Does Lee (& the US) have a hidden agenda?

Posted by Admin on Tuesday, 24 February 1998 | Opini

By Sayidiman Suryohadiprojo

IT is difficult for ordinary Indonesian people to understand concern shown among foreign circles over the choice of Indonesia’s next vice president, to be elected during the General Session of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) in March. The interest began about one month ago, when a large part of the Western media suggested that Indonesia should refrain from electing Dr B.J. Habibie as the next vice president. He is viewed as a big spender and a danger for foreign investment. Even parochial local newspapers in the US, which rarely print news on Indonesia, took part in the character assassination.

Then came a statement made by former Singapore prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, who suggested the same without mentioning Habibie by name. A former US ambassador to Indonesia, Paul Wolfawitz, also jumped on the bandwagon, airing criticisms in an interview with The Jakarta Post.

It is difficult to believe that all these statements are made independent of some political agenda. They are allied to a political interest that is opposed, not to Habibie personally, but to what he represents.

Had Habibie joined a political group which wanted to recruit him in the 1970s, he would never have fallen victim to all this negative propaganda.

In fact, while Habibie finds himself the immediate target the main objective is President Suharto himself. Again the grudge is borne not against Suharto in person, but against the domestic political paradigm over which he has presided in the 1990s.

Suharto became unpopular within certain circles in Indonesia and abroad, especially m the US, when in 1990 he endorsed the establishment of the Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI) with B.J. Habibie as its chairman. He was accused of initiating an institution that would enable Muslims to gain broader influence in Indonesian society.

Prior to that, the Indonesian New Order government had always minimised the role of Islam. ….

Why is there so much opposition to broad Muslim participation in Indonesia? That Muslims are in the majority in Indonesian society cannot be denied. An advanced and prosperous Indonesia without advancement for the Muslims cannot be envisaged. Indonesia can only become prosperous if the majority of its people progress materially and educationally.

Furthermore, a well educated Muslim community will give rise to more Muslim moderates, which in turn will advance the cause of democracy in Indonesia because the Muslim community, particularly moderate Muslim intellectuals, are in favor of democracy.

A moderate and educated Muslim community will show greater tolerance toward other religious groups and the outside world in general. Many positive consequences will result, including the disappearance of latent anti-Chinese sentiment.

An Indonesia with an advanced Muslim community will be more stable and therefore become a better partner in political, economic and security issues. It is therefore difficult to understand why people like Lee Kuan Yew and Wolfowitz do not favour advancement for the Muslim people in Indonesia, although they have not explicitly said as much.

If Muslim participation is kept to a minimum, as it was in colonial times, extremists will take center stage among the Muslim community and fundamentalism will rise. Tolerance will be replaced by extremism and hostility toward other religious groups especially those favoured by the government.

Resent of the Chinese minority will remain strong, especially if the gap between rich and poor remains large. These are not the conditions in which democracy can develop but are fertile beds for violence and social disturbance. Is that what people like Lee Kuan Yew and Wolfowitz want for Indonesia?A more advanced Indonesia will be a more favourable country for foreign companies to invest in than a socially troubled Indonesia.

… But of course, a stronger Indonesia, with the majority of its people united, will be more independent and less likely to succumb easily to foreign pressures. Is such an Indonesia unacceptable for the US and Singapore?

If that is the case then we have to agree with the late president Sukarno who believed that Indonesia did not face "peaceful co-existence and mutual respect" among nations but instead met "neo-colonialism and neo-imperialism" at every turn.

The writer is a retired general and a former governor of the National Resilience Institute.
He is now an Ambassador at Large to the Non-Aligned Movement.

Published in the Straits Times. February 24, 1998

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