A Farewell to the New Order With Jokowi?
A Farewell to the New Order With Jokowi?
Jakarta. Joko Widodo’s victory in Indonesia’s presidential election has inspired fresh hope that the country can finally resolve human rights abuses that have gone unaddressed for decades, as well as sweep away all vestiges of the New Order era that continue to pervade the government and politics.
For many observers, Jokowi, as the country’s soon-to-be seventh president is popularly known, represents the best break from Indonesia’s dark past because he was never a part of the New Order.
Jokowi, 53, was born into a low-income family and raised in the sleepy Central Java town of Solo, before getting into business making and selling wood furniture.
He only entered politics in 2005 — seven years after the fall of the strongman Suharto, the architect of the New Order — when he ran for mayor of Solo and won, with the support of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P, which was long the thorn in the New Order’s side.
He was re-elected in 2010 with more than 90 percent of the vote, before leaving mid-office to run for governor of Jakarta in 2012. Two short years and a media frenzy later, Jokowi has been named the winner of the 2014 presidential election.
That history, observers say, is tellingly clear of any ties with the New Order — unlike the track record of his opponent, Prabowo Subianto, who was a military general under Suharto and was even married to the dictator’s daughter until 1998.
During his time in the military, Prabowo commanded the Army Special Forces, or Kopassus, a feared killing squad, and later the Army Strategic Reserves, or Kostrad, before being discharged for his involvement in the abduction of pro-democracy activists who had been agitating for Suharto’s resignation.
But his checkered human rights record began much earlier, with allegations of involvement in the killings of civilians in the then-occupied territory of East Timor.
“Jokowi doesn’t have past burdens, like Prabowo; he’s not among alleged perpetrators of human rights abuses,” Asvi Marwan Adam, a historian at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, or LIPI, tells the Jakarta Globe.
“He also doesn’t give promises [of political posts] to members of his coalition — unlike the case with Prabowo and SBY [President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono],” he adds.
“With Jokowi as president, there’s a bigger possibility that we can finally resolve the human rights abuses of the past, and I certainly hope he will be able to settle them.”
Asvi says it helps that Jokowi’s PDI-P, whose chairwoman, Megawati Soekarnoputri, Sukarno’s daughter, was in the opposition during the New Order’s 32-year rule.
The same cannot be said of Prabowo, whose biggest coalition partner is the Golkar Party — Suharto’s very own political vehicle, whose ranks are still studded with holdovers from the dictator’s era.
Not the package
But many of the key people Jokowi has surrounded himself with do have links to the New Order, says Bonnie Triyana, the founder of Historia magazine.
Most notable among them is Jokowi’s running mate, Jusuf Kalla, who chaired Golkar from 2004 to 2009. There is also Wiranto, the chairman of the People’s Conscience Party, or Hanura, a coalition partner, who served as the last military chief of staff under Suharto.
Other Suharto-era generals, long since retired, have flocked around Jokowi, including A.M. Hendropriyono, a former head of the State Intelligence Agency, or BIN, who has been accused of, but never charged over, a deadly military crackdown on civilian protesters in Talangsari, Lampung, in 1989.
Also in Jokowi’s inner circle are the Wanandi brothers, Jusuf and Sofjan, prominent businessmen who owed their fortunes to their close ties with the Suharto regime.
“As an individual, Jokowi is relatively clean compared with other leaders,” Bonnie says. “He’s also spoken about how he wants to solve the case of the disappearance of Wiji Tukul, who was also from Solo.”
Wiji, a poet, was among 13 pro-democracy activists kidnapped in the unrest that led to Suharto’s resignation in 1998. He has never been seen since.
“But looking at the people behind Jokowi,” Bonnie goes on, “and given that political horse-trading is inevitable in a democracy like ours, it will be difficult” to cut all ties with the New Order.
Arguably the most serious of the past abuses that Jokowi will be expected to address is the purge from 1965-66 of suspected members and sympathizers of the Indonesian Communist Party, or PKI, in which up to a million people were estimated to have been killed.
The Yudhoyono has categorically refused to open an inquiry into the matter (the president’s late father-in-law, Sarwo Edhie Wibowo, was one of the military generals who led the pogrom), and school textbooks continue to propagate the lie that the communists had to be exterminated because they had attempted a coup to unseat then-president Sukarno.
Independent historians agree that the PKI was simply a scapegoat for the military as it sought to wrest power from Sukarno.
“The new government and the state must be able to guarantee justice […] including the resolution of past human rights abuses,” Bonnie says. “What important is the political will. It is important for the state to admit that there were past violations and to apologize for them.”
Both Bonnie and Asvi see Kalla as helping rather than hindering on this front, despite his association with Golkar.
“Although he was part of the New Order, he has been a proven peacemaker for Indonesia, mediating in conflicts in Aceh and Poso,” Asvi says.
Kalla is also expected to rally support from Golkar legislators, who will comprise the second-biggest bloc when the new House of Representatives goes into session in September, to help push through government programs and policies.
Bonnie notes that the New Order has left behind more than just unanswered rights abuse cases.
“Our perspective, the way we look at things, is still very much influenced by the New Order,” he says.
He cites the popular notion that Yudhoyono is a dithering and indecisive leader, pointing out that the corollary is that people feel nostalgic about what they perceive as Suharto’s strong leadership.
Prabowo has preyed on this sentiment, exploiting it to garner nearly half of all votes in the July 9 election.
“Since the fall of Suharto, our enemy is the New Order’s legacy,” Bonnie says. “Jokowi’s win, we hope, will change all that.”