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TitleFeith - 1968 - Suharto's Search for a Political Format
Tags Indonesia United States Congress United States Government
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Table of Contents
		Volume Information [pp.194-197]
		Front Matter
		Bĕlahan or a Myth Dispelled [pp.2-37]
		Cultural Aspects of the Eurasian Community in Indonesian Colonial Society [pp.38-53]
		Javanese Speech Levels [pp.54-81]
		A Japanese [pp.82-87]
		Suharto's Search for a Political Format [pp.88-105]
		Pudjangga Baru: Aspects of Indonesian Intellectual Life in the 1930s [pp.106-127]
		The Military Politics of North Sumatra December 1956-October 1957 [pp.128-187]
		In Memoriam: Robert Heine-Geldern [pp.188-192]
		Development Cabinet [p.193]
		Back Matter [p.198]
Document Text Contents
Page 1

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Herbert Feithl

March has been the month of big political decisions in
Indonesia for three years now. In March 1966 President Soekarno,
faced with a tumult of hostile student demonstrations, and with
unprecedentedly threatening pressure from a newly self-confident
army leadership, signed over most of his powers to the com-
mander of the army, General Suharto.

In March 1967, Indonesia's super-parliament, the M.P.R.S.
(Interim People's Consultative Congress), met in an atmosphere
of great tension. Suharto had concluded that Soekarno could
not be persuaded to cooperate with the army on terms which
acknowledged its hegemony, and so had to be thrown out; it
seemed to many that an attempt to oust the president might lead
to a clash between pro-Soekarno units of the armed services and
militantly pro-New Order units. But this was averted. Thanks
to Suharto's steering skills and caution, and his willingness to
leave Soekarno the vestigial insignia of his old glory, it was
possible to strip the president of all his powers without giving
rise to major disturbances.2 Suharto himself was named acting

In March 1968 there was a further session of the M.P.R.S.
This time there was less sense of crisis than a year earlier,
and much less than in March 1966. Suharto and his associates
were in reasonably comfortable control of the country. Political
excitement rose to a high pitch at several points, but there was
no fear of violent clashes of any size.

1. An earlier version of this article appeared in Australia's
Neighbours, May-June 1968. Because the editors of Indonesia
felt that this study is an important contribution to under-
standing the politics of Indonesia's New Order--a subject
on which far too few studies have as yet appeared--they
have endeavored to give it wider circulation by publishing
it in revised form here. The editors wish to express their
gratitude to Australia's Neighbours for granting them per-
mission to do so.

2. However, over eighty people lost their lives when paracommando
units stormed the village fortress of the pro-Soekarno mil-
lenarian leader, Mbah Suro, as the M.P.R.S. session was open-
ing. The Mbah Suro story is most interestingly told in David
Mitchell, "Communists, Mystics and Sukarnoism," Dissent
(Melbourne), Autumn 1968. See also Willard A. Hanna, "The
Magical-Mystical Syndrome in the Indonesian Mentality, Part
III: The Rise and Fall of Mbah Suro," American Universities
Field Staff Reports Service, Southeast Asia Series, November


Page 9


and associations blurred and complicated the pattern. But ten-
sion between the two core groups was persistent.

Suharto's ties to the S.P.R.I.-Diponegoro division generals
were not so binding as to keep him from making concessions to
the New Order radicals. And in the political circumstances of
the last two months of 1967 there were strong incentives to do
just that. One key problem was that Suharto's cautious style
and moderate, stabilizing policies were producing a strong sense
of drift and demoralization in the political public. Another
was that several of his immediate assistants, including key
figures from his personal staff and top executives of government
economic agencies, had come to be principal targets of a vigorous
press campaign against corruption. Moreover, prices for rice
and many other commodities were rising precipitately in the
last few months of the year,9 and this caused not only consumer
resentment but increased general disillusionment with the govern-
ment's policies of budget cutting and credit restriction, neces-

sarily unpopular measures whose one immediately redeeming feature
had been their dampening down of the earlier hyperinflation.

Finally, Suharto may have sensed real danger to his posi-
tion behind the numerous rumors circulating in November and
December 1967 of an impending young officers' coup. Whether he
did or not, the rumors highlighted the existence of an intensely
dissatisfied group of colonels and lieutenant-colonels in the

Siliwangi division and some of the mobile units under the

Strategic Command, men who felt that Dharsono and Kemal Idris
had been altogether too tepid in their protests against corrup-
tion, compromise, and drift.

For all these reasons the New Order radicals' ship was
full in the sails; and Suharto had every incentive to take some
of the wind out. In December he announced that parliament would
be given a "redressing." The term was new, and had little recog-
nized meaning. (There was precedent in Soekarno's "retooling"
for choosing an obscure word of English or quasi-English for
maximum ambiguity!) What was clear was that it was a concession
to the demands of the New Order militants, but one which fell
short of a radical supersession of the party system.

The P.N.I. and the Neo-Masjumi

Closely related to the questions raised by critics of the

party system as a whole were those to do with the right of

9. See D. H. Penny, J. Panglaykim, Dahlan Thalib, "Survey of
Recent Developments," Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies
(Australian National University) (No. 9), February 1968;
also H. W. Arndt, "Survey of Recent Developments," Bulletin
of Indonesian Economic Studies (No. 10), June 1968.

Page 10


particular parties to a legal existence. There was no dis-
agreement about the Communist Party remaining banned. But
what about the P.N.I., which had gone along enthusiastically
with many of the dominant trends of the pre-coup period, and
important segments of which had remained actively pro-Soekarno
even after March 1967? By mid-1967 it was clear that the
efforts of an army-supported P.N.I. executive (Osa Maliki, Usep
Ranawidjaja, and others) to make the party New Order-minded had
run into solid opposition. The authority of the new executive
had been fairly well established in Central Java, thanks large-
ly to the efforts of Hadisubeno Sosrowerdojo, the P.N.I.
regional chairman, a long-time anti-Communist and an old asso-
ciate of General Suharto. But its position remained very weak
in the other key province of East Java and in many of the
regions outside the central island; and the continuing influ-
ence in these provinces of leaders stigmatized as "Old Order"
served to buttress the conviction of many militants that it
was folly to hope that the P.N.I. leopard would change his
spots. There had long been local army-blessed harassment of
P.N.I. branches in various places outside Java, but in the
second half of 1967 commanders in several outer provinces,
particularly in Sumatra, actually banned all P.N.I. activity.10

In the months before the M.P.R.S. session, and the "re-
dressing" of parliament which preceded it, Suharto had to
decide whether the P.N.I. would or would not be given a place
in the constitutional order. On December 21, he instructed all
regional government authorities to "help and provide opportun-
ities for the P.N.I. to effect crystallization and New Order
consolidation within itself" and asked the parties, organiza-
tions, functional groups, and action fronts to refrain from
disturbing this process. Several days later he sent the Acting
Chief of Staff of the Army, General Panggabean, to Sumatra to
negotiate an end to the bans on the party's activities. When
the "redressing" of parliament was completed, P. N. I. representa-
tion was down slightly, but the party still remained the largest
of the parliamentary groupings.

The Masjumi and Socialist parties, which had been banned
by Soekarno in 1960 on the ground that some of their leaders
had been involved in the Sumatra-Sulawesi rebellion of two years
before, presented Suharto with an analogous but more complex
set of issues. There was no real problem in the case of the
Socialist party (P.S.I.), as the leaders and active members of
this organization, having little mass support and already ex-
ercising influence through the action fronts, non-party press,
and the bureaucracy, did not press for their party's re-
legalization. (An earlier attempt to establish a new party
based on the Socialists and the national-communist Murba Party

10. This discussion of P.N.I. affairs is based heavily on the
findings of Angus P. McIntyre of the University of Sydney
and Yale University.

Page 18


the principal targets of allegations of corruption. In addi-
tion, he may well have been worried by the prospect of the
additional strain on his resources arising from the new vigor
of Communist guerrilla activity in early 1968, particularly
in southern East Java.15 What then,he may well have asked,
was the point of allowing the civilians so much freedom to
vent their demands? Was this not fanning the general sense
of grievance, producing gratuitous frustration? Was it not
clear that the critics had been asking for too much? Was it
not time that they were taught this, taught that he, Suharto,
could also be tough?

The Dilemmas of Coercion

Factors like these suggest that the government's steam-
roller style at the M.P.R.S. session may have been more than
a momentary show of force to cut through a particular knot
of problems, that the Suharto government may have committed
itself at that point to working from a narrowed political base
and to bargain less with organized civilian political group-
ings. But a glance at some of the factors militating against
an attempt to govern in a generally more coercive manner makes
one reluctant to suggest this as a firm conclusion.

There remains a great deal of truth in Soedjatmoko's view
that "Indonesia's political pluralism, rooted in the variety
of her cultural history, impels the nation towards . .
arrangements through which conflicts of interest and viewpoint
are accommodated with a minimum of coercion."16 The political
polycentricity born of the legacy of cultural variety means
that any single group aspiring to establish tight and exclusive
control over all others will tend to draw these others into a
coalition directed against itself.

But it is not only Indonesia's cultural heritage which
tends to maintain political pluralism. It is also the more
recent legacy of bureaucratic power and flaccidity. Suharto,
like Soekarno before him, lacks a tightly knit organization
through which to give coherent effect to his policies and to
strike accurately at his enemies. The regular bureaucracy is
anything but such a weapon. A ramshackle assemblage of over-
staffed agencies and undersalaried but powerful and accessible
officials, it persistently bends government policies in a
variety of directions at once. Nor does the army serve as a
substitute. It is too far intermeshed with the regular

15. On this see the series of articles in Harian Kami, May 15,
16, 17, 18, 1968.

16. Soedjatmoko, "Indonesia: Problems and Opportunities,"
Australian Outlook (XXI, 3) December 1967, p. 281.

Page 19


administration and caught in its web of favor-trading relation-
ships, and it is too arena-like itself, its parts susceptible to
sectional and regional pressures.

Suharto's capacity to govern coercively is thus subject to
a variety of limitations. On the one hand, he cannot afford to
antagonize too many groups of people in the bureaucracy and re-
lated organizations (officials of government firms, village heads,
and so on), for he must continually plead for the support of
these people to secure a modicum of consistency in the way his
policies are carried into effect. Moreover, they and their im-
mediate kin make up a large part of the higher strata of Indonesian
society, to which all governments are effectively accountable.

On the other hand, Suharto must hesitate before he intro-
duces measures which will add to the pressure which the govern-
ment exerts on the great mass of the population, for he knows that
most such measures are likely to be implemented in distorted
fashion at the local level and to be used as warrants for more
regulatory activity hampering the flow of trade. Government has
borne down quite heavily on this great mass of lower-class people,
and it has done so in fairly arbitrary fashion--witness the many
illegal tolls, the often very high cost of bribes for formally
free government services, and the not infrequent demands by local
officials for unpaid labor. This was the situation in the Soekarno
period; it is much the same now, and is aggravated inasmuch as in-
creased numbers of villagers and lower-class townsmen now live
under political arrest or in its shadow. Suharto could no doubt
intensify pressure of this kind. Harrassed by the many demands
made on him by the politically influential, most of whom are social-
ly tied to the bureaucracy, he could well see it as in his inter-
est to tilt the balance of social power still further in favor of
the bureaucracy and its appendages, for this would probably in-
crease his leverage over them, at least in the short run. But
most of the changes he could initiate in this direction would
have markedly adverse consequences for the policies of economic
regeneration to which he is tied by both domestic political commit-
ment and international financial dependence. And there are no in-
dications that the general has reduced the high priority he has
given to economic performance.

In the last instance, therefore, we can only say the M.P.R.S.
produced decisions on the formal aspects of political structure
under the New Order. For the informal qualities of the new
regime, and specifically for the fundamental question of how much
the government will bargain and how much rely on coercion in
dealing with civilian groups, we must wait for the future to
reveal a settled pattern of practice.

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