A smouldering civil war among the elites, Army power plays, and Chinese scapegoats.
This stems from a conversation I had just after the Christmas/New Year’s holidays with an old gentleman of my acquaintance. This man has held senior posts in government, both elected and otherwise, since early in the Suharto regime, he is a serious man who quite literally knows where many of the bodies are buried and understands well how Indonesian society and politics work. For some time now he has been warning me that Indonesia is headed for serious trouble and it will come sooner rather than later. I have until now dismissed his comments as those of a somewhat cranky old man disillusioned with how the younger generation are behaving and have pointed to the remarkable “stability” and economic success Indonesia has been undergoing lately. I am no longer of that opinion and have begun to accept, depressingly, what he has been saying.
I will condense his thesis (which he has written in a private 12 page summary for some friends and associates who have sought his views on the current state of affairs, he was kind enough to let me have a copy) as well as I can and I welcome any commentators who have a deeper understanding than I do of what is happening in Indonesia today. For myself I have come around to the realisation that although I live here and keep myself up to date with Indonesian news I don’t really know what makes this country tick.
It is as follows:
Under the thin veneer of the current Indonesian success story there lie extremely serious stress fractures in this society. Some people point to terrorism as a major concern, my friend dismisses this as actually something that can be and indeed is being contained by the Indonesian state. The deep divisions among the elites of this society however are something that cannot be so easily resolved and will cause a major earthquake if they are not handled with more determination, something that the current President seems incapable or perhaps unwilling so to do.
These elites in business, politics, the media, the police and the armed forces are at this very moment in a state of undeclared civil war, quite literally so in the case of the last two. Beneath these elites is a seething mass of poverty stricken, depressed citizenry which is being stoked up by extremely dangerous individuals that have past form in these matters and who could cause a tsunami to erupt in the streets at any time.
The current hysteria about demonstrations leading to disorder and the police mobilising 10,000 officers to handle demos that end up with less than half that number of protesters may seem excessive but I am assured that behind the scenes there are in fact sinister elements (you don’t need me to tell you who they are) who are gearing up to actually turn one of these events nasty and right now they are simply biding their time for the right opportunity.
I alluded to the army/police split earlier and this is a pivotal element in all of this. The Army should not be dismissed as a busted flush in Indonesian politics, they have been licking their wounds since 1998 and have been getting more and more alienated from the current government.
Anti-corruption drives, divesting the Army of their business interests, giving increased security roles to the Police have all been causing great resentment among the Army high command and the rank and file and they are starting to make some rather ominous comments about this state of affairs. They are starting to get restless and indeed I understand that the head of the TNI dropped some serious hints that the Army wasn’t happy about how Indonesian politics were proceeding during a major speech in December (my apologies, I haven’t been able to link this).
If anyone thinks that it is ludicrous to suggest that the Army could even contemplate trying to get into power again one should only remember that of the three tickets for the presidential election last year, all of them had a “retired” general on them. It was only ten short years ago that Thailand seemed like a peaceful democracy, until one morning the citizens of Bangkok woke up to find tanks on the street.
Coupled with all of this is Indonesia’s nasty little attraction to running amok among the Chinese and this is where all the relentless media attention given to the recent corruption scandals come in. You must always remember that the media reporting these events are not dispassionate, neutral observers but are in fact owned by the various factions in the ongoing political disputes.
The big unspoken thread that runs through all these scandals so deliciously served up to the masses with a nod and a wink,
“say no more but you know what I’m getting at don’t you?”
“Look the Chinese are robbing us again!”.
All the big names in these scandals, Artalyta, Tantula, Anggodo are of course ethnic Chinese, the message being subtly sent to the disaffected in society couldn’t be clearer (when my friend mentioned Artalyta initially he forgot her name and referred to “the woman who was jailed”, I thought he meant Prita, the lady being prosecuted for defamation but he corrected me and then went on to point out the media attention and popular support Prita received, no coincidence of course that she was a jilbab wearing woman being persecuted by a Chinese owned, Christian hospital), the mobs will know what is expected of them when they get the go-ahead.
This leads us to the last point; the trigger, who knows where it will come? It could be some god-forsaken place in the back end of no-where, a crowd of disaffected warung owners protesting at yet another IndoMaret opening in their kampung, don’t laugh, I have been told by several people that there is a lot of tension surrounding these franchises springing up everywhere (“and who do you think is opening them?” one not so subtle informant asked me). It could be workers laid off as a result of the Chinese/Indonesian free trade agreement (another deep source of resentment) or it could be something as stupid as a bunch of football hooligans kicking off.
Whatever the cause the woeful Indonesian police will find themselves unable to handle it and ask the Army for help, the Army will reply
We’d love to help you but we’re a little bit busy right now, call us back when it’s all spiralled out of control and we’ll take over
So what do posters think, am I being over-pessimistic, is my associate simply a grumpy old man? Or is there something in what he is saying and that we may soon be living in interesting times?
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