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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

COVER STORY - SPECIAL REPORT

Is This Déjà Vu?
Qualified parallels with the past


AN AUTHORITARIAN GOVERNMENT BACKED by the army. Wide-spread cronyism. A courageous woman opposition leader aligned with a religious force. Growing resentment against the status quo, resulting in bold -- and unprecedented -- calls for the president's resignation. The makings of a People Power revolution, Indonesian-style? Could Suharto's New Order go the way of Marcos's New Society?

Well, perhaps not. While it may be tempting to compare Indonesia today to the Philippines in 1986, there are some significant differences. For one thing, no defining moment like the Ninoy Aquino assassination has yet occurred in Indonesia.

Solita Monsod, an economist at the University of the Philippines, also says Indonesia does not have as big an income disparity as the Philippines did then. "The diffusion of wealth is more equitable in Indonesia than in the Philippines," she notes. "There is no revolutionary situation." Political scientist Alex Magno points to another crucial ingredient in the Philippines' case: the defection of part of the military to the opposition. "[People Power in Indonesia] can happen only if the army is decisively split," he says.

If not the Philippines, could the current situation be compared with the waning days of Sukarno's Guided Democracy in the mid-1960s? According to Indonesian historian Onghokham, people at the time demanded three things: abolish the influential Communist Party, lower hyper-inflated prices and change the cabinet. These days, he says, "the first demand has been replaced by 'abolish the Family' " -- a reference to the public's disgust with the blatant favoritism that has enriched Suharto's kin -- while the other two remain the same.

But again, there is a difference. Sukarno's downfall was brought about by the army under Suharto, then a major-general. An attempted coup in 1965, apparently instigated by the Communists, gave Suharto the pretext to oust leftist sympathizers in a bloody nationwide campaign and, eventually, Sukarno himself. While the events surrounding the coup are still shrouded in mystery, what is clear is that the usurping of power was the culmination of tensions between the army on one side and Sukarno and the Communists on the other.

This time round, Suharto still seems firmly in control of the army, and there is no group -- Communist or otherwise -- that the military perceives as a grave enough threat to launch a coup. But should any street demonstrations balloon into something resembling a People Power revolt, Monsod predicts the army will respond with force. Unlike the Filipinos, she says, "the Indonesian military doesn't have a sense of humor." Which is no laughing matter. -- By Sangwon Suh, with reporting from Jakarta and Manila


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