Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Indonesia's leading novelist, was jailed for 14 years under Suharto's New Order. Before the June elections, he reflects on Indonesian politics and writer's block.by Robert Templer / June 20, 1999 / Leave a comment
If you ask Pramoedya Ananta Toer what has changed in Indonesia since the end of the Suharto dictatorship last May, he gives a bleak answer. “Nothing,” says Indonesia’s most acclaimed novelist and one of its finest historians. “This is just a continuation of Suharto’s New Order. It’s just the New New Order.” On the face of it, this is a surprising thing to say. Since the riots last year in Jakarta, which left 1,200 dead, Suharto himself has lived in seclusion in his compound in Menteng. But outside, his New Order appears to be unravelling.
BJ Habibie, Suharto’s prot?g? and successor, has seen East Timor careering towards independence and, possibly, civil war. A separatist movement in Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra smoulders again. Long repressed antagonisms between Muslims and Christians have erupted into horrific violence. Suharto’s policy of exporting people from the over-crowded islands of Java to more distant parts of this sprawling archipelago country of 200m people has fired up ethnic conflicts from East Kalimantan to Irian Jaya. But despite the breakdown in order, the military is discredited and there is a strong desire that it withdraw from politics altogether.
The background to this disorder was the worst peacetime slump anywhere since the second world war: economic growth went from 7 per cent in 1997 to a contraction of 15 per cent in 1998. The number living in poverty went from 20m to 80m in one year.
Suharto had erased politics from Indonesian life after the 1965 coup against President Sukarno (the man who led the country to independence from the Dutch in 1949). Suharto controlled the political parties and stifled debate on the sensitive issues of ethnicity and religion. His Golkar party won the election every five years, while two other parties existed mostly to provide the illusion of democracy. Now politics is back with a vengeance. The election on 7th June will be the first free one since 1955 and will be contested by a bewildering 48 parties.
Among the main figures are Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of the late President Sukarno. Megawati is popular but untested as a politician, and Muslim groups are worried about the prospect of a woman president. Amien Rais, a US-educated Muslim leader who played a key role in the demonstrations against Suharto, is also a likely candidate. Golkar still has a powerful political machine and the benefit of…