A few years ago I was asked by a human rights group to write a column for their now defunct newsletter. The following was the first of those columns. It was written and published shortly before the most recent national elections and serves as a snapshot of the time; better still it is a bit of a time capsule. It is interesting to see which hopes were dashed, which worries were fulfilled, and which concerns became more or less acute in the intervening years.
As usual, the visuals were not published with the original piece, but added for my own amusement on this rainy day in Manado.
Human Rights in Indonesia
|Gus Dur taking
one of his trademark naps
There have been four Indonesian heads of state since Soeharto’s 30 year dictatorship ended when he was forced to step down during the Asian economic crisis in 1998.
He was succeeded by his vice-president, Habibie, who stepped up and lasted less than two years until he was deposed by Abdurrahman (Gus Dur) Wahid. Gus Dur ran things until Indonesia’s founding dictator Soekarno’s daughter, Megawati Soekarnoputri was appointed president by her party (PDI-P) in 2001.
In the country’s first direct election, she was soundly trounced by one of her former cabinet ministers, another retired general, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. He assumed the presidency and, at this writing seems poised to win a second mandate at the polls when, at the beginning of July this year, the people once again cast their votes for both the head of state and the country’s vice-president. It is unlikely that a run-off election will be necessary, as SBY, as he is fondly known, is likely to win a clear majority, but if he doesn’t, he will almost certainly be installed as president for five more years after a runoff election later this year.
Won by appointment
As a country that was run as a military dictatorship for over three decades after Soeharto and his western handlers had manufactured a “coup” for Soeharto to put down violently, there is no strong tradition of civil rights in this country. Soeharto and his generals paved the way to his unquestioned control over the vast archipelagic nation by the mass murder of anywhere between 500 thousand and a million Indonesians, using spurious accusations of communistic leanings on their part as a justification. No one has ever been brought to justice for this mass slaughter, and the generals who orchestrated it are treated in Indonesian history books as heroes of the nation.
|The Megawati/Prabowo ticket:
Dictator’s daughter and professional torturer
The then head of Kopassus (Indonesia’s feared Special Forces) in Timor, Prabowo Subianto is also accused of serious human rights violations, including running “terror squads” that allegedly targeted, kidnapped and tortured to death East Timorese pro-independence activists. Ex-general Prabowo is the vice-presidential candidate to Megawati’s run to retake the presidency.
|Kalla(L) and Wiranto(R):
The flaky veep and an indicted war criminal
Whatever the truth behind the allegations of human rights violations levelled at the TNI and the ex-New Order generals themselves, one thing is certain. If you’re going to vote in Indonesia this year, you’re going to vote for one of them. As Henry Ford is credited with having said, “People can have a Model T in any color – as long as it’s black.” Despite more than a decade of democracy, Indonesia is still run by what amounts to a political cartel made up of the main players and greatest beneficiaries of Soeharto’s brutal military dictatorship.
|SBY: The hesitant president.
The jury’s still out on his presidential human rights record