Loss of `Tim-Tim' puts the president in peril

HARRY, a heavy-set Javanese man who works in an offshore oil field, was at the counter of a cellphone shop yesterday in Jakarta's Roxy Mas shopping mall, a glimmering emporium of electronics goods and three-piece suites. Asked about President BJ Habibie's decision to let foreign troops into East Timor, he reasoned: "It's a good idea. The people of East Timor have made their decision. We must let them go."

President Habibie could do with a few more like Harry, especially tomorrow, when he must travel from his imposing white palace overlooking National Square to the ugly concrete complex where parliament sits, a mile and a half away. He will not go willingly - the President, already a political cripple, has been summoned to explain how what many regard as Indonesia's humiliation in East Timor ever came to pass.

It will be just one of several critical moments in Jakarta this week. They will determine whether the relative political stability that has settled over Indonesia since the deadly riots of May last year, which toppled Mr Habibie's predecessor, President Suharto, will persist, or whether instead the fourth most populous country in the world will once more be plunged into political chaos and violence.

There is every possibility that Mr Habibie's appearance at parliament, itself an assault on his prestige, will coincide with the landing of the first troops of the multi-national force in East Timor. If so, he will be clinging on to the hope that the international mission goes smoothly. Most Western observers here agree: if Indonesian blood is spilled in East Timor, there could be a popular eruption across the whole country.

But the capital is on edge also for other reasons. It is bubbling with intrigue as to the likely fate of Mr Habibie, who faces re-election in the parliament's upper house in November. Among those manoeuvering for power is the army chief, General Wiranto. And then there is a parliamentary vote, scheduled for Thursday, on a bill to give sweeping new powers of repression to the military. Some 2,000 stone-throwing students marched on parliament on Friday to voice their anger, which could explode if the bill passes.

All these elements make a powerful prescription for political unrest, in which the most potent ingredient is Indonesian nationalism. And few issues could be better suited to spark that sense of xenophobia than the debacle in East Timor. Wander the streets of Jakarta, particularly if you stray beyond the middle-class enclaves like Roxy Mas, and you will find few voices so restrained as Harry's. Instead you will find ridicule and anger directed at two main targets: Habibie and Australia.

Some of the emotion can be found in graffiti scrawled on a cricket pitch- length banner of white cotton that has been strung along the roadside in the heart of the bustling Cikini district, near the centre of Jakarta. The first, entitled a "Million Signatures for Concern Toward Tim-Tim" (East Timor), is now full, and a handful of youths were putting up another banner yesterday on the other side of the road. Among the bluntest of the messages, some in English, there were "Hang Habibie" and "Fuck Yuo (sic) Australia".

Ningsih, a 17-year-old girl dressed in the smart uniform of a local high school, had stopped after Saturday afternoon classes with some friends to add her own thoughts to the banner. (Or thoughts, she readily admitted, that she had synthesised from what she had read in magazines.) "Indonesia's problems must be solved by Indonesia and not by inteferers from outside," she wrote. She said she was sad about losing East Timor. "I think we will miss our 27th province, because we will have only 26 provinces left."

The anti-Australian fervour is everywhere. In a slum quarter of shacks and squalid lanes in the shadow of the business district and its five- star hotels, sullen-faced men saw this white reporter and shouted out to know if I was Australian. "Inggris, Inggris," I replied again and again, attempting a insouciant smile. Multinational corporations have begun withdrawing Australians and Canberra has shut one of its consulates. The others are heavily guarded.

Along the littered railway track that cuts through the slum, the views on East Timor were bluntly expressed. "I want Tim-Tim returned to Indonesia because so many Indonesia soldiers died fighting there," explained Warjo, a squat man who lives with his extended family in a tumble of scavenged wood and corrugated metal. It was of absolutely no concern to Warjo, who has no work, that so many have died in the carnage in East Timor, perpetrated by the militia and the army. "Why should we worry about East Timorese dying? There are plenty more people in Java who can move there afterwards."

There was less willingness to speak out about Habibie or Wiranto. "We're such poor people, we don't want to blame anyone for what happened. We just follow the good politicians," Warjo offered, triggering mischievous laughter from the women around him. Perhaps he was intimidated by the policeman riding by on a motorcycle.

If Timor is the catalyst that triggers an uprising in this and other cities this week, it will be one fed by easy nationalism and by ignorance of the facts. Few ordinary Indonesians have any real grasp of the enormity of the murders, the destruction and the mass deportations committed in East Timor in recent days. Many, aside from the students, have no inkling of the complicity of the Indonesian army.

Even Harry, who seemed so reasonable back in the Roxy Mas mall, has had his perception polluted by misinformation. He may not blame Mr Habibie for what has happened, but Australia, he is sure, has been wicked. "I read an article about how the pro-independence groups were receiving arms from helicopters along the south shore of East Timor," he said. Oh? And where did the arms come from? "From Australia."

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
REX/Eye Candy
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
scienceBosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £35000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...


£130 - £131 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Ks1 teacher required for m...

Project Manager (infrastructure, upgrades, rollouts)

£38000 - £45000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

MI Analyst and SQL Developer (SQL, SSAS, SSRS)

£28000 - £32500 Per Annum + 28 days holiday, pension, discounts and more: Clea...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?