A massive student-led “people power” movement in Indonesia threatens to topple the government of President B.J. Habibie. Thousands of students, unemployed youths and other dissatisfied citizens have taken to the streets in large numbers, pushing for more democratization and political reform. They have been met with rubber bullets, tear gas and beatings from the Indonesian army.
The world community has been silent in condemning the tactics used by the army to break up the demonstrations. It is time world public opinion and pressure are used to shame the Indonesian army and the Habibie government into dealing with the protesters in more peaceful ways.
In May, tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Jakarta, demanding the ouster of longtime dictator Suharto. In response, the army opened fire on the demonstrators, killing more than 1,000 people. Eventually, international outrage and pressure forced Suharto to step down. Reforms were introduced that were supposed to undo the stranglehold the Suharto family had on Indonesian industry and wealth, but the changes were never fully implemented. As a result, many of Suharto’s relatives and cronies continue to own and operate an array of lucrative businesses, while the average Indonesian struggles from day to day in a floundering economy.
The May revolution – which toppled Suharto and was supposed to bring about reforms – remains unfinished. If Habibie does not implement the changes that were promised to the Indonesian people months ago, riots, protests and upheaval will continue to wrack the nation. Sending out the army to crack skulls and break bones is a barbaric reaction to protests and won’t solve anything. Indonesia must address the issues that are sending thousands of people spewing into the streets to risk their lives for greater freedom. It is time the world paid greater attention to events in Indonesia. To continue to ignore this situation invites a Tiannanmen Square-style assault on a demonstration for democracy.