DAYS OF RAGE
May 15, 1998
The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Transcript
Ian Williams of Independent Television News reports on the aftermath of rioting in Jakarta and we get the perspective from two Indonesians, now living in the United States, on the situation occurring in their country.
IAN WILLIAMS, ITN: This is what remains today of the Jakarta shopping mall swept by an inferno that claimed the lives of 200 people. They were from a neighboring slum and had joined the frenzy of looting from a store few could have afforded to buy from. But they were trapped and burned alive, unable to escape a blaze started by their fellow looters. Today stunned relatives attempted to identify what remained of the victims. It was the biggest loss of life since the crisis began. But it didn't deter continued looting across the city as crowds helped themselves from gutted department stores. Then the soldiers arrived and attempted to stop the pillaging of this store-though some appeared indifferent to the greets from the military. They did arrest some looters who still clung doggedly to their booty even as they've been led away. And once the soldiers had gone back came the looters. It was a scene repeated sporadically across Jakarta, though after yesterday's chaos, the streets were quieter, patrolled by the army and special forces. It was to a military airfield outside his ransacked capital that President Suharto returned today, showing little sign of heeding demands to step down. He met his closest advisers and the military leadership, some of whom have appeared reluctant to crack down on the unrest. The armed forces may be divided, some sections uncertain or uneasy about how to react to this crisis, but that's a mood shared by the hesitant leaders of Indonesia's opposition. Outside one of the city's biggest mosques a flag hangs at half mast, remembering the students killed by the military this week. Friday prayers turned into a political rally addressed by the man who's trying to unify and give focus to the fragmented and weak opposition movements. Amian Rice leads one of the country's biggest Muslim organizations and had this message for the president.
AMIAN RICE: He should stand down for the safety of the nation.
IAN WILLIAMS: In spite of his strong following, many student leaders who spearheaded the street protests are wary of him. With the crisis intensifying, thousands have been desperately trying to leave the country. Jakarta's airport was packed today. Flights were full. The American embassy has urged its nationals to get out-also here, hundreds of ethnic Chinese who have been targeted by the rioters, fleeing for their lives from the city and a country in chaos.
JIM LEHRER: Now, the perspective from two Indonesians now in the United States. Sylvia Tiwon is a professor of Indonesian studies at the University of California-Berkeley. Rizal Mallarangeng is a Ph.D. candidate at Ohio State University and a columnist for Indonesia's largest newspaper, Kompas. Mr. Mallarangeng, help us understand what is happening in your country. Should this be seen as a classic revolt of the people?
RIZAL MALLARANGENG, Columnist, Kompas Newspaper: We have to understand these events lately in the last week separately. Up until three days ago there was a genuine reformers movement from the middle class. But it was soon overtaken by the riot-the riot of the dispossessed of Jakarta, looting and burning everything. These two events were different.
JIM LEHRER: The first group students, the middle class.
RIZAL MALLARANGENG: Right. The middle class movement demanding for Suharto to step down, democratic movement, and it was started systematically and very beautifully. But up until three days ago when the momentum was there, the biggest momentum ever for launching a democratic movement, for everybody's surprise, everybody never predicted before that on Thursday morning the riot broke out, which killed the momentum of democratization.
JIM LEHRER: And that's an entirely different-those people who are looting those stores and who died in these fires and in these malls are not the same people who were demonstrating when this thing began?
RIZAL MALLARANGENG: Yes, different. Before Thursday the movement was by students, supported by university professors, by the nurses, by the doctors, by the lawyers. Those people were the representative of emerging middle class. Their demand basically is for Suharto to step down and hence start the process of democratization of the country. Without Suharto go, there is no hope for a genuine reformation-three days ago.
JIM LEHRER: Just three days ago. Ms. Tiwon, do you read it the same way?
SYLVIA TIWON, University of California, Berkeley: I would see it as slightly different. It's just a little bit different, although it's true that now riots have overtaken the political demonstrations with political demands for reform, the demonstrations were not only students and intellectuals, university professors, doctors, you know, the professional rising middle class. They were also workers, factory workers. They were ordinary people. They were street sellers. They were bus drivers and taxi drivers. They were all in that mess. And they were supporting the students very, very strongly in their attempt to bring-you know-demand reform. And so what you get now at this writing is, indeed, the dispossessed of Jakarta, and I think what you're seeing is the end of the theory of trickle down.
JIM LEHRER: What about also the need for order, does this separate those folks who were demonstrating from the folks who were rioting? Do--the original demonstrators now would probably support restoration of order, Ms. Tiwon?
SYLVIA TIWON: That is the belief right now. I think it's too early to tell, although it's true that the students have retreated to the relative safety of the compasses. But there's still the possibility of the professionals and the students getting back together again because there is a real sense this has got to go on, although-
JIM LEHRER: The people-the reforms are political?
SYLVIA TIWON: The political movement has got to go on, but that is a real commitment there. There is a shock, of course, that this has happened, although, again, this is-this follows a pattern that has been established by the new order since around 1974, you know, when students and the intellectuals demonstrated for political reform, and there's provocation of the dispossessed, and that's turning into riots, and so then the attention is focused on the riot, and the middle class retreats into fear of the masses.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Mallarangeng, does that mean that the restoration of order gives new strength or renewed strength to President Suharto?
RIZAL MALLARANGENG: Yes. The riots in the last two days gave the chance to Mr. Suharto to regain some lost ground. You have to remember, three days ago, he was very defensive, and everybody thought that he was going to go in a matter of days. That was the highest moment-let's say the Wednesday evening, when the procession of the dead students were started-right before it was broadcasted nationwide, and Indonesian played the sacred song, the national anthem for dead heroes. It was the type of a song-gugarbuna. So-
SYLVIA TIWON: Falling-
RIZAL MALLARANGENG: Falling-falling leaves-falling flowers. Now, at that moment, everybody-I mean, all observers that I know of in America thought Suharto's days were numbered. But-to everybody's surprise, the next day, the morning started around 11 o'clock-this dispossess of Jakarta, which had nothing to do with democracy and reformation-started to burn and loot the Chinese. Now, I agree with Sylvia that the movement up until three days ago were also-it were involving the masses, the workers, the small people, but the movement was led by the middle class sons and daughters. It was from the university, right? There is no doubt about it.
JIM LEHRER: Ms. Tiwon, what happens now? I mean, I know that's an impossible question but things were calm today, as we saw in that report, at least compared to what had happened before, and the police and the military have restored order. Does this mean that the violence is over for now? Is there any way to know?
SYLVIA TIWON: I'm not sure that the violence is over for now. We have to remember also that even though the army was saying that they're controlling the situation that they're going to crack down on the rioting and all of that, Gen. Prabo stated that-admitted, in fact, that these seemed to be organized riots; (b) The army did not impose a curfew, which is something that they normally do when, you know, there's a threat of riots. The first thing they do is impose a riot. They did not do that, and that leads me to think what-you know-that there's something else going on, there's a jockeying for power, and, if necessary, these riots will take place again.
JIM LEHRER: Do you believe, Ms. Tiwon, that President Suharto is not on his way out, as he appeared to be a few days ago? Do you agree with Mr. Mallarangeng?
SYLVIA TIWON: I agree that now the situation is less clear that, you know, it seemed a few days ago that it seemed clear that there was no way we could continue, but now it would seem with these riots-and, remember, that these riots took place when he was out of the country, so he comes back to restore order, and this is the image that Suharto has created for himself. And if people continue to believe this, and the intellectual elite believe this, then, yes that pattern will be established. And if the U.S. government believes that also, then that will certainly reinforce that pattern and allow Suharto to stay in power.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Mallarangeng, speaking of the United States and the rest of the world, should they just keep hands off and let this thing flow its natural course, whatever it may be, with Suharto, without Suharto, whatever?
RIZAL MALLARANGENG: Yes. Well, there's nothing much-let's say Mr. Clinton can do, other than, you know, persuading, and, you know, providing a safe mechanism, for example, for Suharto if Suharto decides to go down, but I just want to emphasize again one thing. First, the reformation process is to continue. There's no doubt about it. But the question is the timing: when and how long. These riotings-it will become more complicated. There is now temptation for Suharto to impose order in a very short time. Now, in order to do that he is going to kill a lot of people. Now, here is when Mr. Clinton and the rest of the world comes in.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Well, we'll-yes, go ahead. Go ahead and finish. I'm sorry.
RIZAL MALLARANGENG: Right. He can say, okay, Mr. Suharto, order is very important, stability very important, but, look, if you want to do it, do it in such a way that you don't have to kill and imprison too many people.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Well, look, thank you very much for being with us tonight. Thank you both.
RIZAL MALLARANGENG: Thank you very much.