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Megawati faces old order

6. August 2001

Richard Robison, professor of Asian and international politics at Murdoch University

In just 21 months the euphoria of Wahid`s election to the presidency has become the humiliation of his impeachment by Indonesia`s parliament.

It is undeniable that Wahid brought much of this on himself. Ironically, this staunch democrat proved unable to understand what politics means in a democratic system, stubbornly refusing to build alliances and broker deals with a volatile parliament.

But are the dramatic events of recent days all about idiosyncratic behaviour and political naivety or is something much deeper taking place in Indonesia? Does the Megawati presidency simply signal the injection of some commonsense into democratic government? Or are we witnessing nothing less than the re-emergence of those forces and interests incubated under the long period of Soeharto rule?

Of course, the fall of Soeharto did not mean the end of Soehartoism. The alliance of State officials, political families and business cronies survived his demise. Entrenched within the military, the civil bureaucracy, the courts and judicial system and within those ministries and State companies that controlled strategic points of access to Indonesia`s economy, they continued to resist reform.

Politics also moved into the sinister world of gangsters and militias. Through violence, abductions, bombings and ideological pogroms, elements of the old order provided a reminder of their power.

In parliament and in the parties, too, former Soeharto apparatchiks and business figures play a key role. Among them are the Golkar leader, Akbar Tanjung, and the former Habibie Minister, Faud Bawazier.

Wahid had taken on these interests in bitter struggles for control of the military, the courts and such strategic economic institutions as Bank Indonesia, Pertamina and the Indonesian Banking Restructuring Agency, IBRA. He forced the retirement of the powerful general Wiranto and backed the pursuit of well-connected businessmen for the $US85 billion ($167 billion) in debts owed to the Government as a result of its earlier and imprudent bailout of corporations and banks. Although largely unsuccessful in securing prosecutions, corruption trials targeted key Soeharto associates as well as Soeharto himself and his younger son, Tommy.

That Wahid`s impeachment was enthusiastically supported by the military and so many in the Parliament is as much the result of a power struggle as it was a response to the ineptitude and chaotic nature of his leadership.

But will the old interests find Megawati any more willing a vehicle for the re-establishment of their power? At one level, she has little love for Soeharto, who attempted to crush her party with considerable violence in the early 1990s. She is strongly influenced by Laksamana Sukardi, a former banker committed to dismantling predatory systems of business and administration and to opening the economy.

But Megawati`s Indonesian Democracy Party in Struggle (PDI-P) is far from being an unambiguously progressive party. It shares with the military and other old order elements of a highly nationalist view of politics. We don`t know precisely what deals were done with the military. But it is certain they will now regain some of their former influence and autonomy and have a greater hand in dealing with Aceh and Irian.

The PDI-P is ultimately a party of the elite. The huge support Megawati gained from the urban poor and workers has not been translated into any policy agendas. Indeed, PDI-P militias, the infamous Satgas, have been involved in strike-breaking activities for local employers.

Nor is the PDI-P free of the sort of predatory influences that were the cement of economic and political life in the Soeharto regime. Indonesia`s new democracy means that parties need vast funds to compete in elections and operate in the Parliament. Money politics demands wealthy supporters. Counter-balancing the progressive liberalism of Laksamana Sukardi are figures like the former Golkar member and Soeharto era businessman, Arifin Panigoro, and Megawati`s husband and businessman, Taufik Kiemas.

The rise of Megawati signals the beginning of a new set of power struggles. Reformers within the party are on the back foot. She inherits a government paralysed by looming fiscal crisis, an economy immobilised by a moribund banking system, a decentralisation threatening to spin out of control and facing deep social resentment.

A return to authoritarian rule is not possible, but a relapse into predatory economics and money politics is the easiest path. Able to enforce the stability and supply the funding essential for government, the interests of the old order are also well placed to ensure that the courts and the judiciary, the banks and business as well as the military are left alone by the new regime.