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Wide eyed naivete on my part

I really thought back in ’04 that the murder of Munir, a civil rights activist, would provide Yudhoyono an opportunity to prove his commitment to reform. I was wrong,

Published in The Jakarta Post (
Munir’s final service to Indonesia
The Jakarta Post , Jakarta Fri, 12/10/2004 7:42 AM Opinion

Patrick Guntensperger

Never before in Indonesia’s long history has a leader’s mandate come at so pivotal a time. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was handed the keys to the kingdom at a time when this fledgling democracy, the home to one quarter of a billion people, the fourth largest national population on earth, can either become a shining example of modern statehood or it can slide back into a morass of corruption, authoritarianism and Third World poverty. The future of what could be the greatest success story of Southeast Asia lies in the hands of Susilo.

Susilo has already warned us not to expect too much in the first hundred days of his mandate. That warning made those who hesitated to put their future in his hands somewhat nervous. While the observation that there is much to do and the first few months of Susilo’s presidency must be devoted to consolidating power and analyzing problems is reasonable, one can’t help but remark cynically that before the elections he demonstrated a greater sense of urgency about his mission. However, let us assume that Susilo is on track and on target to accomplish the great things we expect of him.

The best possible indication that Susilo sees his mandate as one of change and a rejection of the old Indonesian politics of cronyism, corruption and militarism would be if he got solidly behind a major effort to investigate, capture and prosecute the murderers of human rights activist Munir.

That Munir’s cowardly assassination by poison on a flight to Amsterdam was appalling should go without saying. That his widow has been threatened and warned to avoid connecting his death to the Indonesian military is inexcusable. The arrogance and personal cruelty of that act is unspeakable.

There were a great number of believers in democracy who had concerns about Susilo’s military background. While he appealed to many reformists, he was a retired general and that caused many to question whether he would be able or inclined to take the helm of the government and separate the power of the military from that of the civil authorities. Could Susilo maintain relations with the military and at the same time curb its power? Many had misgivings. The country decided to believe that it was possible and Susilo got his mandate.

If Susilo wants to prove himself worthy of the people’s trust and at the same time make great strides in the direction of democratization of this country, he needs to see that Munir’s murder is thoroughly investigated regardless of the connections his death might have to the military. If Susilo’s commitment to the fight against corruption is to be believed, he needs to have the people of Indonesia see Munir’s murderers brought to justice. If, as seems possible, there is a cadre within the military that is responsible for his death, they must be exposed, arrested and charged with murder as well as with the subsequent cover up and with abuse of their authority and power. If this is done openly and transparently, those who had misgivings about Susilo would have their concerns laid to rest.

This investigation and the arrests that would inevitably follow would do far more to further the fight against corruption than Susilo’s once-a-month cabinet meeting on the subject. Turning over a few rocks in the military would both serve notice that, finally, a genuinely democratic government had been empowered and that the military is the country’s servant, not its master.

Susilo is justifiably proud of his military background. He served his country with distinction and is a highly respected retired soldier. As a retired soldier, we want to know whether his loyalties are to the military or to the country first. As the country’s president, that question is even more pressing.

Surely as a proud former member of Indonesia’s armed forces, he would want to see a pristine and accountable military. Surely he would want to eliminate rogue elements within the military that would murder civilians and then intimidate his widow with a grotesque threat. Surely he, like us, would like to prove that this is nothing more than a small group of fanatics within the military structure and not representative of the entire edifice. Surely, if no one in the military had anything to do with this assassination, he would want to see its exoneration.

Now is the time for Susilo to prove openly and clearly that he will not be intimidated by the entrenched power of Indonesia’s military. Now is the time for him to use his military background as tool to bring the military into the democratization process. Perhaps Munir’s death will give Susilo an opportunity to prove to the citizens of Indonesia that he is not politically cowed by the military machine that has for so long been a law unto itself in this country.
Perhaps Munir, in death, can do one final service for the greater good of his beloved country. Perhaps this will be his chance to see Susilo demonstrate that he has the makings of a courageous leader and prove that he is a man of integrity. If that happens, Indonesia is well on the road to success and with continued inspired leadership, greatness.


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