Report on Indonesia

Several months after Suharto has been appointed as acting president, Atlantic contributor John Hughes reports that "the honeymoon days ... are over."
Bus Stops and Austerity

TO the outsider who returns to Indonesia every few months there has, of course, been visible progress since Suharto assumed power. Instead of the carefree old chaos at Kemajoran International Airport there are now neat little channels for incoming passengers. Throughout the capital the worst potholes are being filled and some streets are being resurfaced. Street curbs are being whitewashed. The great festering canal which runs through the center city is being dredged and cleaned up. Instead of the haphazard old stop-as-you-like bus system, there are now specific, labeled bus stops. There is a road-safety campaign. There are racks of little hand paddles painted with "Stop" signs, for pedestrians crossing the main streets. And one day recently even the governor of Djakarta, Major-General Ali Sadikin, was out painting zebra crossings on the highways.

On the economic front, General Suharto has done about as well as can be expected. He is not an economic expert, but he listens to the bright young economists, many of them American-trained, whom he has grouped about him. There is the sort of argument about his economic policies in which professional economists legitimately engage. Some people, for instance, charge that he has made money so tight at home that this is curbing production and vital exports. But there is general agreement with his austerity program, which has cut back inflation from 650 percent last year to a probable 65 percent this year. The currency is moving toward stabilization, and the gap between official and black market exchange rates is narrowing.

Suharto has been in full and formal control only since March, 1967, when Sukarno was officially deposed and Suharto became Acting President. From the beginning he has been careful to make it clear he is no miracle worker, merely a simple, honest soldier who, with some reluctance, has accepted his present responsibilities. But though he promised no miracles, he now is nevertheless running into his heaviest criticism since he assumed office. His critics do not want him toppled. "He's the best we've got," says one of them, "and nobody's suggesting he should step down." But they want him to do better than he currently is doing. Either Suharto will have to bow to the criticism, responding with specific concessions and compromises in the face of public demands, or he will have to turn to more coercive measures, using the authoritarian powers which certainly are available to him, to crack down on students, newspapers, and other critics.

For the moment, Suharto seems to be trying to unite his followers behind a campaign against the Old Order in Indonesia. This, he seems to reason, is a good safe issue on which everyone can agree. But it is a dead issue too, and the students keep returning to the embarrassingly live issues of corruption and inefficiency in government.

Sukarno himself is no longer any real political threat. The army has no intention of bringing him to trial. Instead he is allowed to putter around the dusty market in Bogor, some forty miles from Djakarta, prodding the bananas and melons. Gone are the big presidential limousines, the motorcades with screaming sirens, the hand-tailored presidential uniforms, the golden presidential standard. Now Sukarno dresses in a sport shirt and slacks, travels by Volkswagen, and lives in a pavilion on the grounds of the presidential weekend palace at Bogor.

Soon he will move into the private house being built for him at Bogor and there he will continue his rustication under the discreet surveillance of General Suharto's military police.

It is true, however, that his name is used in an attempt to stir up opposition to Suharto. Despite his disgrace, Sukarno was after all the father figure of the Indonesian revolution. Although his picture is now banned from public display, it is on the walls of many homes still, particularly in central Java, his old political stronghold. Even General Suharto's parents-in-law are said to have a picture of Sukarno on their wall, not in any spirit of challenge to Suharto, but presumably as a manifestation of that sense of respect which lingers in the breasts of many Indonesians for what Sukarno once was and might have been.

A New Left

SEEKING especially to trade on this sense is the left wing of the PNI, the Indonesian Nationalist Party, which Sukarno created. Without Sukarnoism the party hardly has a platform But it has sought to recruit into its ranks the hidden remnants of the now defunct Communist Party and to challenge the New Order.

In the current political climate in Indonesia, that might not seem a particularly promising tactic. Yet as one observer points out, the PNI has been a "way of life" to many people in central Java for forty years. And with the eclipse of the Communist Party, it is probably the strongest individual party currently organized.

Because of the PNI's lingering hold, general elections called for 1968 by the MPRS, the Provisional People's Consultative Congress, or highest constitutional authority, will not be held. Suharto, with the consent of the Congress, will postpone them, and ironically this postponement will not offend the students and intellectuals who are demanding' greater progress toward democracy. Indeed, some of them have publicly requested this postponement.

The reason is that they need more time to get their own political organizations under way, and to hammer out an agreement with the army on the extent of military influence in any new legislature. If elections were held now, it is possible that the PNI, despite its own major problems, might make large gains in central and east Java, where it has long been rooted.

But if the students and intellectuals are not particularly critical of Suharto's plan to postpone the elections, they are critical of a series of presidential statements and edicts, the effect of which has been to hamper the emergence of new political parties. A former vice president of Indonesia, Mohammed Hatta, seeks to form a new Islamic political party but has been thwarted by Suharto's rulings. Adam Malik, the able foreign minister, has been involved in attempts to get a new socialist front launched. But partly because of Malik's preoccupation with foreign affairs, partly because of difficulties with other groups involved, and partly because of rulings deterring the emergence of new parties, nothing has so far come of it.


SOME Indonesians point to such developments as telltale clues that their country is already sliding toward military dictatorship. Supporters and confidants of General Suharto argue strongly, however, that he is not cast in the mold of an authoritarian and has consistently opted for constitutionality and legality throughout the whole long process of Sukarno's removal.

What does seem clear is that for Suharto the honeymoon days of early office are over.

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