Max Lane – On the evening of July 22, more than 300 people gathered at the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the founding of the People's Democratic Party (PRD).
Film footage taken by PRD activists over the last 10 years, as well as brief interviews with a range of figures who had been involved in the movement against the Suharto dictatorship since the 1970s, were screened. There were also a number of cultural performances. Greetings from Australia's Democratic Socialist Perspective and New Zealand's Alliance were read out. Workers involved in one of the big anti-privatisation strikes also sent messages.
Party leaders who had been founders of the party were there, including Dita Sari and Daniel Indrakusuma, as well as scores of new, younger members. Several former members – mostly those who now work for non-government organisation – were also present. Many activists from other groups also attended.
Keynote speakers were Sari and Yusuf Lakaseng, the current chairperson of the PRD's central leadership council.
Dita Sari reminded people of what it was like in 1994: "One decade ago was the age of dictatorship by a military and crony capitalist elite that buried the people's political freedoms. This was the 'New Order', which came to power over the corpses of 1 million left-thinking human beings, as well as exile, torture and the suppression of left progressive ideas and movements. The revival of the movement under the dictatorship required real strength, courage, consistency and skill by those trying to defeat the dictatorship. So the student activists left their ivory towers, to study politics and how to struggle with the people, with the workers and farmers." Sari described how 1994 was a time of escalating class struggle by workers and peasants. There had been large strikes and land occupations, and they were a magnet for the new generation of activists. The movement, both the PRD and the broader democratic movement, grew. In 1996, another round of demonstrations and protests erupted.
In this red-hot atmosphere, riots broke out and the regime seized on the opportunity to blame the PRD. Several party leaders and activists were arrested and the party was in effect banned. It continued underground and throughout 1997, it agitated around its main demands: "Overthrow Suharto! Repeal the five political laws! End the dual function [political role] of the military! A referendum for the East Timorese people!" Sari made special reference to the PRD members who had lost their lives in the struggle: Herman, Bimo, Suyat, Gilang and the revolutionary poet Wiji Thukul. They all disappeared, presumed killed at the hands of the regime in 1998, as the mass democratic movement headed for victory, with the overthrow of Suharto in May that year. Only Suyat's body was ever found.
Lakaseng assessed the current situation, pointing to the bankruptcy of the choice offered in the current presidential election: "Neither of the candidates entering the second round are worthy of support. Retired four-star general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was the brains behind the military operations in Aceh and West Papua, resulting in the deaths of many civilians. Incumbent president Megawati Sukarnoputri has wasted money on buying military equipment, pushed forward militaristic legislation, has done nothing for the welfare of the people and has been a servant of international capital." Lakaseng warned of the danger of the return of militarism. "The military has revived. Generals with much blood on their hands have confidently stepped forward as presidential candidates." This backward trend, he said, was partly due to the refusal of the democratic movement to unite, especially prior to the election.
Lakaseng emphasised that organising the oppressed classes, the workers and peasants, must remain the PRD's central priority. "There is no point in humouring ourselves and avoiding the reality that this is a heavy task", but in the end there is no other road forward than an open struggle for socialism.
In the meantime, the campaign priorities for the PRD were clear. In the final words of Dita Sari's speech: "Resist neoliberalism! Resist militarism! Abandon the fake democrats! Referendum for Aceh! Democratic dialogue for the Papuan People!"