What happened before the riots?

The Jakarta riots on 27 July made headlines around the world. But what went on before? ED ASPINALL explains the lengthy battle between the government and Megawati, leader of the PDI.

Even before the outbreak of rioting in Jakarta on 27 July, the spectre of Manila style 'people's power' haunted Jakarta in June. On June 20, as a government backed conference convened in Medan to remove Megawati Sukarnoputri as leader of the Indonesian Democracy Party PDI, a large demonstration took place in Jakarta. Cheered on by construction workers in scaffolding high above their heads, and watched by thousands of business district office workers, a large crowd marched through the centre of the city. Estimates of its size varied from five to twenty five thousand.

The protestors forced their way through two lines of soldiers on the Southern side of Jakarta's central Merdeka Square. But as the column neared Gambir Station, a much larger detachment of soldiers blocked its progress. Scuffles broke out, and the soldiers attacked, beating and kicking many protesters in front of the cameras of the world's press. Over 100 were injured, and over 50 detained.


This was the most dramatic incident in a whole series of actions by Megawati's supporters in Jakarta and elsewhere through June and July. PDI members around the country signed statements of support for Megawati with thumb prints in their own blood. Many pledged they were 'ready to die for Megawati.' In Semarang a crowd of 2000 supporters occupied the PDI Central Java provincial office, only to be oustered by a detachment of security forces. Thousands of protesters marched through the streets of Surabaya, Yogyakarta, Solo, Bandung, Pekanbaru, Palembang, Lampung, Denpasar, Mataram, Ujung Pandang and Manado. There were countless manifestations of support in smaller towns around the country.

Docile no more

That such open defiance should come from supporters of the PDI might at first seem surprising. After it was formed in 1973, the PDI was for many years a weak and mostly docile component of the New Order's corporatist political system. From the start, there was intense military and government intervention in its internal affairs. Party leaders - from the secretary of the smallest local branch right up to the National Chairperson - were 'screened' before approval.

As a result, the party represented no threat to the government. It always made clear its support for the key pillars of the political system, such as Suharto's next candidacy for President.

The election of Megawati as Chairperson in late 1993 changed all that. For the first time in the 30 year history of Suharto's New Order, a political party was headed by a leader who had not been groomed by the government, indeed, who was elected by party members in defiance of government instructions. In the lead up to the PDI congress in Surabaya in 1993, delegates were put under intense pressure by government and military officials not to vote for Megawati. But when they assembled at the conference site they supported her in overwhelming numbers (see Inside Indonesia No. 38).


Megawati's leadership of the PDI confronted the government with an unprecedented dilemma. It was widely believed the party would dramatically increase its vote in the upcoming 1997 general election. In 1992 the PDI achieved only 15%. It was also believed this could be prevented only by massive fraud. Largely to prevent or expose this fraud, students, intellectuals, journalists and others formed the Independent Election Monitoring Committee KIPP in January this year.

If Megawati were to announce her candidacy for President prior to 1997 (there were plenty of indications she would) the national elections would have become a de facto plebiscite on the government and Suharto. For the first time, members of the MPR, Indonesia's super parliament, would have been required to choose between more than one Presidential candidate when it met in early 1998.

This did not mean, of course, that the PDI under Megawati would have been able to win the election, or that Megawati would have been elected as President by the MPR. Indonesia's political system is designed to control challenges to the regime, not to allow genuine contestation. Six hundred of the 1000 members of the MPR are, after all, appointed by the President. Nevertheless, a Megawati-led PDI represented an unprecedented challenge to the government, which could have sparked a major political crisis during the elections or the MPR session. To prevent this, it was necessary to remove Megawati as PDI leader.

Unseating Megawati

From the moment Megawati became PDI chief, it was clear the government intended to destabilise and eventually unseat her. It had the assistance of a substantial layer of party leaders who had been nurtured by many years of government intervention, patronage, and often outright bribery.

At first, a group of such individuals led by Yusuf Merukh established a rival Central Board (DPP), thus attempting to destablise Megawati from the outside. At the same time, others attempted to force through the appointment of government cronies to head provincial branches. Fierce and debilitating conflicts broke out as a result.


Megawati's supporters had long understood that a more concerted attempt to remove her was inevitable. They considered it likely this would come before July 1996, when parties were required to submit their lists of candidates for next year's general election.

From late April, the PDI leadership began to receive reports from the regions that Interior Ministry officials and military officers were visiting party branch officials and instructing them to sign statements calling for an 'extraordinary party congress'. All became clear on June 3, when a delegation of PDI members visited the Ministry of Internal Affairs to seek permission to hold such a congress.

They claimed to bring with them letters of support from 215 of the party's 305 branches. The next day, the head of the PDI parliamentary fraction, Fatimah Achmad, formed a congress- organising committee. She was supported by 16 of the 27 members of the DPP (including herself). Most of these 16 had been forced onto Megawati in late 1993 as a condition for official recognition of her leadership. They had always been viewed as close to the military and the government.


Megawati and her supporters declared that the proposed congress was unconstitutional on a number of grounds. According to party rules, a congress could only be held with the support of the chairperson, Megawati herself. They also found that most of the requests for a congress from the branches were invalid. Most had only been signed by one or two individual branch officials, and had not been endorsed by branch conferences as required by party rules. Some were outright forgeries, and others had clearly been signed under duress.

The extent of government orchestration of the whole affair soon became clear. Senior officials like Interior Minister Yogie S. M. and Armed Forces Commander in Chief Gen. Feisal Tanjung quickly and publicly endorsed the congress as the best way to overcome the party's 'internal crisis'. Maj-Gen. Sedaryanto, Commander of the North Sumatran military region, declared he was willing to guarantee security for a congress in Medan.

Military Information Chief Brig-Gen. Amir Syarifudin called in the chief editors of major national newspapers and news magazines, and instructed them to report the conflict in a manner sympathetic to Megawati's opponents and the government. He advised them to be careful not to endanger political stability. According to some reports they were even told to refer to Megawati not as 'Sukarnoputri' - literally, 'daughter of Sukarno' - but as 'Taufik Kiemas', her husband's name.

This intimidation was largely effective. Most media reported the dispute as if it was merely an internal split in the party, giving little explicit coverage of government intervention. In 1993, journals like the now banned Detik and Tempo provided detailed exposure of the dirty tricks used to try to prevent Megawati's election.

At the same time, congress organisers were provided with government funding, to the tune of several billion rupiah. Delegates were carefully screened and sent off to Medan with generous 'pocket money'. They were accompanied by military officers from their regions of origin, whose task was to ensure that delegates did not stray from the prearranged script.


Meanwhile, tensions mounted as Megawati's supporters resisted the congress plans. At a meeting with the foreign press on June 12, PDI leaders stated that the party could bring millions of people onto the streets and that if elections were held in free conditions, the PDI would gain 80-85% of the vote. Statements of support for Megawati flooded in from branches around the country, including many of those which had supposedly backed the congress.

In the regions, Megawati supporters occupied party offices and formed 'caretaker boards' to replace leaders who backed the congress. In Jakarta, massive crowds gathered at the party headquarters after rumours circulated that it would be seized by troops.

Between June 20 and 22 the congress proceeded without disruption. The congress site in Medan was heavily guarded by troops. Senior officials like Yogie S. M. and Feisal Tanjung addressed the delegates. As expected, there was a unanimous vote to remove Megawati and replace her with former PDI leader Soerjadi.


The return of Soerjadi was something of an irony. He was forced out of the leadership in 1993 by the government precisely because he had seemed to give too much leeway in the party to critics, some of whom had campaigned strongly for the party to seek an alternative Presidential candidate. In the ensuing chaos, the government lost control of the leadership selection process, and Megawati - supported by the most independent and critical elements in the party - was elected.

In following years, Soerjadi apparently swallowed his resentment about his removal. When invited by government leaders - according to some reports the initial approach came from Lt-Gen. Syarwan Hamid, Chief of Social and Political Affairs - he indicated he was ready to cooperate in the removal of Megawati.

Irian Jaya

As the congress met in Medan, protests peaked elsewhere around the country. They indicated the breadth and depth of support Megawati has attracted. Some demonstrations were very large, especially considering they took place in an atmosphere of considerable intimidation. The geographical spread of the support was also remarkable. Megawati maintained the support of PDI branches in Irian Jaya, as well as in other islands of Eastern Indonesia and parts of Kalimantan and Sulawesi, where political conditions are often far more restrictive than in Java.

The core of Megawati's support comes from two main groups. First and most important are those within the PDI itself. Many of these are Sukarnoists, former members and supporters of the PNI (Partai Nasional Indonesia), which was forced to dissolve into the PDI in 1973. Megawati commands the total loyalty of many of these people. Her emergence as party leader signals a major reinvigoration of this important political current.


Second is the broad unofficial dissident opposition movement: various non-government organisations, student groups, other mass organisations and, since earlier this year, political parties. Such groups have become increasingly well organised since the late 1980s, especially in Jakarta and other big cities. But they have hitherto lacked a unifying symbol or campaign.

On June 14, 30 pro-democracy organisations released a statement in support of Megawati. Among them were the Democratic People's Party PRD, the United Democratic Party PUDI, the Legal Aid Institute YLBHI, the independent Prosperity Labour Union SBSI, the Alliance of Independent Journalists AJI, Student Solidarity for Democracy SMID, and the student organisation Pijar. Activists associated with these groups were at the forefront of the demonstrations.


But support for Megawati goes far beyond these two organised groups. She has the capacity to become the rallying point for that growing section of the middle and lower strata of society who are disaffected with the current regime. In large part, her popularity is derived from the place her father, the Republic's first President Sukarno, occupies in the popular imagination. During his years leading first the pre-war nationalist movement and then the independent nation, Sukarno was a classic populist. He extolled the virtues of the ordinary people, the wong cilik. He made poor Indonesians feel they occupied the centre stage of Indonesia's historic struggle toward nationhood and grandeur.

It is still popularly believed that Sukarno devoted himself wholeheartedly to the common people, that he died in poverty, and that he never used his position of power to enrich his family. This stands in stark contrast with current conditions, where tremendous poverty and inequality persist alongside widespread corruption and nepotism extending to the very top of the government. Add to this mounting desires for democratic reform and Megawati's status as the first truly independent party leader, and it is clear why she is such a potentially powerful figure.


In the short term, it appears the government has achieved a victory. Megawati and her supporters have lost control of the official PDI. They will not participate in the party's election campaign, nor will they be represented in the MPR which selects the next President. Even the campaign of mass mobilisation seemed to have largely died down by the end of July, as Megawati and her aides appealed to her supporters to avoid confrontation, and concentrated on preparing a court challenge.

But pushing Megawati out of the formal, officially sanctioned political arena does little to remove the underlying problem for the government. There can be little doubt that the whole affair has greatly increased the government's unpopularity. Precisely because support for Megawati was so great, the government was required to use clumsy and transparent methods to remove her. Despite all its talk of openness, the government is fundamentally unable to manage major political challenge without resorting to repression.

Megawati has now become a unifying figure for opposition outside the formal political arena. Many media outlets have called her Indonesia's Aung San Suu Kyi. By pushing the threat to the margins, a manageable force within the official system has been transformed into a potentially powerful and dangerous extra-parliamentary movement.

Of course, extra-parliamentary opposition is nothing new for the Suharto government. Since the 1970s, there have been sporadic outbursts of protest and unrest. What extra-parliamentary opposition has always lacked, however, has been a clear, charismatic and unifying leader and a mass base beyond the Jakarta dissident milieu. The government's handling of the Megawati challenge seems to have provided both things.

Ed Aspinall is a postgraduate student at the Australian National University in Canberra.


Riot chronology

By Ed Aspinall


Medan extraordinary PDI congress opens. A large demonstration occurs in Jakarta. Jakarta military command allows Megawati supporters to occupy the PDI headquarters provided they hold no more demonstrations.

JUNE 21 - JULY 20

Hundreds of Megawati supporters guard the HQ. Large crowds gather there for daily 'democracy forums' with a variety of speakers.

JULY 20 - JULY 26

Top soldiers Lt-Gen Syarwan Hamid and Gen Feisal Tanjung say the forums discredit the government. On July 23 Jakarta Police Chief Hamami Nata orders them to end. On July 26 President Suharto tells Soerjadi that 'bald devils' are using the PDI for their own purposes, and names 'Mari', a coalition of 26 pro-democracy organisations defending Megawati. PDI supporters believe an attack will follow soon after ASEAN leaders meeting in Jakarta go home on July 26.


2:30 - 6:00 am

Ambulances, fire engines, and army trucks with many troops assemble near the HQ.

6:00 am

Four trucks pull up across the road from the HQ and disgorge 400-1000 men dressed in red T-shirts and head bands reading 'pro Medan congress'. Their muscular bodies, short haircuts and rattan clubs make most look like soldiers.

6:15 - 9:00 am

The men throw stones unloaded from their trucks at the HQ. A few inside flee, others use chairs to protect themselves, some throw rocks back at the attackers. Telephones are cut.

Armoured cars and a fire engine appear and about 1000 uniformed police and soldiers blockade the road on either side of the HQ. They do nothing to prevent the attack. Some pass stones to the assailants.

PDI supporters begin to gather nearby. Troops prevent them reaching the HQ, but some supporters throw stones at the attackers. Police in turn charge them. Stone throwing and clashes continue for 2 hours. At one point an armoured car is used to disperse the crowd, and a bus is set alight.

Around 8:30 am the Central Jakarta Police Commander offers those inside the HQ the chance to be taken away by ambulance, saying he 'suspects' the attack will be escalated. Megawati, eventually contacted, instructs her followers to maintain the 'status quo'.

9:00 - 10:00 am

While clashes continue between the swelling crowd and troops a few hundred metres away, a concerted attack on the HQ takes place inside the military cordon. Uniformed police move forward and break down the fence. They and the red-shirted men force defenders to flee into the building and barricade the doors. Attackers throw petrol bombs and set fire to tires, banners and tents outside. Part of the building is burnt. Tear gas is used on the defenders. Breaking down doors and windows, the attackers force their way in.

What happens next is a matter of dispute. Senior military officers claim there is no bloodshed. Other sources claim many defenders are stabbed and the building awash with blood. Some reports say up to 100 defenders remain missing. On August 19, the New York based Human Rights Watch - Asia released a list of 19 names still unaccounted for, presumably not all from inside the HQ. Certainly the defenders - many injured and bleeding, some motionless - were loaded into trucks and ambulances and taken away.

10:00 am - 2:00 pm

The crowd beyond the military cordon continues to swell, now numbers over 10 000, congregated near the Cikini railway bridge and on Jalan Diponegoro. Rumours spread that perhaps six, perhaps up to 50 people were killed in the attack and many more injured. Free speech forums are held. Some PDI leaders appeal for calm.

Many hundreds of police and soldiers (including marines) continue to block passage to the HQ. At one point, a section of the crowd, chanting 'Abri are killers' begin throwing rocks at troops, who retreat temporarily, and a police station is set on fire. Sporadic clashes continue, but the crowd is for the most part peaceful.

2:00 pm - 6:00 pm

As news of the attack on the HQ spreads, crowds continue to converge on the area, including workers returning home from their offices and high school students returning from school.

About 2-3 pm troops begin a concerted attack on the crowd, using tear gas, water cannons, rocks, metal batons, rifle butts and possibly bayonets. Many (including bystanders) are injured, and the crowds scatters in panic to the north, south and west. This simply spreads the unrest, and now serious rioting develops. Kostrad (Army Strategic Reserve) troops and armoured cars chase several thousand protestors troops to the north. Many protestors are beaten around Taman Ismail Marzuki.

Thousands more engage in running battles with troops down Jalan Diponegoro, west toward Salemba. Residents from the poor kampungs around Jalan Pramuka continue to swell the crowd. Uncontrolled rioting flares up along Jalan Salemba Raya, Kramat Raya and Pramuka, and other main roads 1-3 kilometres to the west of the HQ. Clashes with troops continue and numerous buildings are set on fire, including banks, automobile showrooms, an office of the Department of Agriculture and other symbols of wealth and government authority.

5:00 pm - midnight.

By late afternoon tens of thousands of people are on the streets here. The rioting is mainly contained in one area, quarantined by huge detachments of marines, Kopassus (the army's elite special forces) and other troops. Clashes continue into the night, and more buildings and vehicles are set ablaze. Troops empty the Senen shopping complex to the north (its predecessor was burnt down during the 1974 riots). Another detachment blocks roads leading to Manggarai in the south. At 8 pm the Senayan shopping centre, far to the southeast, is emptied. As thousands of soldiers move into the area of greatest unrest, the crowd slowly disperses. By midnight troops have reasserted control.


From dawn, many thousands of fully armed soldiers are on guard throughout the city, especially where rioting occurred. Armoured cars, tanks and trucks patrol the streets. Kopassus commander and President Suharto's son in law Prabowo is seen addressing an assembly of several hundred troops near the PDI HQ. The national office of the Islamic organisation NU is briefly occupied by soldiers. Two tanks point cannons at the office of the Legal Aid Foundation LBH.

Despite the heavy troop presence, crowds begin to gather in areas of yesterday's clashes. About 1000 block Jalan Kramat Raya for an hour. Around midday, several hundred gather near the LBH office, not far from the HQ, but soldiers quickly move in. About 30 are detained, beaten and kicked. Wherever people gather, troops quickly disperse them.

PDI leaders and human rights activists who visit hospitals, morgues and crematoriums to count casualties find their way blocked by troops.

In Surabaya, early in the morning a large detachment of troops forcibly evict Megawati supporters from the PDI regional office they had occupied since the Medan congress. In Yogyakarta a demonstration of about 500 people is violently dispersed.

Abri Commander Feisal Tanjung announces at least 176 were detained the day before. On TV, he threatens firm action against 'subversive' groups connected with the PDI.


Government strategy becomes clear. The small pro-democracy organisation PRD (People's Democratic Party) is accused of fomenting the riot. Officials say the PRD is communist and vow to crush it. A general crackdown on pro-democracy groups begins, dramatised by Jakarta Military Commander Maj-Gen Sutiyoso's order on July 30 for his troops to shoot trouble makers on sight.

On July 30 Muchtar Pakpakhan, leader of the independent labour union SBSI, is detained, charged under the draconian Subversion Law. Many other pro-democracy leaders, including Megawati Sukarnoputri, are called in for police questioning. Some other activists are arrested.

In regional towns many suspected of involvement with the PRD are detained, some tortured. On August 11 and 12, PRD chairperson Budiman Sudjatmiko and 7 colleagues are arrested on the outskirts of Jakarta. As of August 15, 124 people remained in detention, mostly arrested on July 27.


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