25 August 2012

The PRD Diaspora, 16 Years On

Merdeka.com – July 24, 2012

Although this article is a little dated, I thought it might still be of interest to readersJB.

Laurencius Simanjuntak -- The revolutionary ideals of the People's Democratic Party (PRD) founded 16 years ago were thwarted. The New Order regime of former President Suharto in a rage of fury obliterated the party only a few months after it was declared on July 22, 1996. PRD leaders and cadre in the regions were hunted down, abducted, tortured and jailed.

Several among them have never "returned home" to this day. They include Wiji Thukul, Petrus Bima Anugerah, Suyat and Herman Hendrawan, who were among the 13 people that were abducted by the army's elite Special Forces Kopassus in 1997-1998. However not all the stories of former PRD activists are as grim as Wiji Thukul and his comrades.

Others among them are now enjoying the fruits of reformasi (the political reform process that began in 1998). There are those that are living well-to-do lives, that have joined other political parties, and some that have even become businesspeople. In spite of this a few of them are still active in the "underground" movement or have chosen the path of solitude.

"The PRD alumni have followed different paths in life. There are those who have become politicians, businesspeople, journalists, university lecturers, researchers at home and overseas, become village heads, become kiai (religious teachers), cultural observers and so fourth", said Budiman Sudjatmiko, the former general chairperson of the PRD when speaking with Merdeka.com on Tuesday July 24.

Sudjatmiko, who was once jailed by the Suharto regime after being accused of being the mastermind behind the July 27, 1996 riots in Jakarta, is now pursuing a career in politics with the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). He now sits as a member of the House of Representatives for the period 2009-2014. Sudjatmiko's decision to join the party of the bull as the PDI-P is known, is not in fact that strange, bearing in mind that the PRD once supported Megawati Sukarnoputri, now the general chairperson of the PDI-P, as a presidential candidate to replace Suharto.

Unlike Sudjatmiko who is in the opposition camp, many ex-members of the social-democrat orientated PRD have also settled in the executive branchs of government. These include Andi Arief who is now a special presidential staff member for social affairs and disaster management. When Sudjatmiko was incarcerated in Cipinang prison, Arief was the person who held the reigns of the party. The man who used to go by the alias of Mirah Mahardika was also a victim of the 1997-1998 abductions.

There are still other ex-PRD activists in the administration, such as Dita Indah Sari and Faisol Riza. The two, both of whom were once jailed, are now special staff members to the Minister of Labour and Transmigration, a position that is not strange since both were involved in the labour movement.
Not all ex-PRD members however are active in the world of politics. Petrus Haryanto for example, is now a businessperson in the publishing industry. The former PRD secretary general now manages a small printing company. Quite different from Raharjo Waluyo Jati, who was once one of the PRD's deputy chairpersons. Jati is now active in the tobacco farmers' movement after previously heading up Radio VHR (Voice of Human Rights). Nezar Patria meanwhile, who was the acting PRD secretary while Haryanto was in jail, is now an executive director with the news portal VIVAnews.com.

The option chosen by Henry Kuok is perhaps been the most "desolate" among his former comrades. After completing his legal doctorate in Washington, the former PRD representative on the General Elections Commission (KPU) is now a pastor working with the poor in an urban slum in Chicago.
Sudjatmiko says that the experiences they had together struggling for democracy under Suharto's New Order regime were very strong, because they put their lives on the line. "I'm convinced that this experience is not easy to wipe away, and if the people and history call again, they will not hesitate to again become involved in achieving the goal of freedom for Indonesia", said Sudjatmiko.

Perhaps, he continued, the method used will not be exactly the same as before. "But with the skills, networks and ideas that they acquired in their current fields of life", he said. "I believe that they still feel they have an obligation to complete their historical tasks." (ian)


Following Megawati Sukarnoputri's popular election as chairperson of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) in 1996, the Suharto regime, who feared a PDI lead Megawati (who could draw upon the tremendous popularity of her father Sukarno, the founding president of Indonesia) might threaten the state party Golkar's dominance in the upcoming 1997 elections, sponsored a rebel PDI congress in Medan, North Sumatra, and succeeded in replacing her with their own pro-regime candidate, Suryadi. Following weeks of protests and the occupation of party's headquarters in central Jakarta by pro-Megawati PDI supporters, on July 27 paid thugs backed by the military attacked and destroyed the PDI offices resulting in the death of as many as 50 people. Popular outrage at the attack sparked several days of mass rioting and violent clashes with police which was blamed on the People's Democratic Party, who's members were hunted down and arrested as the masterminds behind the  riots.

[Translated by James Balowski.]


The clandestine PRD, from jungle meetings to religious camouflage

Merdeka.com – July 25, 2012

Although this article is a little dated, I thought it might still be of interest to readers – JB.
Klandestin PRD, rapat di hutan sampai kamuflase pengajian - Merdeka.com. Rabu, 25 Juli 2012 <>
Laurencius Simanjuntak -- Founded on July 22, 1996, or when Suharto's New Order regime was still savage and cruel, it was not an easy time for the People's Democratic Party (PRD). Moreover the social-democrat orientated party explicitly declared its opposition to Suharto's power.

"The New Order has been in power for 30 years, eight months and 22 days", cried PRD General Chairperson Budiman Sudjatmiko, counting the time that Suharto had been in power. Sudjatmiko's speech, which later became known as the Party Manifesto, was read out on July 22, 1996, or 16 years ago.

The PRD's declaration at the offices of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) in Central Jakarta was clearly not a 'sporadic' movement because the New Order was completely ruthless. But the PRD's revolutionary ideals at that time were indeed serious. Long before it was declared as a party, the PRD, which was originally called the People's Democratic Union (Persatuan Rakyat Demokratik, PRD), had already been operating clandestinely.

"We usually held consolidations by constantly moving from place to place so that the intelligence officers wouldn't get wind of us", said Sudjatmiko when speaking with Merdeka.com in Jakarta on Wednesday July 25.

As everyone knows, during the period when he was in power, Suharto deployed security officers down to the village level to sniff out indications of movements opposed to his authoritarian administration. "If a single hair fell, Suharto would know", went the phrase about the ruler in those days.

It was in order to stay under Suharto's radar that the PRD often avoided public gatherings when they wanted to hold discussions or consolidation meetings. But the jungles and mountain slopes provided an alternative.

"We once held a meeting in a tobacco plantation at the far eastern end of the Jakarta sea, which we reached by riding a boat for hours", related Sudjatmiko, who is now an Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) legislator in the House of Representatives.

Most of the time however, said Sudjatmiko, meetings were held at pesantrens (Islamic boarding schools) or seminaries. "Because coincidentally many PRD activists came from pesantren circles or aspiring priest that failed", said Sudjatmiko laughing.

In the task of camouflaging meetings, Faisol Riza was the champion. With a pesantren background, the slim young man who is now a special staff member to the Minister of Labour and Transmigration, often used his networks with Islamic teachers (kiai) at the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) pesantrens as a place to conduct their slander. For seminaries meanwhile, the PRD often used the networks of one of its members, Fransisca Ria Susanti.

"Once there was a time when security personnel forced their way in, we immediately placed the Koran in front of us and hid the congress documents by sitting on them", he said.
In order that they would be easy to hid, said Sudjatmiko, the documents or discussion reading materials were printed in the form of small brochures. "So the font was very very small", said Sudjatmiko frowning.

However the spiritual gathering camouflage did not always go smoothly. If they got wind of intelligence officers, said Sudjatmiko, usually pesantren kiai or pastors who took care of the seminaries would use their authority to prevent the intelligence officers from entering.
"The reason [they would give] was that those inside were religious pupils who were studying or university students who were on a spiritual retreat", he said.

All of those in the clandestine movement faced these kinds of dangers, said Sudjatmiko, pointing out that the struggle for democracy against the New Order dictatorship was not just a physical or practical struggle. "But also a theoretical struggle", he said.

Meaning, continued Sudjatmiko, the PRD demanded that their cadre were no only adept at organising the masses, facing the muzzle of a gun or teargas, but they were also obliged to read and write articles to explain the arguments behind their political positions.

"They had to be ready to train in everything without facilities. They had to be ready for any kind of situation, in plantations, in jungles, on beaches, in pesantrens, on campus or seminaries", he said.
Although the revolutionary ideals failed in the end, the underground PRD movement after so many years brought about results that were not too disappointing. The PRD was able to establish no less than 14 offices at the provincial level and 150 or so branches at the regency or municipal level. In the 1999 elections, the party allocated number 16 on the ballot paper and still in its infancy succeeded in garnering 78,000 votes.

The Diaspora of PRD cadre has also been diverse. There are those that have become legislators, special staff to the president, ministerial spokespersons, senior NGO figures, reputable journalists, trade union leaders, defenders of tobacco farmers and regional political party leaders. And none of this would have been possible without struggle. (did)


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