Wed, 24 Dec 2003

JP/ /unrest

Social unrest pervades ahead of 2004 elections

A'an Suryana The Jakarta Post Jakarta

Five years after the reform movement, social unrest still prevails in Indonesia, where political rivalry has begun to heat up ahead of the 2004 elections.

The thriving corruption, stagnant poverty rate, poor law enforcement, a lack of jobs and other social grievances, as well as conflicts of interests among the political elite are to blame.

The central government fails to show its seriousness in tackling all these problems, and instead seems to sow new troubles in the regions.

Papua is such a case. Though it was clear that many -- if not most -- local people opposed the partition of their territory into the three provinces of Papua, Central Irian Jaya and West Irian Jaya, the central government insisted on the unpopular policy.

The decision led to five days of tribal clashes in Mimika regency between supporters and opponents of the creation of Central Irian Jaya province, in which at least five people were killed.

Analysts say splitting Papua was aimed at dividing the Papuan's support for certain political parties in the 2004 elections, and at curtailing separatist movements there.

Unrest also flared up in Semarang, Central Java, the resort island of Bali and Lampung province after President Megawati Soekarnoputri exercised her authoritarian leadership by forcing regional leaders of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), which she chairs, to stand behind the gubernatorial candidates she had nominated for those provinces. Those who challenged her instructions were dismissed from the party.

Despite mounting protests from PDI Perjuangan supporters and other critics, Megawati's stance has always received backing from her close aide, Minister of Home Affairs Hari Sabarno.

Sidney Jones, former director of Human Rights Watch Asia Division and currently Indonesia Project Director at the International Crisis Group, has said social unrest in Indonesia stemmed from several major factors, including provocations, migration, development policies and separation of the police and military.

Other causes of the conflicts that should be highlighted are psychological and subjective in nature, namely political affinity and religious preference.

While the sectarian conflict in Maluku has largely subsided and local people are enjoying the return to a relatively harmonious and peaceful life, bloodshed continued to strike other parts of the crises-ridden country.

Renewed attacks in the Central Sulawesi town of Poso, communal clashes in Bali and Papua and the burning of a courthouse and prosecutor's offices in Larantuka, East Flores, are examples of the social unrest that colored the life of the Indonesian society this year.

In Poso, mysterious gunmen were blamed for the recent attacks that killed at least 17 people in three months since October. Three other Christians were also shot dead by similar attackers in neighboring Morowali regency.

The violence was apparently aimed at provoking local people in the religiously divided town of Poso to return to the battle field for fresh fighting between Muslims and Christians.

The Indonesian Military and the National Police deployed reinforcement troops to Poso and Morowali and captured some of the attackers, but sporadic violence continued.

Poso saw only several months of relative calm after Muslim and Christian leaders signed a government-brokered peace deal, the Malino II, in December 2001 to end two years of bloodshed that killed some 2,000 people. Now the town is again tense as local people live in fear over the renewed attacks.

Though Poso is a tiny regency, security authorities have failed to control the situation there, leaving attackers to roam freely.

Migration has been a cause of the three-year conflict in Maluku. Before 1970, the number of Muslims and Christians living in Ambon, the capital of Maluku, was relatively equal. But in the 1970s, Muslims from Sulawesi and other parts of Indonesia began to migrate in hoards to the Spice Islands, and the demographics changed drastically.

Worse, migrants gradually began claiming government jobs that had traditionally been reserved for Ambonese Christians, throwing the Christian community into disarray, feeling threatened by the changing situation.

"(This) is the factor in determining how the Christians reacted the way they did to a number of episodes that occurred in 1998 and 1999," Jones said.

Development is necessary for improving the people's welfare, but it always seems to claim victims instead. In the absence of a credible legal system and judicious law enforcers, those deprived of the benefits of development often take the law into their own hands.

There are a countless number of cases in which people have been victimized by development, and which resulted in violence. The bloody clash between police and villagers in Bulukumba regency, South Sulawesi, was an example.

Two persons were shot dead by the police in the incident that was sparked by decades of a dispute over communal land that was controlled by rubber plantation company PT London Sumatra. The villagers claimed the land was theirs.

Political affinity has divided people and fueled in-group feeling among them. It can clearly be found in such a homogeneous society as Bali. They live in one culture, tribe and religion, but different membership of political parties has divided them and locked them in conflict.

Two people were killed in Buleleng regency, Bali, in November, during attacks by PDI Perjuangan supporters after their opponents from the Golkar Party rallied for a political campaign there.

A similar clash between Golkar and PDI Perjuangan supporters also broke out in Buleleng in 1999, claiming nine lives of people.

Last but not least, religious sentiment sometimes helps spark social unrest. As religious society, Indonesians pay huge respect to religious symbols, such as religious leaders and houses of worship. Insults to those symbols can immediately draw a backlash from followers.

This applies correctly in the East Flores regental capital of Larantuka. Thousands of Christians stormed and burned down a courthouse and a building belonging to the local prosecutor's office.

The violence erupted after judges sentenced a local priest to two months in jail and five months' probation for defaming the East Flores regent.

Jones said peacekeeping efforts were critical in assuring post-conflict peace. However, it appears the government has instead imposed misguided policies in restoring and promoting peace in the conflict-torn territories.

The peace deals to end the Maluku and Poso fighting, for example, only involved leading figures from the warring gangs, she added, while peace accords and conflict resolutions needed to emphasize grassroots involvement.

The most crucial factor in ensuring long-standing peace is the establishment of the principles of justice and meritocracy. People will continue to attack others if they are still discriminated in their pursuit of jobs or other basic human rights.