May 21, 1998. Indonesia’s Soeharto decreed his resignation following series of demonstrations across the archipelago and a bloody chaos in Jakarta that killed thousands of innocent people and crumpled the society.
Like many student activists at that time, I cheered and greeted his decree. We believed that it was the end of the New Order regime and all of its social, economical and political oppressiveness. Despite of all miseries, we supposed that all victims were the cost for a new freedom for the whole people, i.e. freedom from Soeharto’s dictatorship.
More than three decades ago, soon after seizing power over the country following the blood-spattered political drama propagandized by the military as the communist coup d’etat and the theater of massacre of the communist party’s members and sympathizers in 1960s, Soeharto fully controlled the country. He developed his gigantic political machinery, publicly known as New Order regime, consisted of military, one leading party, and bureaucracy. He assumed that political stability was the most important point and primary ground to develop the economic. He centralized politics, banned public discourses and criticism including media criticism, and apparently developed his authoritarianism.
Moreover, in developing the country he followed all assessments assigned by Western economic-hit-men (it reminds me of a professional economic-hit-man, John Perkins, who testimonies in Confession of the Economic Hit Men). He believed that the country needed huge amount of debt and loan to be developed. He opened the door to multinational corporations (MNCs) to invest and let them fully control over Indonesian natural resources, and at the same time made Indonesia’s state-owned-companies became second-class.
He acknowledged the concept of ‘trickle down effect’ and established a group of conglomerates that he believed would ‘take off’ the development of the country to the ‘industrial phase’. In the meantime Soeharto, his family and his cronies benefited and took financial advantage from the foreign investments. He was best known as a master of KKN, a short form of Korupsi (Corruption), Kolusi (Collusion) and Nepotism. Despite of Jakarta shantytown, undoubtedly his model of economic development resulted a wide poverty enclave across the country, and led to disparate the society. The fragility of economic development during his regime led to the vulnerability and weakness. Then, the country crashed following the Asian monetary crisis in 1997.
Initially, for many Indonesian, the fall of Soeharto was seen as a chance to change the country’s future; surviving from dictatorship and heading to better circumstance we supposed an era of reformation where the people would have better political system such as multiparty system, direct and fair election, transparency, and decentralization in economic development, human rights protection, and so on and so forth. We assumed that the country would stand as a truly sovereign country with dignity among the countries. We hoped that Indonesia would again reach its reputation as one of leaders in the non-alignment movement, or at least in the ASEAN.
Nevertheless, after ten year of hoping, many Indonesian realize that changing the faith of the country, changing the future of the country, is really much harder than overthrowing Soeharto. Despite the fact that Soeharto had felt down, the system and all wisdoms he left still exist, and even his considered-followers and loyalists are able to resume power.
The country remains one of poor countries in the world, even though there are some wealthy enclaves consist of Soeharto’s conglomerates group and new tycoons who took benefits and fortunes from the 1997 crisis. The natural resources are still under the control of the foreign companies; the political system, despite of multiparty system, is being exploited and demoralized by many of incapable and selfish politicians, money politics are common phenomenon in daily politics; the number of jobs is declining year by year; the poverty enclave extends; conflicts are triggered by economical disparities emerged in many kind of form, mainly in the form of religious conflict; corruption becomes more common cases; and so on and so forth.
Since seems that there is no exact agenda following the fall of Soeharto, some start to hope that they could go back to the past. Some others, including me, insist to move forward to find out the best outcome despite of current turbulences and strongly consider that the current turbulences are excesses of Soeharto era. Thus we believe that there is a bright side at the end of the dark tunnel.
Here I come with my fundamental questions. The first is, how to define a better future for the country? The second, suppose there is a design of ‘preferred future’, how to achieve it? And lastly, based on my understanding that the founding fathers, Soeharto’s New Order regime, and the current regime had and have designed what they consider as ‘images of future’ or ‘preferred future’ for the country, why they were and are failed to maintain and to achieve the ‘designated future’?