Ever since 1975, when an Indonesian take-over forced them into the hills, the ragtag bands of East Timorese had been living hand to mouth. Harassed by army units seeking to dislodge Fretilin nationalist guerrillas, they were unable to raise the subsistence crops on which their lives depended. All the time their plight was kept from the outside world, which chose instead to believe Indonesia’s promise that it would care for and educate the people of the territory it had claimed.
But by last week the story was out. A startled world learned that in recent months, driven by starvation, nearly a quarter of a million men, women and children had stumbled out of the dense fog and clouds that shroud the hills to receive what help relief agencies could provide. Behind them they left at least another 60,000 whom Red Cross helicopters could seek only half a day at a time because of adverse weather.
And as an international aid operation got under way an awkward question was haunting the military government of President Suharto in Jakarta: why had his country waited so long to make its appeal, even going so far as to deny first reports of trouble? The answer wasn’t forthcoming, and many of Suharto’s opponents saw that as the latest proof that the time had come to loosen the military’s 13-year hammerlock on the country’s affairs.
That hold has steadily tightened since Suharto and the military supplanted President Sukarno in 1966. Under the slogan Dwi Fungsi, “twin functions”—calling for the military not only to safeguard the country’s territory but to be its unifying force as well—Suharto and his plutocratic generals, in alliance with Golkar, the largest political party, have kept the country in a political vacuum, muzzling the press and eliminating serious opposition.
The targets of the generals’ wrath on taking power were suspected Communists, many of them ethnic Chinese. Reliable sources estimate that the official bloodbath left half a million dead and 600,000 behind bars. The majority of those in prison were released under U.S. pressure, but new opponents of the regime have been imprisoned since 1974 and Amnesty International recently reported that there are now 20,000 political prisoners in Indonesian jails.
Many are students who demonstrated against Suharto’s corrupt regime: a protest against Suharto’s uncontested election in March, 1978, to a third fiveyear term was ruthlessly suppressed.
But the main gripe of opposition groups, which include the two legal opposition parties, the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDl) and the Moslem Unity Party (PPP), has been the all-pervasive and shady economic dealings of the generals. Army “corporations” are among z the largest in the country, and with the se spread of military muscle in the mar^ ketplace has come the growth of busiI nesses run by officers’ wives and in< laws amid a proliferation of luxury cars ± and expensive jewelry. Suharto’s un§ popular wife, Ibu Tien, is known as I “Madame Tien per cent” because of her > wheeler-dealing, and the proceeds of
such activities are deposited at the rate of millions of dollars a week in accounts abroad, says one foreign banker.
All this has greatly harmed the oilrich country’s development. The near collapse of the Pertamina oil company in 1974, for instance, after its president, Lieutenant-General Ibnu Sutowo, allegedly borrowed $10 billion illegally, was a major blow. And so blatant has the corruption become that General Mohamed Yusuf, the defence minister, is attempting a cleanup from within. He recently ordered military officers to get out of their business interests and threatened to release the names of those who disobeyed his orders. As well, he suggested at a recent annual Golkar party conference (to seemingly deaf ears) that the armed forces should quit the party.
But although Yusuf, a pious Moslem, wields a great deal of power, he faces serious opposition from a group of senior generals led by the information minister, General Ali Murtopo. Considered to be one of the country’s most adept political manipulators, Murtopo is thought a likely candidate to succeed Suharto, should he not seek a fourth term in 1983.
A more serious threat to Yusuf, however, is Suharto himself, who has a reputation for allowing his opponents to show their hand before chopping them down “like a traditional Javanese king,” as one commentator put it recently. The wily Suharto, explained a journalist, “aims above all to keep the balance so as to avoid the risk of explosion.” But with continuing corruption and a worsening economic situation for the poorest 40 percent of the population—whose real standard of living has deteriorated since 1965 despite an oil-boosted annual growth rate of 40 per cent—that task is likely to become increasingly difficult.
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