Business and the military still running politics in Indonesia

Legislative elections in Indonesia on April 9 offered a preview of what to expect in July’s presidential elections.

The majority of Indonesians have little to be excited about, with the existing political parties ridden with corruption, histories of human rights abuses and pro-business agendas. One survey estimated that the abstention rate in the legislative elections was 34 per cent, up from 29 per cent in 2009.

Prabowo Subianto, the presidential candidate for Gerinda, is the son-in-law of Suharto. He is responsible for gross human rights abuses, including allegations that he ordered the massacre of nearly 300 civilians in East Timor.

Aburizal Bakrie, from the Golkar Party, is another candidate. Bakrie’s company was responsible for a large mudflow in 2006 in East Java that destroyed hundreds of homes and displaced thousands of people. Many victims have still not received compensation. Bakrie has also said that the way to counter protests is to let the police use firearms.


However, most popular by far is Joko Widowo (Jokowi), the candidate for the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). Jokowi, current governor of Jakarta, is popular particularly among the middle class due to his humble and “clean” (anti-corruption) image. He has a habit of visiting poor areas of Jakarta to talk to people about their problems and has also implemented modest reforms, such as the Jakarta Healthcare Program.

However, Jokowi has shown he is no friend of the working class.

In Jakarta and surrounding industrial areas, Indonesians are working ten hours a day for less than $200 a month. In October 2013 there were strikes demanding a 50 per cent wage rise and an end to outsourcing. Jokowi, as governor of Jakarta, refused to meet these demands, and became known as “father of low wages” among workers.

Jokowi’s “business-friendly” policies have excited foreign investors. After he announced his intention to run, the Indonesian stock exchange jumped. Jokowi has also begun negotiations for alliances with other parties, including Gerinda and Golkar, further proof that he won’t be rocking the capitalist boat.

As the union movement grows discussions have begun about forming a labour party for the 2019 elections. This could be an important step that has the potential to draw in thousands of radicalised workers and union members.

Worryingly however, some major unions ran members for existing political parties during the legislative elections to gain experience. This suggests they could end up replicating the corrupt and unprincipled electoralism of the existing parties, and forming alliances with them. Said Iqbal, president of the union confederation FSPMI, has already announced his support for Prabowo, claiming that human rights abuses are not a major issue for workers.

Whatever happens, workers will need to continue the struggle outside of parliament. Previous national strikes have won major wage rises and significant gains. Such action has been put on hold as union leaders focussed on the elections. The movement should be demanding now that whoever becomes president raise the minimum wage and improve conditions for workers.

By Vivian Honan


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