Struggle for Democracy
is Our Immediate Platform...
Indonesia has been in the news for the past couple of months for the massive
repression of left and democratic forces by the fascist regime of Suharto. The state has
been interfering in the internal affairs of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) and has
declared the leadership of its leader, Megawati Sukarnoputri to be illegitimate. The newly
formed People's Democratic Party (PRD), though not well covered by the Indian and other
foreign media, has also been waging a valiant struggle for the restoration of democracy in
Indonesia. Being a leftwing force it has been at the centre of attack by the state.
Readers would recall the massive crackdown by the same Suharto regime on the once strong
Left movement in the island nation led by the communist party, the PKI, in the sixties in
which more than a million communists and their supporters were killed. PRD along with its
various mass organisations is trying to rebuild a strong left movement in this present
phase of a democratic upsurge in Indonesia. In their last major mobilisation on July 8 in
Surabaya, East Java, some 20,000 workers staged a massive demonstration demanding wage
increases. After a 'riot' broke out on July 27 of which the PRD was accused of being the
main instigator, the government swooped down on the PRD and made large scale arrests. Many
important leaders, including the Chairman of PRD, Budhinam Sudjatmiko, have been arrested
and booked under the infamous 1962 Anti-Subversion Law. No prisoner has ever been proved
innocent under the trial of this law and those branded as communists are summararily
CPI(ML) came out in support for the just cause in Indonesia and raised a forum called the Indian Solidarity for Democracy in Indonesia. Various talks were organised and a protest march was also taken out to the Indonesian Embassy on October 28. Nico Warouw, the overseas representative of PRD was in Delhi recently at the invitation of this forum to share his party's experiences and seek solidarity in support of their struggle. Nico spoke about the current situation of the movement in Indonesia to Siddartha from Liberation. Excerpts from the interview:
Liberation: What is the latest from Indonesia and where does your PRD fit in in the present upsurge against Suharto?
Nico Warouw: Under the dictatorship of Suharto only three political parties have been given recognition. There is the Muslim Party, the PPP, Megawati's party, the PDI and the ruling party, the GOLKAR. Outside these three, the government would not allow the existence of any other party. How could 200 million people be represented by only these three parties? Today the people are trying to fight for their basic democratic rights. PRD is one of the parties fighting for these basic democratic rights, although we don't have the recognition from the government. The level of our programme or the platform is only social democratic.
We support Megawati's party because we know that Megawati has some sort of a commitment for democracy. We support all people, all organisations committed to democracy. But the difference between us, the PRD and the PDI is clear. Their party is a legal party and involved in parliamentary struggles but ours is an illegal party involved in extra-parliamentary struggles. There are also differences on the question of role of the military and armed forces. They see these as being important to the social and political affairs of the country while we demand the repeal of the dual function of the military. About 100 MPs in the Indonesian parliament are appointed by the President from the military. And even apart from these the ruling party nominates armymen to the Parliament since the latter strongly influence the former. We totally oppose the involvement of the military in the Parliament. Another major difference is on the position of East Timor. PDI sees it as a part of Indonesia and hence says it should not be separated. We totally support the struggle of the people of East Timor for independence.
Our struggle is simple in the sense that we demand that the people have the right to elect their own representatives to the decision-making body, i.e. the Parliament, and they should have their own independent organisations. In a liberal democratic country all these are beyond question but in Indonesia these rights do not exist.
Liberation: What is the reach of the PRD among the masses and among which
sections do you work?
Nico Warouw: We have several mass organisations. We have PPBI or the Centre for Indonesian Labour Struggle, STN which is our peasant organisation, SMID which is our student organisation. We also have a cultural front, Network for People's Art (JAKER). All these are national organisations. We also have two city-based organisations for urban poor.
Today, our strongest mass base is among the workers in the industrial areas. We have to admit that we are a small force. We don't have many organisers or cadres all over Indonesia.
Liberation: What is the role of these mass organisations in the broader political struggle for democracy?
Nico Warouw: The formation of the PRD itself is to give a political perspective to the resistance of the people in different sectors. For example, we are trying to explain to the workers that their problem is not just economic but also political. It is not just a matter of improving working conditions of the workers or of getting minimum wages. All this happens because the workers don't have their independent unions. The government only allows the existence of one union - its official union. This union is totally controlled by the government and the armed forces. This union has let the armed forces and the military come to every workers' strike and make arrests, beat and torture the workers and sometimes even kill them as they did two years ago when women workers were killed by the security forces. So the workers don't have a real union, an independent one that works for the workers' interests.
Similarly, every sector has these official organisations set up by the government.
Liberation: Indonesia, as the outside world knows it, has had an unprecedented economic boom. What has been the change in the conditions of the working class? Has it brought any prosperity for them?
Nico Warouw: The government does show impressive statistics to project economic prosperity but the truth is that even today millions of people are still living under poverty. Workers are still getting 2-3 dollars a day whereas in Jakarta one needs at least 5-6 dollars to live properly. This economic change has only benefited some elite minorities. It has benefited the generals' families who also are the bourgeoisie. Common people have not benefited from the development projects undertaken by the government. Say, building dams has only helped in generating electricity for industrial use and hardly benefited the poor people.
Liberation: What happens now to your arrested leaders, Budhinam and others?
Nico Warouw: 25 of our members were arrested by the government after the July 27 riots on charges of instigating the riot. But till today the government has not been able to prove them guilty. Since they have already arrested them, the government does not want to lose face. So they are looking for other pretexts to charge them under the Anti-Subversion Law under which the maximum penalty is death. Probably, the trials will take place this November.