Suharto’s old guard is still in charge in Indonesia
The New Order rested on three pillars. First, there was the big lie about the Indonesian Communist Party, the PKI – the idea that the PKI had tried to overthrow the government and establish a communist state in 1965, and that they posed a threat to the Indonesian nation. and Indonesian soul. . This big lie was constantly repeated.
Second, there was also the promise of development. A lot of foreign capital has entered. There were large development projects, especially in construction and later in tourism, oil, gas, mining, timber and many extractive industries. All of this wealth was not evenly distributed – on the contrary, a very small hyper-rich elite was created. But it gave some substance to the rhetoric that presented Suharto as a developmentalist authoritarian and the New Order as a developmentalist regime.
Third, there was kleptocracy. Those connected with the Suharto family and the TNI, the Indonesian officer corps, could use the New Order’s economic growth for their own personal benefit. The elite joined the dictatorship.
For the general population, the New Order asserted that it brought stability and tranquillity. It really played up the chaos of the Sukarno years, saying, “You don’t want to go back to the bad old days.” No opposition was possible. The elections were very carefully managed. Suharto formed an alliance with the Golkar political movement, which essentially became his party. Elections were held fairly regularly throughout the New Order period, but they were far from free and fair.
Meanwhile, the officer corps took on an increasing number of domestic responsibilities. They ran a number of businesses that gave them plenty of opportunities for corruption. The TNI were able to enrich themselves, so they were able to participate in kleptocracy. They took over the responsibilities of the national police: increasingly, it was the army that was responsible for maintaining order on a daily basis in the cities of Indonesia. This gave the impression that there was an internal military occupation of the country.
After the repression against the PKI and the trade unions, there was also a repression against the students. In the early 1970s, ethnic Chinese were targeted. In the early 1980s, there was a movement against street thugs with the so-called Petrus murders (or “mystery murders”): petty criminals were found murdered in the streets, with their bodies on display. In many ways, this foreshadowed what Rodrigo Duterte has been doing in the Philippines in recent years.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the New Order moved against Islamist groups. Some of the remnants of Darul Islam, the opposition Islamist movement, have formed small cells. There have been a number of terrorist attacks and hijackings, with speculation that Indonesian intelligence services may have encouraged these attacks as a means of justifying military rule.
The New Order was saturated with Sinophobia, which functioned as anti-Semitism in the European context, stoking popular sentiment against Chinese companies. Even though Suharto’s regime was very closely tied to a number of prominent Chinese businessmen, he used anti-China sentiment to anger the middle and lower classes against the Chinese scapegoat for any trouble. economic. There was a series of anti-Chinese outbursts that closely resembled the anti-Semitic pogroms in Europe.
The New Order promoted misogyny and the idea that a woman’s place was in the home. This was part of a reaction to the Culture War of the early 1960s. The state continued to spread propaganda against the left-wing women’s organization Gerwani, accusing feminists of murdering and torturing the generals killed in 1965. Gerwani was banned and anyone associated with it was in big trouble.
In its place, the regime promoted an organization called Dharma Wanita, which means “women’s path” or “women’s duty”. It was an organization for the wives of Indonesian bureaucrats and officers, who rose in the Dharma Wanita hierarchy based on their husband’s promotions. This was to institutionalize patriarchy as a means of channeling and redirecting possible feminist sentiments among middle and upper class Indonesian women.
Meanwhile, the New Order has also engaged in a culture war against the popular culture of the villages. He viewed the country’s vibrant culture as vulgar and perhaps a little too popular and a little too PKI-bound. The regime suppressed popular dance and song and promoted the culture of the feudal court in Central Java, which was very conservative, very refined and very restrained.
There was strict censorship of the press. You could not import Chinese printed material into Indonesia. The films were very tightly censored. There was absolutely no sexuality in the cinema, but violence was tolerated. This led to a golden age of Indonesian horror films in the 1980s. Horror was really the only possible creative outlet for Indonesian filmmakers.
I would also say it was indicative of how the collective culture dealt with the trauma of the mass murder of the 1960s and the various forms of repression in the 1970s and 1980s. There was also a huge boom in the popularity of heavy music metal. The Indonesian love for heavy metal is, I think, very much related to this feeling of processing trauma.
Another aspect of the New Order was premanism. the preman were Indonesian street thugs and organized criminals. It could range from small street gangs to groups like the Pemuda Pancasila, which was apparently a far-right mass political organization. Its members were among the killers in 1965-1966.
If you have seen Joshua Oppenheimer’s film The act of killing, the Pemuda Pancasila featured prominently in its orange camo. They had carte blanche in dealing with street crimes, as long as they pledged their support to Suharto and the New Order. There were also a number of strongmen brought over from East Timor who had close ties to the Indonesian officer corps. They have been used as muscle on the streets of Jakarta and as political auxiliaries for various purposes.
The leaders of the Suharto regime became fabulously wealthy. After Suharto was ousted from power in 2004, Transparency International listed him as the world’s most corrupt autocrat, with a fortune of between $15 billion and $35 billion. Ferdinand Marcos came far behind with just $5-10 billion. Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko could only manage a measly $5 billion, putting him in third place.
The amount of money taken by the regime, its cronies and the Suharto family was simply staggering. Suharto’s wife, who was officially known as Ibu Tien or “Mother Tien”, was derisively called Ibu Ten Percent, playing on the English words, as she took a 10% commission on every transaction for her own private gain.