Sunday, June 29, 2008
  Battling Bataks

'Er Indoors is a Batak, an in-yer-face no bullshitting Batak from North Sumatra. Many years ago, we took the Jakartass tribe, at that time with a fourteen-year old niece and Son No.1, to Carita, a then quiet resort on the north coast of Java looking across the strait to Krakatoa.

We travelled by bus from Kalideres bus station; I sat with Son No.1 behind 'Er Indoors and 'er niece. As we pulled out into the traffic, a burly bloke hopped on and stood at the front of the bus glaring at all the passengers. 'Er Indoors and niece immediately started chatting away in bahasa Batak, of which I only know one word - horas (hi).

The burly bloke wended his way up the aisle and then started a conversation with 'Er Indoors, eventually getting off the bus the some 15 kilometres up the road.

I asked 'Er Indoors what they'd been chatting about and she said that he was a highway robber. When he'd heard her speaking and confirmed her ethnic background he told her that he wouldn't be robbing anyone on our bus because he made it a rule to only steal from non-Bataks.

So is there really honour among thieves?

I have to ask that given certain events here in Jakarta in the past few days.

As in many other countries, there have been massive demonstrations following the removal of fuel oil subsidies and the dramatic rise in overall cost of living. Last Tuesday's demo saw traffic held up for hours in central Jakarta, with students trying to force their way into Parliament and many cars damaged both there and outside Atma Jaya University a five minute stroll away. Maftuh Fauzi, a 27 year old (eh?) National University (UNAS) student subsequently died.

As with any large demonstration or rally in Jakarta numbering in the thousands, one automatically assumes that there is an éminence grise involved. Parliamentarians have decided to debate the government's decisions regarding the 30% reduction in the oil subsidy, although there are insufficient numbers to summon SBY. That one of their number should have instigated the violence is not unsurprising.

As early as Wednesday, National Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief Syamsir Siregar had said someone whose initials were "FY" was the "mastermind" behind the protests against the fuel oil price hikes.

FY, who was in China at the time, is Ferry Yuliantono, secretary general of the Awaken Indonesia Committee (AWC). He is now under arrest and being held at police HQ. The chairman of AWC is Rizal Ramli, coordinating minister for the economy during President Abdurrahman Wahid's administration, and until last week, when he was fired, he was president commissioner of PT Semen Gresik, a 51% state-owned cement company.

At a meeting on Friday, shareholders concluded that Rizal was guilty of "ethical violations and unprofessional conduct", presumably related to his alleged masterminding of the student rallies..

A vocal opponent of the government's decision to increase fuel prices, Rizal said, as he would, "To have the shareholders say my leadership is in conflict with the commissioner code of ethics is just a ruse to cover up SBY's politically motivated intervention."

On his blog, Rizal says: "People are different, accept people for who or what they are, avoid clashes, constant arguments, and let go of all kinds of resentments. If arguments seem unavoidable still try and make an effort to understand the situation and you might just get along with well with."

Fine sentiments indeed; it's a pity then that not only does he resent his ousting from PT Semen Gresik but also use his resentment against SBY to justify the establishment of the AWC.

He said the idea behind the group was to open a new path for the country.

"Our leader's point of view
(presumably referring to SBY) is still influenced by the old regime and foreign countries. This is part of the reason why Indonesia's economic sector has been left behind by other countries."

The other part of the reason is because of rampant corruption and regard for what is good for the country rather than personal advancement and aggrandisement.

Among those attending the event were politicians with a past and the majority looking out for their futures - an asterisk indicates an intention to stand in next year's Presidential election.
Amien Rais: 'lead' the people's demonstrations in May 1998 against Suharto.
Gen.Wiranto*: Armed Forces Commander in May 1998
Akbar Tandjung*: former Suhartoist State Secretary, former Golkar Party leader
Try Sutrisno: former vice president
Taufik Kiemas: husband of former President Megawati*
'Yenny' Wahid: daughter of former President 'Gus' Dur*

So just who "is still influenced by the old regime"?

Let's be clear about one thing: the downfall of the old New Order régime of Suharto took place only ten years ago and it's going to take more than a generation, if ever, to remove its vestiges. All the presidents who have succeeded Suharto have connections with his power structure, and now we see their scions (e.g.Yenny Wahid) moving centre stage.

So, who is the National Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief Syamsir Siregar who SBY appointed to replace Gen.(ret) AM Hendropriyono? Given SBY's military background, it is important to note that both SBY and Syamsir Siregar are retired generals having served in the same military unit, the élite Army Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad). The Army's other élite unit is the Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) which Hendropriyono served in and was highlighted in my last post.

Siregar's last active post until his retirement in September 1996 was as chief of the Intelligence Agency (BIA) of the Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI later renamed TNI). His seniority in military and intelligence circles gives him an authority of great value to SBY.

Reformasi has given parliament the power to curb the President if it is felt that s/he is exceeding his/her authority. Unfortunately, the public perception of parliamentarians is that they behave like spoilt children. Political parties jostle for positions, often enabling financial riches to accrue from lobbyists, and few of the public could name a single piece of legislation sponsored or approved by Parliament - other than the pornography law.

So we have a power struggle between those who currently hold the reins of power and those who wish to regain them.

And what's the connection with my title?

Apart from Syamsir Siregar and Ade Daud Nasution, a Reform Star Party (PBR) lawmaker who Siregar is suing for libel, other Bataks mentioned above include Akbar Tandjung and Rizal Ramli. Taufik Kiemas is from Palembang, South Sumatra and his late mother-in-law, one of Sukarno's wives and Megawati's mother came from Bengkulu, also in South Sumatra.

'Er Indoors tells me that all Sumatrans recognise a bond.

Oh, and she is a Nasution and her late mother was a Siregar but she's not taking sides in this particular battle, but regrets the price rises in household goods which seem disproportionate to the 30% rise in fuel oil prices.


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