The Guardian August 1, 2001


Where to now for Indonesia?

When former Indonesian President Wahid left the presidential palace last 
week, he was greeted by a big crowd of supporters with a banner reading 
"Welcome home". The former President promised to continue the struggle for 
reform and urged his supporters to show restraint. His wishes were 
respected and there was no violence after Indonesia's first post-Suharto 
President was ousted by his political opponents.

Wahid had been charged with corruption  a charge thrown out by an 
Indonesian court. His opponents then switched their charges to indecision 
and incompetence. 

Many of those responsible for pushing Wahid out of office have links to the 
former Suharto dictatorship and the military. They thrived under the former 
regime and sabotaged and opposed every attempt of Wahid to prosecute the 
military officers responsible for the bloodshed in East Timor or to 
negotiate acceptable regional solutions with independence movements in a 
number of areas.

The policies of Megawati Sukarnoputri, Indonesia's new President, remain 
largely unknown. She is expected to announce a cabinet made up of 
representatives of the disperate forces that combined to oust President 
Wahid. It remains to be seen whether she is a prisoner (willing or not) of 
the military, the conservative forces, the big corporations and of the US.

Indonesia's problems are immense  very high unemployment, poverty, run-
down public services, a restless population, unchecked logging of national 
forests, a ballooning budget deficit, ethnic and religious conflicts. None 
of these problems can be solved by a political reshuffle.

Immediately upon the dismissal of Wahid the International Monetary Fund and 
the World Bank made demands for the implementation of their economic 
recipes calling for "restructuring" of the economy.

The IMF is poised to sign a long-delayed letter of intent and to unfreeze 
US$400 million in loans. While the IMF denied that it was waiting for 
Wahid's dismissal an IMF team left Jakarta in mid-July without signing 
anything while Wahid remained President.

With the now-familiar chant of "reforms are urgently needed", there are 
demands for privatisation and a market economy. Not a word is being said 
about the impact of these policies on those who are living in poverty and 
unemployment.

The US immediately announced its intention of resuming contacts with 
Indonesia's armed forces that were suspended after the violence in East 
Timor. There are also plans to resume military training of Indonesian 
officers and arms sales.

This week's ministerial talks in Canberra between US Secretary of State 
Colin Powell, Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld and Howard, Downer, Reith and 
others have, as one of their aims, an increase in Australia's 
"responsibility" to do the dirty work for the US in the region. 

There is an intention to keep Australian military forces in East Timor for 
a long period and to establish a military base there or a US base in the 
Darwin area. 

However, the Indonesian people who threw out the Dutch colonialists and 
recently brought an end to the Suharto dictatorship will not wish to accept 
either an American or Australian diktat.

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