be behind bars because of financial scandals and shady business deals with the Suharto family. Instead he has become a shining star in the PDI-P. Another key figure is Taufiq Kiemas, Megawati's husband, a self-confessed multi-millionaire. Known as TK, he is also a slick political operator who maintains good relations with the different wings in the party and will undoubtedly play a crucial role as "the man behind the woman" now that she is "RI 1", the president's number plate.

The PDI-P (then called the PDI) was one of Suharto's last victims when the PDI head office was stormed in July 1996 and has enjoyed much sympathy from the pro-reform movement. The reform wing, though small, is very active and continues to demand that military and New Order elements be ousted from the party. But these are the forces that will be Megawati's political base as she takes over the presidency for the coming three years. Getting Indonesia out of the economic and political crisis is a Herculanean job and will take many years of "good governance". Taking over the job from an impeached president isn't the most elegant way of entering the state leadership. Political analysts assess realistically that the coming 3 years will be "tropical years" for Megawati.