Suharto endorses 'red scare' and rules out political reform

Thirty years after anti-Communist pogroms left half a million of his countrymen dead, President Suharto of Indonesia yesterday warned that the country was still at risk from left-wing insurgents and rejected any possibility of reform after violent pro-democracy demonstrations in Jakarta last month.

Mr Suharto was giving his "state of the nation" speech, an annual address marking the 51st anniversary of Indonesia's independence, which is celebrated today in parades and ceremonies across the country.

Despite three decades of unchallenged rule, the President has never been noted for his powers as an orator. Apart from endorsing the "red scare" started by his generals three weeks ago, yesterday's speech was significant mainly for the subjects it failed to address: corruption, political uncertainty and economic inequity which, many Indonesians believe, lie at the root of the present unrest.

Above all, he failed to mention his plans for the next few years. Aged 75 and dogged by rumours of ill health, he is in the second half of his sixth unopposed term. Presidential elections will be held in 1998, and Mr Suharto has given no firm indication of whether he will stand.

The uncertainty about his intentions, and the lack of any obvious and credible successor, appear to be at the heart of simmering tensions which boiled over on 27 July in riots that left at least four people dead and a dozen buildings gutted. They were triggered by police raids on the headquarters of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI), and the arrest of followers of Megawati Sukarno-putri, the PDI's popular leader who is campaigning for a reform of Indonesia's highly constrained political system.

Within days of the riots, officers in the powerful Indonesian armed forces (Abri) were blaming them on the People's Democratic Party (PRD), a small left-wing organisation, which they liken to the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). The PKI was persecuted into oblivion after an alleged coup attempt in 1966 in the aftermath of which Mr Suharto came to power. In the last fortnight, the police and Abri have arrested dozens of PRD members on suspicion of the capital crime of subversion.

"The imposition of one's will and changes by force, the destruction and burning of buildings and public facilities are acts of anarchy, undemocratic and irresponsible," Mr Suharto said yesterday. "These riots had nothing to do with democracy. Their perpetrators and participants will be held accountable for their actions before the law ... We are determined never to allow the recurrence of a PKI rebellion in our homeland.

"If we are not yet satisfied with the role played by the three forums of our political forces, let us improve the existing forums," he said. "And not by establishing a new forum where the support of people is still entirely unclear."

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