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Monday, February 20, 2017
- Indonesian army warnings that the country’s communist movement is mobilising to overthrow the Suharto government is seen by political analysts as an attempt to divert public attention from the real issues facing the regime.
Ever since President Suharto on July 28 ordered the release of former foreign minister Soebbandrio and former air force chief Oman Dhani, both imprisoned for their alleged role in a 1965 abortive coup, Indonesian army officials have been warning of a communist revival that threatens the country’s stability.
Most recently, Major-General Syarwan Hamid, assistant military chief in charge of socio-political affairs, said “military intelligence and socio-political analysis, including facts found in several regions, indicate that the PKI (Indonesian Communist Party) is alive and has metamorphosed into many forms”.
He added that latent type communism and communist type movements were difficult to detect because of the many guises they took.
Some hide behind the revival of an old cause of establishing a separate Islamic state, he said, adding that others took the form of non-governmental organisations acting “under the pretense of defending the people and democracy” using methods similar to those once used by the banned PKI.
The PKI was banned in 1966 following the bloody abortive coup the previous year that led to the eventual ouster of the late President Sukarno and the emergence of the new order under President Suharto who took over the reins of power in 1967.
The crackdown after the coup attempt saw tens of thousands of political activists imprisoned, with several thousand PKI members locked away on the faraway Buru island, off Maluku province.
Most were released during the late 1970s and 1980s, but others like Soebbandrio and Dhani, accused of masterminding the coup plot, were kept imprisoned. Indeed, about 25 of the 195 political prisoners still held in custody have been there since 1965-66.
The clemency came as Indonesia prepared to celebrate its 50th anniversary of independence from the Netherlands, and was greeted by human rights activists as “encouraging for future politics”.
“What we are seeing is a reconciliatory mood from the palace and I think that’s very encouraging for future politics,” Marzuki Darusman, deputy chairman of the Indonesian Commission of Human Rights was quoted saying by the ‘Far Eastern Economic Review’.
But Suharto’s show of clemency has not gone down well with the military which, according to analysts, is seeking to perpetuate the perception of a dangerous communist threat to protect its own pride of place in government.
Parliamentary seats reserved for the military have been reduced and questions over their dual role in the military as well as in civilian affairs are increasingly being raised.
Also, there is growing discontent among Indonesia’s middle and lower classes who are complaining that they are not getting a fair share of the economic pie in a country which has shown impressive economic growth in recent years.
Muslim scholar Abdurahman Wahid believes that these factors are at the root of the anti-communist rhetoric. “It’s like a cycle. The authorities are trying to put the lid on the (impact) of political openness they previously encouraged,” he said.
Students in particular are becoming more vociferous in their criticisms of government’s economic policies which are credited with bringing growth, but which have also seen an increasing gap between the rich and poor.
Eky Syahrudin, a student leader, was recently quoted by the ‘Jakarta Post’ as saying that the best way to prevent communism from spreading, would be for the authorities to address the social and economic inequities in Indonesian society.
These are words the military does not want to hear. They insist the communist threat is real.
According to East Java military commander Major-General Imam Utomo, pictures of the hammer and sickle, as well as a kite bearing the communist symbol were confiscated from some students in East Java. Graffiti on a number of school walls hailed the PKI as okay, he added.
“We want to remind the public that communists, with their peculiar tactics, are back among us,” he said.
Lieutenant-General Soeyono, the military head of General Affairs, went even further when he named author Pramoedya Ananta Toer, exiled scholar George Aditjondro and labour leader and activist Muchtar Pakpahan among those trying to stir up political unrest.
“Their objective is clear: to topple the government, split the armed forces and…destroy this nation,” Soeyono charged.
Pramoedya Ananta Toer, a literary award winner, was a member of PKI’s cultural wing called Lekra during the 1960s. He was detained at Buru island for about 15 years before being released.
Both Aditjondro and Pakpahan have denied Soeyono’s accusations of their communist links.
Public officials have chided the army official for calling names, since it could lead to a political witch-hunt. But this does not mean the army is wrong to be on guard, said Justice Bismar Siregar.
“We must be on the alert (to the communist threat)…but their names should not have been mentioned,” said the supreme court judge.