JAKARTA, Indonesia, AP
With violence again threatening Indonesia’s stability, the country’s military and political elite gathered Sunday in a leafy park where the army’s top brass was butchered in a failed coup 35 years ago and warned against a repeat.
Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri watched over commemorations of what is known as the National Tragedy, which was blamed on communists and triggered events that led to the downfall of her father, Indonesia’s founding president, Sukarno.
The attempted takeover was stamped out by a once-obscure general, Suharto, who ultimately went on to rule Indonesia for 32 years until he was ousted in May 1998 in the middle of an economic crisis and massive protests.
Unrest and resentment over Suharto’s long, iron-fisted rule erupted again last week when the former ruler, now 79, was deemed by a court to be mentally and physically unfit to face trial on charges of corruption. He has reportedly suffered three strokes in the past year.
The decision sparked running street battles in Jakarta and more violence is feared Monday, when Suharto’s son, Hutomo “Tommy” Mandala Putra, has been ordered by a court to report to prison to serve an 18-month sentence for a corrupt business deal.
Minor protests were staged Sunday against a 12 percent rise in fuel prices, which could push the cost of living higher for many of Indonesia’s 210 million people and put new pressure on President Abdurrahman Wahid’s troubled government.
At Sunday’s commemoration, prayers and speeches urged Indonesians to remain on guard against leftist agitators seeking to overturn the founding principles laid down by Sukarno, which mandate a belief in God and respect of human rights and democracy.
Megawati said nothing and chose not to tour a small room housing life size wax models depicting the six generals and one adjutant being questioned by their captors and tortured. Nor did she inspect the dried-out well, known as the Crocodile Hole, where their bodies were dumped.
The coup of Sept. 30, 1965, triggered a backlash by the military and the right-wing that ended in the deaths of an estimated 500,000 people accused of being communist sympathizers. Many were ethnic Chinese.
Though the massacres destroyed communism as a viable force in this sprawling archipelago, Suharto’s government made anti-communism a benchmark policy.
It fills school textbooks and religious sermons to this day. When Wahid proposed lifting a ban on the communist party earlier this year, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in protest.
“Communism still exists and the threat is very real,” insisted Army Capt. Roden Pedrasono at Sunday’s ceremony.
Wahid, a half-blind Muslim cleric who suffers from diabetes, edged out Megawati for the presidency last year but has struggled to maintain both the pace and depth of reform he promised on his election.
His attempts to reduce the political clout of the once all-powerful military have met with resistance from officers unwilling to give up the privileges they enjoyed under Suharto’s so-called New Order regime.
In far flung corners of Indonesia, from the militia-plagued border with East Timor to the sectarian battlefields of Ambon, rogue elements of the military beyond Wahid’s control have consistently failed to carry out his orders.
Many people have speculated that elements of the military loyal to the Suharto clan are behind a recent string of deadly bomb explosions, one of which killed 15 people at the Jakarta Stock Exchange.
The explosions have coincided with key moments in the disgraced former leader’s trial, adding to edginess of Monday’s planned date for Suharto’s son to surrender himself to serve an 18-month prison term on the orders of the Supreme Court.
The court has found Tommy, 37, guilty of enriching himself through a multimillion-dollar property deal with the state’s main food agency. State prosecutors have say they may arrest him if he fails to turn himself in.
Wahid, currently on an overseas trip, said Saturday in Santiago, Chile, that Suharto himself could still be investigated and convicted on some charge, though he did not specify what. Wahid said that he would consider pardoning Suharto only after he was sentenced.