Mon, 20 Nov 2000

'Indonesians must live with instability'

The blame for the current economic and political crisis cannot be laid at President Abdurrahman Wahid's doorstep alone. Instability is inevitable given the existing political system, according to Takashi Shiraishi, an Indonesia observer at Tokyo University. The writer of "Indonesia, the Nation and Politics" and "Sukarno and Suharto" shares his thoughts in an interview with The Jakarta Post's reporter Kornelius Purba in Tokyo recently.

Question: Your assessment of Abdurrahman Wahid's administration?

Answer: it is very important to remember that Abdurrahman Wahid's administration is the first to have been democratically elected and, therefore, it enjoys a popular mandate. This is a very crucial opportunity to restore popular trust, not only in the government but also in the state apparatus.

I don't agree with many members of the legislature (who say) the President is not doing his job, that he should step down. It (would be) very difficult for anybody to overcome the political and economic crisis, and to restore popular trust in the state apparatus within the space of a year. It could (be) done... in at least five years. The President should, therefore, be given a full five years as constitutionally stipulated.

Q: Your assessment of the President's relations with Vice President Megawati, who was actually the winner of the 1999 general elections?

A: (In Indonesia's) political system... the President is not directly elected, but elected in the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR). There is a room for a coalition of parties to elect a President who is not the candidate of the largest party. So this is something you cannot avoid with your current political system. And, therefore, it is not necessarily unfair. I said it is certainly legitimate.

But I think it is very important to keep in mind that...your presidential system is different from, say, the U.S. presidential system. In the U.S. (there's) the division of powers that means you have the executive, you have the legislature, you have the judiciary and the checks and balances.

In Indonesia, the political system is built... rather on the (concept of) distribution of power. That means that the MPR distributes power to the executive, DPR and the judiciary. And therefore legally, constitutionally speaking, the MPR has the power to oust the President at any time. And this system is therefore stable only when the President can control the MPR as Soeharto (did).

Under the current circumstances, there is no way for the President to control the MPR. Even Ibu Megawati cannot control the MPR because her PDI Perjuangan (PDI-P) controls only a third of the (legislative) seats. That means that whoever becomes the President, he or she cannot control the MPR, and therefore Indonesian politics will remain apparently unstable. In a sense, you have to live with this political system, because this is what the election gives you.

Certainly (Megawati) controls about a third of the MPR and, therefore, she has a very important influence... over whether Gus Dur remains in power or not.

If I were in her position, I would certainly say that this is a democratically elected president and I would, therefore, not oust him because I (would not wish to be recorded) in history as someone who ousted a constitutionally elected President. (Besides), she is (only) 53 years old, she can still wait.

I am sure that she will be the next President anyway. (I believe) she would rather stay in her current position as Vice President (because) she can learn.. about administration and prepare herself (for the next presidency).

As long as she supports the President, the current administration will remain in power.

Q: Your assessment of the relationship between Amien Rais, Gus Dur and Megawati?

A: Amien Rais' National Mandate Party (PAN) only won a small number of votes. He has attracted attention because he is the MPR Speaker, and he has... charisma. But once (you) start counting the number of (his supporters in the) MPR, you know he does not have much influence. His power is inflated in the newspapers.

Basically it is Ibu Megawati who has the final say. And, of course, you know, Akbar Tandjung gets along with Megawati, because Akbar Tandjung, in fact, does not have the legitimacy to be the next President because of his past. So he can only hope to be in power as a partner to Megawati's PDI-P.

There are now a lot of former supporters of Soeharto (joining PDI-P). It's very interesting (to see) a big change in Golkar. Those sitting in the Golkar seats in the late 1980s (were) basically Benny Moerdani's people, as well as Sudharmono's people. And, in the 1990s these people were ousted and replaced by Habibie's people, those who (also) joined the Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI).

Now they are struggling to come back to power with their legitimacy renewed by Ibu Megawati...Look at Arifin Panigoro who was the protege of Ginandjar and Megawati's secretary Pramono Anung, who was once a Ginandjar man as well. Basically, she is now enjoying the support of those people who once supported Soeharto in 1980s.

Q: Your assessment of Gus Dur's one-year administration?

A: (His most important achievement) is in diplomatic affairs. There is still a lot goodwill for him although in the last several months the relationship between Indonesia and the U.S. is no longer as it should be. But, certainly, he improved the position of Indonesia internationally.

And, economically I must say that he has done much. Recently Indonesia's economy has been doing very well in any case, despite the government...

As I said, there is no one under the current circumstances who can control the MPR because it is very divided.

As a result (of Gus Dur's accommodating the wishes of many parties), he now has a cabinet that does not work as a team. Ministers say things that contradict their colleagues. Now that he knows the coalition government does not work, he has filled the cabinet with people that he knows he can trust. This made people unhappy. Amien Rais is especially unhappy; it is, therefore, easy to understand why Amien Rais is saying what he is now saying.

The current cabinet is better than the last one. Coordinating ministers really coordinate. Therefore, there is a better chance for this cabinet to succeed. It should be given time. And it is working under better circumstances because the economy is doing better despite the government.

As well, there is a lot of international support, as you learned from the recent Consultative Group on Indonesia (CGI) meeting.

Q: Does Soeharto still have influence, given the fact that we can see that the government hasn't been able to act against him?

A: I think Soeharto is dying. Certainly I do not know about his state of health, but I have heard from many different sources that he no longer understands what people are saying. It is rather difficult to imagine that he is still directing political actions behind the scene.

But there are other people around him, people with money like his children. There are people with enough reasons, who have enough money, to do things to destabilize the regime.

Q: Your assessment of the military's current role in politics?

A: This is probably the most crucial issue. I am sorry to say that journalists did a bad job in Indonesia as well as abroad by confusing Lt. Gen. Agus Wirahadikusumah as a reformist.

I think it is very important to distinguish between the question of reforms in the military and the question of Agus Wirahadikusumah. Agus made himself available for the President's intervention in the military. And even though he is a reformist, he is also a political general.

He played politics for his own (interests) and, in a sense, he caused major damage to the present military reforms. But there are people who still support reforms..they are equally angry at Agus actually.

I think that whatever happens with Agus, for example, the reform in the territorial structure will proceed. The majority of military officers, and I am talking about generals, have come to the conclusion that (reform) is something they cannot avoid. Like it or not, they have now accepted that they have to change further, to get out of politics. They should be nonpartisan, and they should gradually phase out their territorial operations, and turn over the territorial function to the police.

The question is, how long will this process take? Given the enormous task in replacing institutions, I tend to agree with people like Lt. Gen. Agus Wijaya, that it will take at least five to seven years (for) the police to replace the military in performing its territorial function.

Q: Do you think Gen. Wiranto still has influence over the current political situation?

A: I think he is still has a lot of influence, but again, you know, if you ask whether he can be remembered as a good military leader, I don't think so. He should have resigned after the destruction of East Timor. Indonesia lost the long war in East Timor, and it was the first defeat for the Indonesian military.

Any general, any commander in chief who lost a war should resign, and he did not. I am sure there are now officers who think of him, "Here is the general who lost the war, and who tried to retain his power even after he lost the war."