Indonesians fear crackdown

Opposition may pay high price for defying Suharto, reports Richard Lloyd Parry
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Jakarta - "Before the trouble started, this place used to be very clean," my guide to the headquarters of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI), assured me. "But there are three, sometimes four hundred people sleeping here now and it's become, well, rather dirty."

This was a considerable understatement. The high, tiled rooms of the bungalow are sickly with the smoke of clove cigarettes, and the meeting rooms are a clutter of orange peel and empty pop bottles. Grubby youths in red T-shirts and berets sleep sprawled on mats on the floor, and in a chaotic front office, middle-aged party workers manoeuvre between fax machines, bags of rice, and megaphones.

Posters and slogans cover the walls, and red banners are draped over the compound's metal gates. The party emblem, a black ox with long horns, and the portrait of a dark-haired woman wearing a white headscarf, are everywhere. "The illness of democracy can be cured by MORE democracy", reads one slogan. "More democracy in Indonesia is Megawati and her followers' struggle", says another.

The PDI's bungalow looks like a building under siege. The reason is that for the past month it has been at the centre of a bitter dispute which began as a leadership squabble, and rapidly escalated into a serious challenge to Indonesia's 30-year-old government.

The trouble began a month ago at the PDI's official Congress on Sumatra. Politically, Indonesia is a cunningly bred hybrid, a one-party state legitimised by its tolerance of a limited party system. For three decades, the country's politics have been dominated by Golkar, which styles itself a "functional group", but is, to all intents and purposes, the ruling party. Only two other groups participate in elections - the Muslim United Development Party, and the Christian-oriented PDI.

The opposition parties, like the elections, are closely controlled. In1993 the PDI elected, as chairman of the party, Megawati Sukarnoputri, after the government got rid of the previous incumbent. The newcomer, however, is the daughter of a national hero, the former president, Sukarno, who was replaced by President Suharto after a coup in 1965.

Ms Megawati's growing popularity quickly made her even more of a headache than her predecessor. So, at the end of last month, the government turned the tables once again and had the former PDI chairman, Suryadi, reinstated.

The clumsiness of this move says a lot about the growing confusion in the government of President Suharto who, at 75, has been rumoured for some time to be losing his touch. Now PDI members all over the country are rallying in support of their ousted leader, occupying the PDI headquarters, and, irritating not just the government but the military, too.

Beneath the facade of stage-managed democracy, the Suharto regime has a long, grim record of snuffing out challenges to its power. Mangara Siahaan, a member of the PDI executive committee, emphasised the party's loyalty to Suharto, but stressed that they wanted their "independence, the right to organise the party without government interference".

A younger man at the bungalow cut in: "We are tired of them. They are afraid of Megawati because they know she is like a snowball, becoming greater and greater. Suryadi is just a puppet, and Suharto is greedy and afraid."

The Indonesian government has been on its best behaviour this week while 25 foreign ministers gathered in Jakarta for the meeting of the Asean regional forum on security. But now the visitors have left, the rumour is that this weekend the army will make its move on the PDI headquarters.

There are lots of police already outside the bungalow, and the boys in the red berets are sharpening their bamboo sticks. "Our fight is with Suryadi, nobody else," said my guide. "We're not fighting the government, nor the army."