Friday, June 25, 1999

Ramos-Horta flying to Jakarta

The Nation

JAKARTA, 25 June 1999 -- Nobel peace laureate and exiled East Timor leader Jose Ramos-Horta is due to arrive in Indonesia tonight amid disappointment among East Timorese over a United Nations (UN) decision to delay a referendum in the province for two weeks.

Sonny Inbaraj, an assistant to Ramos-Horta, told The Nation yesterday by telephone that Ramos-Horta was due to leave New York last night, adding this visit will mark the first time the exiled leader has been in Jakarta since June 1974.

Ramos-Horta represented the Fretilin resistance group in 1974 at a meeting with the then Indonesian Foreign Minister Adam Malik. During the meeting Malik assured Horta that ''the independence of every country is the right of every nation, with no exception for the people of East Timor''.

But Indonesia invaded East Timor in December 1975 and has occupied the former Portuguese colony since 1976. The UN, however, does not recognise Indonesia's rule over East Timor and has managed to persuade the sprawling nation to let the international body conduct a ballot on Aug 8 in which the people of East Timor will vote either for greater autonomy from Jakarta or complete independence.

Inbaraj said Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas was very likely to allow Ramos-Horta to travel to East Timor from Jakarta for a day visit, to take a look at the UN office in the province's capital of Dili, and then back to Jakarta.

''There are security concerns. The most important thing, however, is that he makes it to East Timor,'' said Inbaraj, referring to various death threats made against Ramos-Horta by pro-Indonesian militia organisations.

Alatas said on Monday that the Indonesian government would consider granting Ramos-Horta an entry visa under ''certain circumstances'', such as his attendance at the Dare II reconciliation talks.

''I never said we wouldn't grant Ramos-Horta an entry visa for the territory. The only thing I reacted against was his statement that he would go to East Timor directly from Darwin (Australia), with or without our authorisation. That's something I'll not allow. Who does he think he is?'' Alatas said.

Leading East Timorese residents abroad have been participating in the reconciliation talks, which began on Tuesday and will continue until Wednesday, in Jakarta. The reconciliation talks have become popularly known as the Dare talks after an East Timor town where the initiative was taken.

The talks are being organised by East Timor's two Catholic bishops, Carlos Ximenes Belo and Basilio de Nascimento. In the first phase, held from Tuesday until yesterday, 20 representatives of pro- and anti-independence factions resident in East Timor and Indonesia participated.

The second round of meetings will take place from Sunday until Tuesday, with participation widened to include the East Timorese diaspora. Ramos-Horta and other leaders including Joao Carrascalao and Mari Alkatiri are among the exiled East Timorese invited to the talks.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan decided on Wednesday that the UN- sponsored vote will be delayed from Aug 8 to Aug 28, citing security and logistical problems in East Timor.

The UN ballot in East Timor, projected to cost US$50 million, will involve some 600 personnel, including almost 280 unarmed police. The first contingent of police advisers arrived in the troubled territory on Tuesday from the nearby northern Australian city of Darwin.

Wednesday, June 02, 1999

Flexing their political muscles

The Nation [Bangkok]
Editorial & Opinion

After decades of being in the political wilderness, Indonesian Chinese are now seeking to make their presence felt, writes Andreas Harsono.

SEMARANG, Indonesia -- Decades of discrimination have made Chinese-descent Indonesians skeptical when talking about the relatively new political openness in the country as some of their most prominent leaders chose to join various political parties to advocate multiculturalism in the world's largest archipelago.

''Ethnic Chinese are still traumatised by politics. They don't want to be involved in politics as they are still scared,'' said Alvin Lie, a Chinese businessman who owns the popular Nyonya Meneer medical firm, referring to various anti-Chinese riots which broke out in several Indonesian cities last year.

But Lie is not a typical Chinese. He is also a local leader of the newly-established National Mandate Party (PAN) led by opposition leader Amien Rais.

Across Semarang, other Chinese figures, with their respective business networks and constituents, now either work for exclusive Chinese organisations or are directly involved in political work. But whatever their involvement, most have turned their backs on their traditional patron, the ruling Golkar party which was the political tool of the repressive Suharto regime.

These Chinese figures are mostly successful business leaders. If they want to be involved in politics, they have two major choices: joining the exclusive Indonesian Bhinneka Tunggal Ika Party or joining other mainstream political parties whose platforms include fighting anti-Chinese discrimination.

The phrase Bhinneka Tunggal Ika literally means ''unity in diversity'', which is printed on the official seal of the Republic of Indonesia.

Daniel Budi Setiawan, who runs the Semarang-based PT Siba Surya, one of Indonesia's largest truck companies, believes it is better for him to join the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle led by Megawati Sukarnoputri, whom most opinion polls indicate is the front runner in the race for Indonesia's next president.

''I don't think I represent the Chinese. I represent everyone who votes for the PDI-Struggle in my constituency,'' said Setiawan, adding that although he himself is a Chinese, he is not interested in taking the Chinese problem as an exclusive problem or the Chinese as a special group.

''We should not be trapped in the New Order frame of thinking,'' he quipped, referring to the self-proclaimed name of the Suharto regime. Both Lie and Setiawan are parliamentary candidates who are now busy campaigning for the Indonesian election scheduled for Monday.

Taking off his business suit and tie, Setiawan jumps on a motorcycle almost every day to roam the dozens of remote villages in the Karanganyar area close to Semarang to meet his would-be voters. Lie, on the other hand, prefers to attend bigger rallies. Clad in PAN's blue-and-white T-shirt, he regularly gives speeches to urban middle-class voters.

Chinese make up five per cent of the 1.1 million people in Semarang, Indonesia's fifth largest city and the most important city in the central part of the main island of Java.

Other Chinese figures in Semarang have other approaches. Budi Dharmawan, perhaps the most senior Chinese figure in Semarang, preferred not to officially join any political party. But it is an open secret that he is in the Megawati camp.

Dharmawan, alias Kwik Kian Djien, is a younger brother to Dutch-trained economist Kwik Kian Gie, a close aide to Megawati. Older Kwik is also a popular columnist whose pieces appear in the Kompas daily every Monday. Kwik Kian Gie is perhaps the most popular Chinese figure in Indonesia and was once labelled as the most trusted economics writer in Indonesia.

Kristanto, a veteran politician who used to help thousands of poor Chinese to overcome Indonesia's red tape and get their Indonesian passports, believed that he could do his job better by staying inside Golkar, the party which the Chinese were mostly forced to vote for during the Suharto rule.

Another Chinese leader, Adi Tresnanto, chose to join the Nation Awakening Party of Muslim leader Abdurrahman Wahid. Tresnanto took the name of Anwar Mujahid when he converted to Islam not too long ago. Meanwhile, Arief Pawiro joined the Indonesian Bhinneka Tunggal Ika Party whose official platform is an open party but in practice woos Chinese voters with Chinese messages.

All of these parties, with the exception of the Indonesian Bhinneka Tunggal Ika Party, are widely expected to receive sizable votes in the election.

''As a Golkar cadre, I'm sad to know these people are leaving Golkar. But as a Chinese politician, I'm glad that they are voluntarily participating in politics. They're players, now albeit still on the margin,'' said Kristanto. He himself decided to stay with Golkar although his move is less popular among his peers.

The on-going campaign period has been accompanied by antagonistic feelings directed not only towards Golkar's nomination of President B J Habibie as its sole presidential candidate, but also towards the ruling party itself. Golkar flags and banners have been torn down and burned throughout Indonesia, including Semarang.

Interestingly, Chinese politicians such as Kristanto, Tresnanto, Pawiro and Lie actually share similar goals on the Chinese question. They want the new government to scrap anti-Chinese regulations such as discriminative land ownership or the ban on the construction of new Chinese temples.

Suharto issued a presidential decree in 1967 which basically bans the Chinese minority from publicly displaying such cultural activities as the dragon dance or the commemoration of Confucian-related religious affairs. The racist decree is still in place today. In fact, it is usually referred to by other government officials when enacting other anti-Chinese regulations.

Lie said that his chairman, Amien Rais, had agreed to launch a party platform in which the party would try to change such racist regulations. ''We will legalise the usage of Mandarin in schools as well as other cultural activities,'' he said.

The Chinese were periodically made scapegoats during the Suharto rule. He implemented a divide-and-rule policy in which he encouraged some of his Chinese cronies to develop huge business empires in a bid to hamper politically-strong non-Chinese from exercising their economic muscle.

Dharmawan believes that younger Chinese Indonesians have no problem in being involved in politics. ''They are very active, unlike their parents.'' He estimated that if the on-going reform process goes smoothly, in the next five years, the Chinese will be blended into mainstream politics. Then there would not be any need for an ethnically-base political party.

Andreas Harsono is The Nation's Jakarta correspondent.

Tuesday, June 01, 1999

Change Exchange - June 1999

The Future for Media Freedom in Post-Suharto Indonesia

Andreas Harsono
Change Exchange

Editor's note: A version of this article first appeared in The Nation, a daily newspaper in Thailand.

About two weeks
after Indonesia strongman Suharto stepped down from his 32-year presidency, Indonesian editor, poet, and political activist Goenawan Mohamad brought together a group of journalists in a Puncak villa in the southern belt of Jakarta.

Most of the journalists who attended the Puncak meeting also work for the Jakarta-based Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information (ISAI), a low-profile think tank whose main objective is to achieve media freedom in Indonesia. The journalists set up the group in 1994, a few months after the Suharto government closed down Indonesia’s oldest weekly news-magazine, Tempo, at the time, Goenawan was its editor-in-chief.

Goenawan had just one agenda item for the Puncak meeting: How should journalists prepare for the huge political changes to come in Indonesia?

Recent Changes to Media Freedom

Suharto did not step down voluntarily on May 21, 1998. He was forced to resign amid nationwide student protests and massive rioting in my parts of Indonesia. More than 6,000 buildings were burned, some 1,200 people killed in the fires, and many Indonesians of Chinese descent victimized.

Suharto’s successor, Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, promised to reform the country’s political system, hold fair elections, release political prisoners, and support a free media. Many found it difficult to believe that a Suharto crony like Habibie would implement such measures. 

To the surprise of many journalists, Habibie has tried to keep his word. In Juni 1998, he announced a bold decision to open the media to all newcomers. His government has allowed journalists to establish independent organizations, cutting down the monopoly of the state-controlled Indonesian Journalists Association. Newspaper would no longer need political connections to get a license to run a printing press.

The result: Many new newspapers immediately entered the market. Within three months, the Ministry of Information had issued more than 500 press licenses --more than the Suharto regime issued in the 32 years of his rule. New daily newspaper emerged not only in Jakarta, but also in provincial cities, including Medan in northern Sumatra, Surabaya in the eastern part of Java, and Ujung Pandang in southern Sulawesi.

Private radio stations raced into news reporting –an area the government had monopolized– after the collapse of the government-controlled Radio Republik Indonesia. Information Minister Muhammad Yunus Yosfiah declared the private stations could reduce the compulsory relay of the RRI news reports from 14 times to three times per day, a huge relief for millions of Indonesians who had become terminally bored with government propaganda.

Jakarta-based private stations immediately began producing their own news reports. In November 1998, Elshinta 90,05 FM went even further, broadcasting the BBC Indonesian Service. This was a bold decision in country where many government officials and army officers still consider the respected British radio service “too critical.”

In October, Goenawan began publishing Tempo again. With a publication level of 138,000, it is nearing its highest level reached in the 1980s.

Challenges to Media Freedom

With the new openness, there is also the emergence of sensationalism. Tabloids tend to spice up their reports with sex and crime, and many publish speculative and irresponsible reporting that feely mixes facts and opinions. Law suites result, such as the one that pits the Jakarta military command against the bi-weekly publication Tajuk. The military accused the magazine of tarnishing its reputation in a report that former Jakarta commander Major General Sjamsuddin, a close associate of Suharto’s son-in-law Prabowo Subianto, was involved in instigating the May 1998 riots. 

There are other tensions with the military. Goenawan and his colleagues believe that Suharto is gone but, to an extent, his regime is here to stay. Habibie knew Suharto for more than 40 years. Members of the powerful armed forces still hold many key political positions in Indonesia. Also, the militaristic Dwifungsi doctrine, which authorizes the army to be involved both in politics and security matters, remains preserved.

Indonesian generals continue to accuse journalists of meddling in national politics and bullying the military. The military responds by expelling or prohibiting entry to many foreign journalists. For example, Indonesian soldiers harassed and beat up more than four dozen journalists between April and November 1998.

In November, there Indonesian journalists were hospitalized after trying to photograph an anti-Habibie student protest in Jakarta. Radio and television journalists, however, boldly stepped up their coverage of the protest, vividly demonstrating to their audience the military’s executive use of automatic weapons, batons, and peaceful student protests. Goenawan, one of the most respected journalists in Indonesia, praised the courageous radio and television journalists, thanking many of them in a simple ceremony in December 1998.

Looking Forward

The role the media will become more important as Indonesia moves toward is first election in June 1999—supposedly the first election since 1995. (Suharto rose to power in 1965. During his rule, seven election --which took place every five years—were carefully tailored to give legitimacy to his one-man rule).

Beyond the election, the Indonesian media’s new freedom must become institutionalized. Political change will not take place in one or two years, but in term of fifteen. The Puncak meeting of journalists ended with four long term strategies to achieve this:

Change the draconian media law inherited from Suharto. Ulil Abshar-Abdalla, a Muslim thinker and columnist who attended the meeting, said that press freedom is still temporary as long as the media law, and even Indonesia's 1945 Constitution, fail to accommodate the concept of media freedom.

Strengthen media-related institutions, including new organizations, journalists’ unions, media schools, and publisher associations, “Information is power. And power can be corrupted,” in sensational media and partisan newspapers. 

Create more media watch organizations to monitor and criticize the media. Criticism is needed to strengthen the media, the journalists said. Press ombudsmen are also needed to provide feedback to media organizations about internal decisions and news coverage.

Broaden the ownership of Indonesia media, which is now highly concentrated in the hands of a few.

Their battle against official censorship ending, media activists --“territorial soldiers” as they call themselves-- now have to institutionalize democratic organizations in their own field. 

Andreas Harsono, 1995 International Policy Advocacy participant, is Secretary of the Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information. ISAI is a low-profile think tank whose main objective is to achieve media freedom in Indonesia. To contact Andreas' e-mail