Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Despite big changes in Jakarta, doubts over Indonesian unity persists

Reporting: Indonesia

by Andreas Harsono
American Reporter Correspondent

TOMOHON, Indonesia, Sept. 28, 2004 -- Jakarta may have made enormous progress by organizing the first direct presidential elections in Indonesian history, but skepticism about its Javanese-dominated governments remains high in this Christian-dominated town in northern Sulawesi where distrust is deeply rooted.

One need not to talk to the Tomohon establishment to get that feeling. Street vendors, NGO activists and students all talk openly about issues such as widespread corruption, the imbalanced budget between Indonesia's main island of Java and the outer islands, as well as the dominance of the ethnic Javanese in many government, business, media, and military positions.

Bert Andriaan Supit, the secretary general of the Minahasa Union, an ethnic organization which advocates the interest of the Minahasans and author of a recently-published book "Melawan Arus" ("Against the Current"), said that Indonesia's democratization reform has stalled because it was hijacked by Jakarta's establishment.

"Jakarta needs to have a total cultural transformation if it wants to win the heart and mind of the people," said Supit in a speech in front of young activists Thursday evening, just four days after the September 20 election.

Minahasan is the dominant ethnic group in this area. They are mostly Christians after Dutch missionaries began to work here in the 18th Century.

Javanese compose about 40 percent of Indonesia's 220 million population. Most Indonesian leaders, including former presidents Suharto and Abdurrahman Wahid, and presidential candidate Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, are Javanese. President Megawati Sukarnoputri is of mixed heritage. Her father, Indonesian founding president Sukarno, was half Javanese and half Balinese, but he is widely considered to be a Javanese as well.

President-elect Yudhoyono, a retired army general, is to succeed Megawati next month. With over 109 million of the estimated 120 million votes cast in the election counted Friday, Yudhoyono had 61 percent to incumbent Megawati's 39 percent, according to the General Election Commission.

Minahasans doubted whether Yudhoyono might seek radical change in a place like northern Sulawesi, where Indonesia's problem is seen to be much more complicated than a president can address. Minahasans campaigned for decades to become a federal state in Indonesia - not a province in the unitarian one.

In the late 1950s, their demand culminated in an armed rebellion against Jakarta, nicknamed the Permesta movement. It began in March 1957 and involved many public figures from eastern Indonesia, which includes northern and southern Sulawesi as well as the Molluccas and the smaller islands of southern Indonesia.

When negotiation between Jakarta delegation and the rebels were botched, most of the rebellious leaders backed off - but not the Minahasans. American scholar Barbara Harvey wrote in her book, "Permesta: Half-a-Rebellion," that the Minahasans basically asked for equal treatment but their movement was squashed by Java-based soldiers in 1961.

Today many scholars believe that Indonesia is fated to disintegrate, like the former Yugoslavia, because like Yugoslavia is a new and artificial nation lacking firm historical roots.

Indonesia comprises 13,677 islands, stretching from east to west over a distance that is approximately as far as that from London to Moscow. It is the world's largest Muslim country, but has a significant Christian majority in the east. Its 220 million people speak more than 300 different languages, and their common history includes a Dutch colonial past and a lingua franca known as Bahasa Indonesia developed from the Malay language.

The nation's former strongman, General Suharto, managed to keep Indonesia together by brutal means, but as soon as he fell from power in May 1998, the institutions that he had built up also began to crumble.

"There was a systematic cultural genocide conducted by the Suharto government," said Supit, adding that young Minahasan students are taught about "national history" from a Javanese perspective. They learn to admire "national figures" like the famous Prince Diponegoro, who fought against the Dutch from 1825 to 1830, but not local heroes in Minahasa or other places.

Tomohon is the seat of the synod of the influential Christian Evangelical Church in Minahasa, locally known as GMIM, as well as some Christian colleges. It hosted an important Christian national convention in 1980.

But a careful reading of Minahasa's three newspapers, which are published from Manado, about a one-hour ride south of Tomohon, yields the impression that the newspapers would like to see one or two Minahasans sit in Yudhoyono's new cabinet.

The Global News, for instance, quoted anonymous sources and headlined news reports about the possibilities of Ernst Everts Mangidaan, a former governor of Northern Sulawesi, being named to sit either in the cabinet or become deputy speaker of the Indonesian parliament. Mangindaan is now the secretary general of Yudhoyono's Democrat Party.

Another Minahasan rumored to be on the possible cabinet list is Rizald Max Rompas, a founding member of Yudhoyono's party and a professor at Manado's Sam Ratulangi University.

"It reflects what many people here want to see from the new government," said Friko Poli, the chief editor of Komentar, another daily newspaper established after the fall of Suharto.

"Minahasans were sidelined after the Permesta movement. We never see Minahasans sitting in the cabinet. Now we want to see Minahasans being in the central government like we used to be," Poli said.

But easier said than done. In Jakarta, right-wing newspapers, like the bi-weekly Sabili, frequently accused the Yudhoyono camp of accommodating "too many Christians" in his inner circle. It was a strange accusation, because Yudhoyono has also built a coalition with two Islamic parties, the Moon Star Party and the Justice Party, which campaign for ortodox Islamic law, or sharia, in Indonesia. That is a sensitive issue that many Minahasans vow to fight against if it is ever put into practice in Indonesia.

Yudhoyono's running mate, the vice-president-elect, is Jusuf Kalla, a Bugis ethnic businessman from southern Sulawesi, long a leading figure in Suharto's Golkar party. Kally was sacked from a ministerial post in 2000 by President Wahid for alleged corruption which was never convincingly spelled out.

One of Yudhoyono's main political backers is Yusril Izha Mahendra, a former Suharto speech writer and the leader of the fundamentalist-leaning Moon Star Party. Yusril's two recent stints as justice minister have done nothing to improve Indonesia's appalling judicial system. Headlines claimed this week that Yudhoyono had entrusted Yusril with putting together the new cabinet.

American Reporter Correspondent Andreas Harsono, who has reported from indonesia for us since 1996, won a Nieman International Fellowship at Harvard University for 1999-2000. He is working on a book.

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