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Indonesia’s Papernas promises year of ‘all-out’ campaigning


Written by Max Lane

26 January 2007

Despite right-wing intimidation, the founding congress of the National Liberation Party of Unity (Papernas) successfully concluded on January 20. A leadership was elected, which has already had its first meeting, preparing for a year of “all out” political campaigning.
Some activists, however, are still paying the price for fighting off the congress disruption launched by a group calling itself the Indonesian Anti-Communist Front (FAKI). One Papernas member, Andi Nurjaya, had to be hospitalised after the stress caused her to miscarry. In the North Sumatran town of Medan, the local Papernas chairperson is in jail, detained after protesting the attacks on the congress. In Malaysia, activists from the Malaysian Socialist Party (PSM) are still in detention after they were taken in at a protest outside the Indonesian embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

The disruption of the congress clearly worked in Papernas’s favour, with newspaper and television reports bringing the event to the notice of a wider audience. Other progressive groups issued statements in defence of Papernas’s right to hold the congress. In a January 19 statement by Irwansyah, the secretary-general of the Working Peoples Association (PRP), he demanded that the police not prevent or hinder citizens from exercising their political rights. He also condemned the actions of FAKI and called on the people to unite to resist all forms of political thuggery.

“But there can be no holding back now”, Papernas chairperson Agus Jabo told me in Jakarta on January 25. “We have built up structures in many provinces, now those structures must be exercised and put to work in political campaigning. That is also how we will expand and build more branches.” Asked about how the People’s Democratic Party (PRD), of which he is also secretary-general, will relate to Papernas, he stated that it would “dissolve” into Papernas. But Jabo clarified that this was not an organisational or structural dissolution.

“Perhaps the better word is the one we use among ourselves – konsentrasi – we will be concentrating most of our cadre into activities organised through Papernas. We will be educating within Papernas so that it can develop the same level of programmatic commitment as the PRD. Meanwhile, the PRD structures will remain intact and will be used to assess how Papernas develops.”

Jabo kept coming back, however, to the necessity for “all-out” campaign work. “Protest actions, also what we call now vergadering, these will be the core form of our activities.” Vergadering is a Dutch term used by the anti-colonial activists during the struggle for independence. “These will be large gatherings, mainly indoors, where the ideas of the party can be directly discussed with the masses. They will be more intense and explanatory, aimed at winning them to our politics and raising their consciousness. But we will keep up protest actions, what we call aksi, as the second part of our campaign work.”

In fact, Papernas launched its first coordinated series of protest actions even before the January congress. On December 20, a day set aside to commemorate the first women’s congress in Indonesia in 1928 (now strangely called Mother’s Day), branches of the Preparatory Committee of Papernas held protest actions in a number of cities and towns around Indonesia. This allowed Papernas to raise its flag, even in several towns where a PRD presence had not yet been registered. The protests took place in smaller towns such as Gresik, Mojokerto and Malang as well as Lampung in Sumatra, Yogyakarta, Jakarta and Surabaya.

“Now the challenge is to repeat these kinds of campaigns throughout the year, to raise the Papernas flag, expand the party, win registration and get ready to build a powerful mass movement.” Jabo explained that between now and March, Papernas will concentrate on dealing with unfinished business from the congress. A formative group, elected at the congress, will select a central committee and there will be an intensive effort to prepare the final requirements to formally register as a political party, which is a separate process to passing verification to participate in the elections. “We want to register as a formal party in March. This means consolidating some of our branches, and finalising formalities for those branches. We will be holding a series of conferences to organise all this. In March, we will hold a mass rally to launch the party and at the same time submit our registration forms.”

Jabo explained that Papernas will not necessarily conduct “an all-out immediate offensive against the regime in the direct sense. It will be an all-out campaign to convince the people of our program. The people feel the situation directly, they suffer it directly, but they can’t yet see the way forward. This is what we must bring to them. This is why vergadering will be the key activity, alongside protest actions.”

Convincing the people that the “three banners for people’s welfare” – nationalisation of the minerals sector (including oil and gas), cancellation of Indonesia’s foreign debt, and national industrialisation – are the solutions will be the central task, Jabo said. “We have to explain to the people that their problems are a result of being colonised, of the country being occupied by foreign interests. The three banners are the key policies we need to overcome this and open up other possibilities.

“If we are campaigning in the villages, in the rural areas, we will have a lot to say about agriculture, and the same applies for other sectors. Our cadre have to unite with the people at the base and be a part of their struggles.”

Jabo reaffirmed Papernas’s commitment to combining parliamentary and extra-parliamentary struggles. “This defines our current to some extent. Other groups in the opposition on the left are either entirely parliamentarist in their orientation, or opposed entirely to parliamentary work, or can’t make up their mind. This was the key difference that prevented Papernas from developing on the basis of a left unity front rather than on the basis of gathering together the fragments of action and dissent around the country that feel they can support the program the PRD has put forward for Papernas.”

Commenting on the recent “withdraw mandate” protests and other signs that opposition frustration may not be able to wait for the 2009 elections, Jabo explained: “Of course, we have never been a parliamentarist party. If things evolve in a different direction and the masses want to move more quickly, we will try to lead that process as well.”

The openings for a rise in extra-parliamentary campaign activity continue to accumulate. There are noticeably more reports in the media, especially the mass circulation newspapers, undermining the legitimacy of the president and vice-president. The latest figure to add to the momentum undermining President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is former President Abdurrahman Wahid, commonly known as Gus Dur. He, together with a number of community figures, have started speaking out publicly, stating that Yudhoyono’s election was illegal. They argue that he was elected under a 2002 amendment to the constitution that has not yet been passed by the People’s Consultative Assembly. In response to a call by Yudhoyono for “everybody to prevent moves outside the legal structures for change”, Wahid stated that the constitutional crisis was one reason for the emergence of the “withdraw mandate movement” and other calls for Yudhoyono to resign.

The popular press is also providing increasing coverage of corruption and poverty. The sensationalist but mass circulation populist daily Rakyat Merdeka led its front page coverage on January 24 with the headline: “Prices of basic goods go up, 14 trillion rupiah [A$1.7 billion] corrupted.” The lead article began: “While prices rise and some people must eat the worst quality rice, the amount of money being corrupted just keeps on rising.” The story reported the findings of Indonesian Corruption Watch, which reported that it had identified a total of 166 cases of corruption involving a total of 14.4 trillion rupiah. In 2004 and 2005 they had identified 153 and 125 cases respectively.

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