Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pemilu 1955

(From TIME Magazine)


In its six years of independence since 1949, the Republic of Indonesia has seldom had a good word to say about the U.S. This is the more remarkable since the U.S. is largely responsible for the existence of the republic, having helped liberate Indonesia from the Japanese in World War II and encouraged its break from Dutch colonial rule. The young republic has traveled an increasingly extreme course: fiercely independent, determinedly neutralist and finally—in the reign of Premier Ali-Sastroamidjojo—openly hostile to the U.S. and friendly to Red China. The Sastroamidjojo regime, rotted from within by corruption and Communists, collapsed last month.

Last week Indonesia's new, young (38) Premier sang a different and more refreshing tune. Burhanuddin Harahap, who leads Indonesia's largest party, Masjumi, is heading a caretaker government until his country's first general election this fall.

"I like the people of the United States," Premier Harahap told New York Times Correspondent Robert Alden. "I am thankful for the help that they gave us toward winning our independence in the past. I will be thankful for any help they will be willing to give us in the future."


For months the betting was evenly divided among foreigners in Djakarta that Indonesia's long-postponed first national election would be postponed still longer. For even an experienced government the problem might have seemed overpowering: to register an honest vote for more than 1,000 candidates, representing 172 parties, by 43 million voters who are more than 50% illiterate and speak some 200 different dialects, at 93,000 polling places in a country that is 3,000 miles long and cut up into 3,000 islands. For the young, inexperienced Indonesian Republic, beset with a desperate economic crisis, five concurrent armed rebellions and a government only one month in office, the task might have seemed impossible.

But with the dedication and determination of people who had fought long and bitterly for the right to govern their own affairs, the Indonesians persisted. This week, from the crowded streets of Djakarta to the head-hunting regions of Borneo, Indonesians get their chance to elect their leaders.

To set up the elections, officials of the Masjumi Party government of Burhanuddin Harahap used a fleet of 100 yachts and fishing boats, air-force planes, army trucks, oxcarts and 3,500 bicycles to transport ballots. They distributed millions of leaflets, showing the different par ty symbols and explaining to the elector ate the simple mechanics of voting —punching a hole through the symbol of one's choice. Electoral officers plodded through the jungles to advertise the election with cartoon movies and singing pup pet shows. Sample song: "Let's all go there, brother, brother. Let's all go vote ... to be respected and defend the national state."

At stake were 260 seats in a parliament that will govern Indonesia at least until year's end, when a constitutional assembly will be elected to write a permanent constitution for the republic. At issue was whether Indonesia reverts to the neurotic, fuzzily pro-Communist path of the Nationalist government, which fell in July, or chooses to stay on the anti-Communist course of the present Masjumi regime, or so splinters its vote that only vague government-by-coalition is possible.

In last week's campaign windup at a Communist strong hold near Djakarta, a pretty 24-year-old girl intensely pleaded the Masjumi line: "The Communists stabbed us in the back. The welfare of our people depends on Allah, not on Malenkov or Mao Tse-tung." A crowd of 2,000 barefooted workers and women listened impassively cheered lustily. But a larger crowd a mile away cheered, too, when a Communist speaker harangued against "Dutch imperialism," and accused the Masjumi of selling out Indonesia to the U.S. In a remote Sumatran village a Nationalist screamed: "Politically you are free, economically you are not. Everything is still Dutch. You are guests in your own home."


At dawn one day last week, the people of the kampung (village) of Tjidjantung began assembling in impassive silence to vote in Indonesia's first national election. Like some 43 million others across the island republic, Tjidjantung's 658 voters were mostly illiterate, indifferent to the issues, but they were plainly conscious of a momentous event.

Nimbly crossing a stream on a log worn smooth by countless bare feet, a mass of moving color in their freshly laundered sarongs, they gathered before the thatched home of the village lurah (leader) to hear an election official explain the proceedings. At least half of them were women, often with naked, suckling babies. "Vote freely," said the official. "Whoever buys or sells votes will be prosecuted ... Do you understand?" The crowd murmured, "Yes, yes."

Next, while the voters pressed close to the porch rail to watch, the official ceremoniously counted the blank ballots. Then he picked up the varnished wooden ballot box, held it aloft like a magician doing a trick. "Is it empty?" he asked. "Empty, empty," came the chorused reply. "There is no cheating?" "No cheating," chanted the voters, "no cheating." Sharp at 8 a.m., the official called the name of the first voter, a wizened, crippled man of 95. He limped to the palm-leaf voting booth, spread the ballot over a sandbag, hesitated for several minutes, then carefully punched a nail through the symbol of his chosen party.

As the voting dragged on, a blistering sun turned the kampong into a steam bath, but nobody left. Even after the polls closed, the wilted voters waited to watch the counting by kerosene lamp. This was typical of polling places everywhere—intense, inarticulate interest, no disorders of any sort.

Conclusive results were not likely for several days. But at week's end, with about a third of the vote counted, it looked as though President Soekarno's anti-Western Nationalist Party, which generated the revolution against the Dutch and then led the nation into a perilous era of economic chaos and collaboration with the Communists, had retained a major voice in Indonesia's affairs.

The Nationalists were well ahead of the anti-Communist Masjumi Party, which had been favored to win, and the Communists were pressing the Masjumi for second place.


At a post-election diplomatic reception in Djakarta last week, a Western newsman remarked to Nationalist Party Leader Ali Sastroamidjojo: "I reckon you are pleased with the way things have turned out." Retorted the ex-Premier with a smile: "I reckon you're not." That day's returns showed the Nationalists leading in Indonesia's first elections. The Communists, their supporters in power until a new regime took over last August and showed refreshing friendliness to the Western democracies, were running a strong third.

As the first ballots were counted, it looked as though the Nationalists and Communists together were going to capture a majority of Congress' 260 seats and return Indonesia to an antiWestern, Red-tinged course.

But as time passed, returns from outlying islands changed the picture. With about 27 million of an estimated 30 million votes counted at week's end, the totals—all highly unofficial—still put the Nationalists on top with 8,001,750 votes. But the Communists were in fourth place, while the strictly anti-Communist Muslim parties, the Masjumi and the Nahdatul Ulama (Muslim Teachers), had enough between them to suggest a slight majority for Indonesia's anti-Communist parties. Sastroamidjojo still seemed likely to win the premiership, but the anti-Communist bloc had a good chance of playing a role in his Cabinet and his policies.


After six years of provisional government, the Republic of Indonesia (pop. 80 million) got around to holding a general election last September. Five months later the ballots, from jungle villages and distant islands, were counted. Of the 172 parties contending for the 260 seats in the new Parliament, two finished in a dead heat: the Nationalists and Masjumi Parties, each with 57 seats. In fourth place, with a surprising 39 seats, were the Communists.

A coalition would be necessary, and President Soekarno assigned his old friend and protege, Ali Sastroamidjojo, to form it. Soekarno likes to say that "if the people are green, the government should also be green. If the people are red, the administration should also be red." Until the army broke up his opportunistic regime last July, Sastroamidjojo had handed over nearly a third of the top government posts to Communists or Communist sympathizers. But this time Sastroamidjojo showed no disposition to repeat his mistake. Ignoring the Communists completely, he formed a Cabinet largely drawn from the Nationalists, Masjumi and Muslim Teachers Parties.

Last week, anxious to keep his own position maneuverable, wily President Soekarno intervened four times in an effort to include a Communist or Communist-approved minister in the Cabinet. Each time, he ran into a solid wall of opposition from the Muslim parties. Finally he gave in, approved the Cabinet without change and without Communists. "In the past we've been on one bank of a river characterized by poverty, corruption and political instability," he told the new Cabinet. "Now we have changed our government and are crossing to the other bank, which we hope will mean economic prosperity and political stability."


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