Suharto’s political opponents were of varying ages, ideological views and social backgrounds, but they all spoke out.
February 05-11, 2008
Cover Story: Voicing Opposition
Pramoedya Ananta Toer (1925-2006)
IN 1973, President Suharto sent a letter to Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who was in exile on Buru Island. Suharto said that to err was human, and this should be followed by other human tendencies, namely honesty, bravery and the ability to find the right path.
Pramoedya had to suffer exile after the New Order emerged as the winner in the political tempest of 1965. As a member of the People’s Cultural Body (Lekra), which was affiliated with the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI)-the side which lost-he was sent to prison for 14 years. His guilt was never proven in court.
When he left prison in 1979, he was not free to conduct activities. For some time he was under house arrest. His home was watched by intelligence officials. Worst of all, he was muzzled, prevented from speaking out in the media.
Pramoedya passed away on April 30, 2006. Up until the end of his life, he stuck to his principles. This was apparent in the reply he sent to Suharto in November 1973. He said: “My parents taught me to love truth, justice, beauty, knowledge, and the homeland…”
OF the many factors which came together and led to the downfall of Suharto in 1998, one was the efforts of Amien Rais. The socioeconomic condition, which had worsened over the year until May 1998, drove Amien to take a firm stance. “I am ready to takecharge of ‘people power’ if needed, on the condition that therebe no bloodshed,” he said in May 1998.
Amien was not a newcomer to the political stage. After being chosen as Chairman of the Muhammadiyah Executive Board (1995),he made many pointed criticisms. Amien was the first to speak for the concept of (presidential) succession-a sensitive issue at that time (1993). “My conscience led me,” he said, commentingon his bravery.
After that, he made many public criticisms, including the Busang gold mine. In 1996, Amien joined others in developing the publicdiscourse on the need for reformasi in Indonesia. His exploits led to his expulsion from the Indonesian Association of Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI) in 1997.
When Indonesia was hit by economic crisis in 1997, Amien and other prominent Indonesians continued to promote the reformasi concept. Together with 50 public figures, Amien formed the People’s Mandate Council (MAR). At a press conference on May 14, 1998, MAR called on President Suharto to immediately resign.
Events unfolded quickly. The Indonesian Republic was overdue for a change. On May 21, Suharto fell due to strong public pressure. Amien was then given the title of Leader of Reforms.
BUDIMAN Sudjatmiko’s greatest opposition to Suharto and his New Order regime was to establish the Democratic People’s Party (PRD). Launched in July 1996, the party was based on a socialist-democratic foundation. Budiman became the party chairman. A week after the birth of the PRD, a bloody clash took place at the office of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) on Jalan Diponegoro. This clash triggered riots in several parts ofthe Indonesian capital. As a result, as noted by the NationalHuman Rights Commission, five died and 23 went missing.
The government accused the PRD of being behind the rioting. PRD activists were hunted down, and Budiman and his friends were arrested. Budiman was sentenced to 13 years in prison for subversive activity. Budiman continued his opposition from behind bars. He staged a hunger strike and turned down an offerof presidential clemency. He also directed his party from prison.
Since Suharto’s downfall and the emergence of new national leaders, Budiman has never seen a serious effort from thegovernment to put the New Order leader on trial for his crimes. He was angered when the Attorney General issued an Order to StopProsecution (SKPP) on the Suharto case. “It is immoral to take Suharto’s health or humanitarian reasons into consideration,” said Budiman, who is currently Secretary-General of theVolunteers for the Struggle of Democracy-an organizational wing of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).
ONE day in 1970 a group of university students met with President Suharto to demand the eradication of corruption.Sjahrir and Akbar Tandjung, students at the University of Indonesia, were among them. During a break in the dialog, Akbar was thirsty and reached for a beverage which had been prepared for them. Sjahrir quickly stopped Akbar from taking it. Suharto saw what happened and got angry. “Don’t drink it if you don’t want to,” he snapped.
Sjahrir felt that this was the source of Suharto’s dislike ofhim. Something else that Suharto definitely did not like waswhen Sjahrir and others formed an anticorruption committee. When the Malari riots erupted in 1974, Sjahrir was one of the many students and academics who were sent to jail.
In prison, Sjahrir continued to be critical. He wrote articles which were published in famous publications such as Prisma. Of course, he did not use his own name. “My writings were published under the name of Daniel Dakhidae or Aini Chalid,” he said.
After getting out of prison, Sjahrir pursued his doctoral degree at Harvard. After completing his studies, Sjahrir continued his exploits. He pioneered the founding of the School of Social Science (SIS), which ran for three years before being banned by the government. He then founded the Padi Kapas Foundation and wrote critical reports for the media. His main theme was clear, namely opposition towards government monopolies and oligopoly during the 1980s. “Government policies should not be used to enrich the President’s family,” he emphasized.
BENNY Biki, 46, said a prayer for an ailing former President Suharto at Pertamina Central Hospital, in May 2006. “HopefullyPak Harto will get well soon, so that the legal process [against him] can go forward and he can soon stand trial,” he told Tempo.
Benny has his reasons for making such a prayer. His older brother, Amir Biki, was killed during a clash with security forces in Tanjung Priok, 22 years ago.
The Tanjung Priok tragedy was the climax of the Biki brothers’ opposition to the New Order regime. A few days earlier, the two had been mobilizing a crowd to protest against the law on public organizations, which had named Pancasila as the sole source of national doctrine. They felt that this law was at odds with Article 28 of the Indonesian Constitution.
Since this tragedy, which took the lives of scores of people, Benny Biki has led families of the victims in campaigns to demand justice.