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Reform agenda unfinished, activists say

Jakarta Post - May 21, 2008

Jakarta – Former student activists who took part in the historic rallies of May 1998 have called their struggle for sweeping reforms a disappointment.

The former students, some of them having joined major political parties, concluded in a discussion Tuesday that apart from forcing President Soeharto to resign, most of their demands had failed to materialize.

Summing up the discussion, former Trisakti University student Dedy Arianto, who chairs the Golkar Party-affiliated Wira Karya Indonesia, said the failure to bring Soeharto and his cronies to justice was the heaviest defeat of the reform movement.

"Worse, efforts to eradicate corruption, collusion and nepotism and to uphold the supremacy of law have not been accomplished," said Dedy.

Soeharto died last January, with the government having dropped criminal charges against him due to his failing health. Golkar has proposed the government name the late first president a national hero, but President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has not responded to the controversial request.

The former students also said they regretted the lack of resolution to alleged human rights violations before and after the May 21, 1998, collapse of the New Order regime.

Hundreds were killed in riots in Jakarta, which broke out after security personnel opened fire at Trisakti student protesters who were demanding Soeharto's resignation on May 12. The shooting claimed four lives.

The reform movement resulted in the revocation of the military's dual roles and split the police from the armed forces, but the discussion concluded these reforms were not enough.

"Indeed, the military's dual functions have been scrapped. However, there is a new threat rising as a number of military officers have joined political parties," said Dedy.

The former activist added that constitutional amendments had exceeded the students' expectations and created new problems.

"We wanted constitutional amendments to terminate the president's absolute power. However, the amendments have unfortunately also opened the way for foreign investors to control the country's assets," said Dedy.

Regional autonomy is another reform goal which remains incomplete, the discussion heard. Dedy said the distribution of powers to regions had not worked, as evident in the fact that many candidates for regional elections came from Jakarta.

Another former activist, Usman Hamid, who now leads the human rights group Kontras, said the political elite groups had hampered the campaign against impunity and efforts to resolve past human rights abuses.

"President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has urged all parties to help resolve the problems. However, the Attorney General's Office has done nothing to follow the President's order," he said. (nkn)

Reforms demanded by student activists in 1998:

  1. Bring Soeharto and his cronies to justice for alleged graft
  2. Abolish the military's dual function
  3. Amend the Constitution
  4. Eradicate corruption, collusion and nepotism
  5. Uphold the supremacy of law
  6. Implement regional autonomy nationwide