Will economic crisis plunge
Indonesia into social and political crisis?
March 13, 1998
in this forum:
How likely is a revolution if the economic situation continues to worsen? If things continue to worsen and riots become violent, how important of a role will the military play? Why should the IMF and the international community bail-out his regime? What about the social costs of the crisis for the Indonesian people? Is the U.S. prepared to the end its support for Suharto ? Uwe Nienaber of Columbus, OH, asks: It seems rather unlikely to me that Suharto can restore the kind of credibility that is badly needed to jump-start the economy again. It is amazing how he has seemingly done everything wrong in the past months. Is the U.S. prepared to end its support for him and to either support the opposition (Amien Rais, Megawati Sukarnoputri) or a democratic faction in the military? What consequences could this have?
Ralph Cossa, Executive Director of the Pacific Forum at the Center for Strategic International Studies, responds:
Obviously, I cannot speak for the U.S. government but I think we must continue to apply pressure on Suharto to make the necessary reforms but not be seen as trying to overthrow him or support opposition movements. I share the questioner's pessimism regarding Suharto's willingness to make the necessary reforms and I see the military as the more likely final arbiter than any democratic movement. Given traditional American views toward military coups, it may be difficult for the U.S. to accept such an action but, in the final analysis, we must accept an Indonesian solution to an Indonesian problem and resist the temptation to over-moralize or to insert U.S. domestic politics into this equation.
John Hughes, former editor and publisher of the Christian Science Monitor, responds:
An intelligent foreign policy requires that a power like the United States cultivates and communicates with opposition leaders. But I doubt that the U.S. is prepared to abandon Suharto and pledge support to any presently-known opposition leader in Indonesia. Suharto has survived for 30 years - in part because of the power of the army, but in part because he is seen as an indispensable leader despite his flaws and foibles. We would all fare better with a gentle transition to a more democratic and progressive regime rather than an abrupt upheaval that would throw one of the most populous countries in the world into chaos.
Edward Masters, former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, responds:
Having worked with the Department of State for many years, I have become quite humble about our ability to manipulate domestic elements in foreign countries. I don't think our track record has been good. All too often we do not really understand complex societies, and of course branding a local leader with a "Made in America" sign is not likely to enhance that person's prospects, particularly in a country such as Indonesia.
Also, I doubt that responsible Indonesians want us to interfere in their domestic affairs. The U.S.-Indonesia Society sponsored a workshop last year on Indonesia's domestic system. When this question came up, Indonesian speakers were unanimous that we should not intervene. "Leave us alone," was the clear comment of one participant. I share this view, frustrating as it sometimes is for Americans who tend to be activists by nature.
A final comment. Even if we wanted to throw our weight behind an opposition leader, I don't quite see who that would be. Neither Megawati nor Amien Rais has the type of mass base which would project him or her into the presidency. Also, neither has a mass following or high level governmental experience and neither has a coherent program as to where he or she would take the country. Both seem to suffer from what George Bush called "the vision thing."
I was in Jakarta a few weeks ago, and a number of Indonesians whose views I respect made the comment that while Suharto is part of the present problem, he must also be part of the solution. What they were saying, I believe, is that at present there is no credible alternative. He is still well regarded by many people, he controls the levers of power and because of many years of authoritarian rule, there is at present no real alternative.