When Joko Widodo – known as Jokowi – was elected president of Indonesia as someone apparently outside the existing national political power structures, many people felt hopeful. Was he the new broom needed to sweep through Jakarta?
Since then, observers have felt a sinking feeling of disappointment. Jokowi seemed to have his heart in the right place but has lacked the strength to stand up to the powerful (if shifting) alliances and pressure groups that comprise Indonesian politics, such as Islamic hardliners.
Now it is reported (Jakarta Post, 6 Oct 2018) that he has exhorted the Indonesian Military (TNI) to fight against communism. At a commemoration of the founding of the TNI, Jokowi saw fit to pledge that, as Commander in Chief, he joined hands with the military in “eradicating communism and the legacy of the PKI”.
The PKI was blamed for a coup attempt in 1965 and was disbanded the following year, during a massive counter-communist purge that saw the execution of up to a million Indonesians accused of being left-wing. The new leader, Soeharto, and his allies ran an ongoing anti-communist campaign right down to his overthrow in 1998; foremost among those allies was the TNI. Since then, the witch-hunt has been off the boil, though anti-PKI paranoia has become ingrained into the Indonesian psyche.
When Jokowi ran for presidency four years ago, rumors were circulated that he was a PKI member, even though he’d been a mere toddler in the Sixties. Such rumours have resurfaced and a week ago Jokowi, a successful self-made businessman, felt it necessary to publicly dismiss them again, saying that fake news was being spread because of the upcoming presidential elections (Jakarta Post, 27 Sept 2018).
Clearly, the communist bogey-man is still being used by certain groups to put down anyone they see as a threat. The TNI has always loved to use it, partly through genuine belief and partly because they see a ‘red threat’ as justification for their repressive role in the national polity.
The author Soe Tjen Marching (The End of Silence, 2017) has argued that the powerful in Indonesia – including purge perpetrators and their cronies – have a vested interest in sustaining fear of the bogey-man, since it serves to thwart investigation of what really happened in 1965 and who was involved in the purge.
Wittingly or otherwise, Jokowi has become part of this repression.
For more on The End of Silence, see https://mikecoppin.wordpress.com/2017/08/06/end-of-silence-the-1965-genocide-in-indonesia/
For more on Soeharto’s part in the purge, see: http://indonesiaatmelbourne.unimelb.edu.au/theres-now-clear-proof-that-soeharto-orchestrated-the-1965-killings/