Out of Control

From the May 2001 Trumpet Print Edition

Australia’s closest Asian neighbor is in deep crisis. Back in February, Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri told a news service, “We are now going through the worst times we have experienced in the last 56 years” (Agence France Presse, Feb. 9). After the Southeast Asian economic meltdown of 1997, Sukarnoputri declared, “Problems have spread to other spheres such as politics, society and security, which is alarming.”

One of the most worrying aspects of the Indonesian crisis is the level of violence that has spread throughout this island archipelago. “Violence should have no place in a modern democratic country,” Sukarnoputri stated.

Yet, like so many countries which declared themselves “democratic” following decolonization, Indonesia is far from a classic democracy. Under its founding father, President Sukarno, the country was run more akin to an Islamic socialist republic. Under Sukarno’s successor, President Suharto, it was administered more like the Russian family cartels of post-cold-war Russia, with nepotism rife throughout the Suharto family.

Since the corrupt Suharto’s demise, Islamic cleric President Abdurrahman Wahid has been dramatically unsuccessful in bringing any stability to Indonesia. In fact, as Sukarnoputri inferred, the combined political, social and security situation within the country has imploded to add to the economic woes of a stagnant economy that collapsed during the Southeast Asian crisis over three years ago.

Plagued by foreign debt, Indonesia’s woes are compounded by the reduction of industrial operations in many spheres, as law and order and the country’s financial infrastructure have largely collapsed. Almost blind and weakened by a series of strokes, President Wahid faces the prospect of censure at the least and a coup at the worst as tensions mount within the political sphere.

Under Suharto, a rule of fear was enacted, with any opposition to his regime brutally crushed by Indonesia’s police and military. This climate of fear kept any prospect of mob violence under rigid control. After Suharto was forced from office, however, his rule of law broke down under the challenge of those who had been cruelly suppressed during his 35-year reign.

Now vigilantes rule in many a community, with the severest punishment meted out to “offenders,” such as the torching of a man for pilfering a chicken. The most savage occurrence was the decapitation of 500 migrants by Dayak tribesmen in Borneo last February.

Increasingly Indonesia is taking on a climate of fearful violence which verges on the brink of anarchy. The situation is much akin to so many African nations where mob rule has too often replaced the stability of the colonial era. It seems that the violent human explosion is bringing oil- and resource-rich

Indonesia to the brink of national collapse.

Outside intervention seems imminent, as the world needs ready access to Indonesia’s energy resources in this time of restricted flow and high price of energy. The only question that seems to remain is, who will intervene, and what form will that intervention take? Watch the EU and watch Japan for involvement in the outcome.