People Power Hits Indonesia

By Fr. Ernesto Amigleo, cicm

Reforms, we need political and economic reforms! President Suharto and cronies, resign!

Lower the prices of commodities and gasoline! Stop corruption, collusion and nepotism!

These are some of the basic and widespread demands of the university students all over the country, inscribe on their colorful banners. For a economic progress and stability to be the country, , thereby earning the title ‘Father of Development’. Those slogans seemed not to fit Suharto. Unfortunately, however, his authoritarian rule resulted in increasing corruption, collusion and nepotism which grew unabated for the last several years. His inability to deliver the much needed reforms were to a large extent the major reasons why the people had lost confidence in the leadership of Suharto. And so the students staged protest demonstration to make the leaders know that something went awry with the country

Massive Upheaval

Days, weeks and months of demonstration peaked last May 2-, as the nation celebrated its 90th anniversary of Awakening Day. On this day, a nationwide peaceful mass rally participated by millions of people, mostly students, had put the country in a tense situation – a mood reminiscent of 1966 in which General Suharto took power. It seems the widespread rally was an eruption of many years of suppresses anti Suharto feelings. In the capital city of Jakarta rumors were circulating that there would be more bloodshed all over tacks and 35 thousand security forces were deployed all over the city, putting barbed wires in major streets of the city to prevent the masses from rallying – thus displaying a massive and intimidating show of force which created an impression that the city was in a state of siege.

‘Hang Suharto’

In Ujung Pandang, I took part in the mass demonstration. Riding together with the members of Protestant university of St. Paul, I witnessed an estimated 150 thousands people, mostly university students, riding on motorcycles, buses and trucks, heading to the city’s central park of Karobosi. As early as 9 o’clock in the morning, the park was transformed into a sea of humanity. With colorful bands imprinted with ‘REFORM’, YES!’ tied around their heads, the students listened to their heads, their leaders who alternately took the stand to deliver their demands. From the park they rally moved on the major streets o the city. As our vehicle joined the seemingly endless procession around the city. I saw and heard school children on the side walks shouting with their fists up to the sky: ‘Hang Suharto!’ ‘Hang Suharto!’ Some of the older people were laughing, but I could not afford to laugh. I only said to my self, “This man (Suharto) has really lost the trust of his people.” On the other hand I was touched seeing the generosity of some people – firms and factory owners and housewives, the group of Catholic Women’s League and some members of the Catholic youths serving thousands of plastic cups of drinking water, as a sign of their solidarity. On the sidewalks were soldiers and policemen watching and making their ‘reform sign’ by putting their thumbs up as an expression of their unity and sympathy with the people.

Suharto resigns!

The nationwide clamor was so loud and clear that finally, on the following day, President Suharto, once dubbed as the ‘smiling general’, appeared pressured and utterly desolate on television to announce his resignation, thus ending his 32 years in power. His resignation immediately changed the mood of the whole country. From a tense and frightened atmosphere to great jubilation. The country was in a stat of euphoria. Fear vanished and there was a fresh hope to the nation that had been chained for more than three decades of authoritarian rule.

Demands for Fresh Elections

But with the ouster of Suharto, People Power does not stop there. It is bound to continue until the last vestiges of the Suharto regime will be wiped away.

Remembering Edsa Revolution

As images of People Power- Indonesian style-play on my mind during these last few days, I cannot help out recall, way back in the Philippines 13 years ago, the final days (Feb.22-25, 1986) of the Marcos regime. I remember vividly during those days when my activist aunt, uncle and I joined the hundreds of thousands of Filipino demonstration in front of Camp Crame. I also cannot forget how, on the night when the news spread that Marcos had fled, a couple of Filipino confreres and I hurried to join the masses to Malacañang Palace. We were there up to past midnight. For these two historical events, I am happy to say that I’ve been privileged to witness the power of the people toppling down their nation’s authoritarian leader. Having witnessed these two events as they unfold before my eyes, I have become convinced all the more of the powerful message expressed in Mary’s Magnificat: “He has put down the mighty for m their thrones and lifted up those who are downtrodden.” (Lk 1:52)