It has been nine years of journey for Indonesia since President
Soeharto relinguished power. During those time too, the hope
that was launched high is descending slowly. Indonesia is taken
in prolonged transition because the agenda of change was not
In the midst of anxiety of reform hope that never come, a hint
of optimism appears in M Fadjroel Rachman. Democracy is a big
historical stream, it needs new generation of leadership, an alternative
power with progressive idea of change.
The following is the excerpt of conversation with Fadjroel, an
activist and thinker.
How do you see the nine-year journey of reform?
Our initial desire was not just a change in national leadership,
but also structural change. The 1998 Reform Movement was only
successful in toppling Soeharto but was not successful in revoking its
economic social regime until today.
The elements of New Order for this nine years are revitalizing
themselves and determining the direction and pace of reform. Golkar
Party becomes very fresh until this day. Conglomeration that became
the basis of current economic inequality is taking over national
leadership. Next, 3.7 million people in bureaucracy inherited from
New Order are also irreplaceable. The emergence of Yudhoyono
means that TNI is finding its recuperation point. Reform agenda to
eliminate TNI/Polri business until today is not working.
How is this possible?
1998 Movement was practically just a mass movement, it did
not have solid idea of change and organization for political change.
How is this possible? Because during New Order rule, there was no
opportunities to express opinions openly thus dialogs to produce
alternative ideas are truly closed. Since there was no political rights,
also no solid organization of movements. Students came to MPR/
DPR building as anonymous mass, not as organized and educated
The main key of reform failure is because Soeharto is not
punished. When a crime is left out without trial, the space becomes
blur. As if democracy space becomes a room where all is allowed.
Soeharto and Habibie was finished as a package that must be
toppled because they are the top of New Order regime. Yet, during
the occupation of MPR/DPR building, the problem was, the one that
came to heart and mind was just Soeharto. New Order returns with
only three steps: elevate Habibie, elevate Gus Dur (Abdurrahman
Wahid) and use Megawati to set aside Gus Dur; and beat Megawati.
At that time there was 1999 election as democratic mechanism.
Part of reform element participated in election, part of them
rejected because the election was organized by Habibie and New
Order control. Especially since Golkar still participated.
In transition from totalitarian regime to democracy, there is
bridge with several condition. One, new constitution. The mistake of
totalitarian regime is corruption and serious violation of human rights.
Chech made lustration law. Communist party and its officers, to local
levels, were not allowed to participate in election for one period.
In Indonesia, the transition bridge is all gone. Thus, this is indeed
a regime of recondition.
The fact is, is there anyone who choose to participate in
They who participated are rolled in the game, also validating
and legitimizing the game. Their mistake (the one who participated
and lost) was that they thought the hysteria mass that toppled Soeharto was their mass.
That is non-sense. What happened in 1999 election was two legitimacy and one illusion.
Then, how to fix it?
What should be done by new political power is democratizing
this limited democracy. The parameter of democratic regime is the
securing of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. Those
were dismantled. The main task and challenge is to uproot cleanly
through new political agenda. The worst part of reform was the
conglomerates and merchants who led and guided states economic
political policy. Under the New Order, they were led and guided by
Soeharto. Data from World Bank, during 1975-2004, the map of
distribution of income has not changed. For five periods of presidency,
social inequality, economic gap, are everlasting
Is it still possible to do?
If we look at the experience of Latin America, they too failed
once, there was some kind of disappointment virus. After being
disappointed, they concluded: they must base themselves on social
movement, building alternative power with alternative political
One power of 1998 student movement said that they would
take over political power, basing it on students. That is non-sense,
illusion, rotten dream. If they want to build an alternative political
power, they (student movement) must become one part of other
power of social movement.
Is it possible that there would be actors who would execute
such progressive program?
Political change cannot rely on just one person, but there must
be one generation of national leadership. If this Republic only relies
on Soekarno, on Hatta, if there was no Sjahrir, this Republic would
be gone. Our dream today is to create a national leadership generation
that together would be responsible for the fate of this big ship
Fadjroel very much admires Sutan Sjahrir, Mohammad Hatta, and Soedjatmoko,
whom he called Father of this Republic and The Father of Welfare State’s Ideas in Indonesia. In addition,
Fadjroel also calls the physics expert and philosopher Karl R Popper
as a figure that influences his way of thinking, that pushes the
application of scientific ideas on social movement. Social political
policy is hypothetical, temporary, fallible, and complies to critical
approach, said Fadjroel. While at Bandung Technology Institute (ITB, Institut Teknologi
Bandung), Fadjroel matures with a number student actions that sent
him a number of times to jail. The culmination, August 5, 1989 action
led to three year sentence (with once being sent to Nusakambangan)
plus being fired as student of ITB. While in jail, his humanity is
protected with the chances to write and to garden.
Also, in jail Fadjroel learned to cook. One of the memorial menu
that his wife often misses is pizza-likepoverty.
Young Fadjroel learned karate as means of self-defense. Now,
this father of two children prefers to hike with family.
Any advantage of Indonesian position post reform like today?
People reflect and contemplate. The pace of consolidation of
New Order elements is far quicker than that of the alternative political
power. Change must be progressive and local. If not, what happens
is just compromise like today, stopping us from jumping to democracy
regime. We are in a prolonged transition of democracy.
You are still optimistic that reform would find its goal again?
It is only one more step to finish this. The most important lesson
of the past nine years is that reform can easily be hijacked by snake
people because we are not strong enough to formulate program and
agenda of political change, not serious in developing organization
that is truly mature that we are easily infiltrated and be defeated by
enemy. We are wrong, they too once were wrong, but we learn from
Democracy is like a flood of history. New Order people, military,
and the recondition order would definitely be eliminated by the rush
of history. Perhaps now is just a founding stone for future democratic
Many activists use reform as stepping stone.
Many have changed, but not all. As a journey, some stay for a
while, some move on. Hopefully the caliphs could continue to
complete the journey to the oasis of democracy. For those who stay
for a while, its okay as long as they are not disturbing the journey.
Because indeed what we are doing is trial and error. Democracy is
about struggle of ideas, convincing people to believe in ideas.
The last sentence (Soe Hok Gie) in the Gie movie was really
good. It is better to be exiled than to give up to hypocracy.
(Harian KOMPAS Oleh: Sidik Pramono)