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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

INDONESIA:
DASHED HOPES

Part 1
Bloodshed in Jakarta has put reform in peril.
How the military, ruling elite, opposition and students all lost control

By Jose Manuel Tesoro / Jakarta


Black Friday Jakarta burns again

Assembly Caught between Suharto and a hard place

Vigilantes The military's rent-a-thugs

SUHARTO JUSTIFIED HIS IRON rule by giving his people the visible building-blocks of an outwardly modern nation: factories, toll roads, skyscrapers. Yet what Indonesians needed most to survive his inevitable passing were less tangible: a belief in law, trust in its enforcers, faith in public officials. The former president withheld from his nation an education in civilized politics, in patience, compromise, due process. As a result, the responsibility for the violence of Friday, Nov. 13 - under the skyscrapers, near one of his toll roads - ultimately lies with the retired general and the political ruin that has stubbornly outlasted his resignation.

That day, and in the ones leading up to it, at least 16 people died and over 400 were wounded as students and ordinary folk battled soldiers securing the four-day special session of the country's highest body, the People's Consultative Assembly. The clashes were the worst since May. They even echoed those of that month, down to the shooting of students, followed by looting and rioting; police say 125 buildings and 70 vehicles were damaged in the latest melee.

The bloodshed jolted Indonesia's jostling political factions, widened the gap between the military and the people and put more pressure on the economy and currency, both of which had been slowly strengthening. President B.J. Habibie and his armed forces chief, Gen. Wiranto, now face a more vocal public opposition. Where before they encountered indifference or tolerance, they are now more likely to find anger and disgust. And in a measure of how little some things have changed since Habibie came to power six months ago, a defensive administration began searching for "subversives" to blame for the upheaval. But the damage has been done. Indonesia is back at the brink.

The Nov. 13 chaos on Jalan Sudirman, the tree-shaded artery at Jakarta's business heart, capped days of increasing tension. Student demos were almost a foregone conclusion as the special session of the MPR (as the Assembly is known) convened to chart the nation's political future. The chosen men and women who so meekly accepted Suharto's rule in March, despite demands for his resignation, were now tasked with dismantling the system the old man created - they were expected to reform economic policy, relations between the center and the provinces and, crucially, the military's role in government. A week before the Assembly convened on Nov. 10, opposition leader Amien Rais warned that "the forces of status quo are still intact" - meaning the triumvirate of ruling party Golkar, the military and entrenched officialdom. "The result," he predicted, "will block the process of reformation."

Of course, the alternatives to the MPR were equally uninspiring. There has been talk among activists of a different transitional government, led by a "presidium" of such opposition figures as Rais, Megawati Sukarnoputri, Muslim leader Abdurrahman Wahid and Sultan Hamengkubuwono X of Jogjakarta. Such an administration would mean a break with the Suharto era, but it would plunge the country into constitutional confusion. The MPR, along with the Habibie presidency, are at least mandated under the Constitution. Although their foundation may be a flimsy one, it is the firmest institution Indonesia has left.

Part 1: Dashed Hopes | Part 2: Youthful Impatience | Part 3: Locked and Loaded | Part 4: Who Will Lead?


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