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
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
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

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little