Tue, 30 Aug 1994

Democracy new to us: Soeharto

JAKARTA (JP): President Soeharto said yesterday that Indonesia has much to learn about applying modern democracy to cope with its problems.

"We are aware that the democratic tradition is something which is relatively new to us," Soeharto said at the opening of the third congress of the Moslem-oriented United Development Party (PPP).

About 1,000 party members, senior government officials and leaders of other political organizations attended the grand ceremony at the posh Jakarta Hilton Convention center, built for the 1993 Non-Aligned Movement Summit.

The four-day gathering continued at the Pondok Gede Haj Dormitory in East Jakarta. In the coming days, participants will review the party's statutes, adopt new programs and elect the new leadership.

The congress opened amid a storm of protests from the news media as the party's headquarters rejected dozens of journalists assigned to cover the congress which takes place once every five years.

Soeharto said Indonesia had to learn how to operate modern, democratic institutions and apply the new tradition to the local culture.

He said that democracy at the national level is much more complicated than in traditional villages where people can participate directly in the decision making process.

Modern democracy, he said, involves more people with different aspirations, interests, customs, religions and culture.

"They all need equal attention and problems have to be solved in a wise and just manner," he said.

Soeharto warned that a multi-ethnic and multi-religious Indonesia would face irreparable disintegration if the different groups cared only for their own interests.

The President said he hoped that PPP and the other political organizations, PDI (Indonesian Democratic Party) and Golkar, could also function as people's educational institutions in politics.

As a channel for the people's aspirations, PPP should formulate and implement clear programs, goals and political ethics, he said.

The promotion of democracy was also the focus of PPP chairman Ismail Hasan Metareum's opening speech, which extolled the virtues of the government's successes in development.

"PPP will try to make sure that democracy will not turn into anarchy," said Ismail Hasan, who is widely believed to have the government's and military's support to retain his post for another five years.

"Anarchy will bring instability and destruction, not development as everyone expects," he added.

Ismail Hasan, who was widely criticized by his supporters for openly condoning the government's closure of three news weeklies in June, said that only responsible openness would give rise to the growth of democracy. "Responsible openness will enable people to have quality initiatives and try to mutually understand different views."


The presence of numerous government and Armed Forces (ABRI) officials at the start of the congress raised the question of how far they would interfere on the selection of the new party chairman.

The government -- which has provided the bulk of the money to finance the Rp 1 billion ($476,000) gathering -- has pledged to stay out of the party's internal affairs.

In his address, Soeharto made no statements which would suggest that the government planned to intervene in the party's election.

Chief of ABRI's socio-political affairs, Lt. Gen. R. Hartono, reiterated the military's neutral stance. "ABRI will endorse anyone that the congress elects," he told reporters when asked whom ABRI would like to see lead PPP.

Megawati Soekarnoputri, chairperson of the minority PDI party, said she hoped there would be no government interference in the PPP's congress. Megawati's own election last year was not fully endorsed by the government.(pan)