Suharto tightens his political hold. Indonesian leader's crackdown on opposition reaches top levels
Every Sunday, groups dressed in matching warm-up suits and caps march through the main streets of Jakarta, Indonesia's capital city. Most are members of Golkar, the country's main political party presided over by General Suharto, who has ruled Indonesia for the past 17 years. Such progovernment displays are becoming increasingly common, as preparations get underway for general elections in April 1987. Common, too, are moves against opponents of President Suharto's tightly run regime.
Longtime observers of the regime point out that an election is usually preceded by a crackdown. But there is growing concern now about apparent moves toward a more dictatorial system of government.
Many former senior officials have been affected by the latest crackdown. Last month, Hartono Dharsono, former commander of one of Indonesia's most prestigious military divisions and the first secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), was sentenced to 10 years in prison for subversion.
While Mr. Dharsono is the most senior opponent of the Suharto regime to be sentenced so far, other prominent figures -- including former Jakarta Governor Ali Sadikin and a previous minister of mining and energy, Slamet Bratanata -- face trial on similar charges.
Dharsono was found guilty of questioning government accounts of a riot in a poor section of Jakarta in late 1984 and, in the court's words, ``of arousing emotions . . . against the current governmental system.'' Defense lawyers, some of whom have been refused permission to leave the country for the past year, say they have no doubt but that Dharsono was convicted of ``ideological crimes.''
The former ASEAN secretary-general accused the state security apparatus of engineering the whole affair. ``They held the trial to give the impression of law, but there is no law in this country now. . . ,'' Dharsono said. Outside the court, thousands of people chanted his name while police, some armed with submachine guns, looked anxiously on.
While the government has said little about the Dharsono case, officials privately say it has served as a warning to those who think themselves powerful that the Suharto administration will not tolerate anything that might promote violence.
A series of other trials, all connected with the 1984 riots and subsequent bomb blasts, have been going on for much of the past year. Many involved Islamic preachers accused of goading people to antigovernment acts. Sentences of up to 20 years have been given in many cases.
Just how these events influence Indonesia's 165 million people -- about 90 percent of whom are Muslim -- is difficult to gauge. But it's clear that the government is carefully monitoring all potential sources of discontent. Late last year, a number of oil companies, including some foreign contractors, were told to dismiss more than 1,500 employees said to have been associated with the banned Indonesian Communist Party, the PKI, more than 20 years previously.
Political analysts here say the government is increasingly intolerant of dissent, and they cite growing emphasis on Pancasila, the Indonesian state ideology that embodies five principles -- belief in God, humanitarianism, nationalism, consensus democracy, and social justice. The government says that all Indonesians must accept the doctrine as their fundamental philosophy because it is crucial to national unity in a country covering 13,000 islands. But critics say Suharto is using it to impose limitations on political, religious, and other activities.
Such criticism is dismissed by the government. The judge in the Dharsono trial said his verdict was based more on traditional law, embodied in Pancasila, than on any constitutional concepts imported from the West. The leader of the defense team, Buyung Nasution, said the verdict showed how the government uses Pancasila to override the legal system.
The overwhelming influence and power of the government's Golkar political machine also causes concern. Almost all senior ministers and the majority of the country's more than 2 million civil servants are party members. Golkar membership is often necessary in order to win government contracts or licenses.
Membership also helps with career opportunities. This month more than 400 writers and artists joined up. One hundred Jakarta parking attendants were also persuaded to become members.
With uncanny precision, Golkar has already said it aims to win 61,391,869 votes, or more than 70 percent of the total, at what the local press refers to as next year's ``feast of democracy.'' Few doubt the target will be achieved.
But Suharto's government faces considerable problems. Because of falling oil revenues, Indonesia is now going through its worst economic downturn in nearly 20 years. The 1986-87 budget slashed development spending by more than 20 percent, a dangerous move for Suharto, who is officially called the ``father of development'' and whose political legitimacy rests largely on his pledge to lead Indonesia to an economic ``take off'' in the 1990s.