It was one of those occasions when you can’t help thinking
you could easily get killed. It was a holiday weekend, we’d checked in at a
hotel at Ancol and the kids were keen to see the dolphins do their tricks at
It seemed as if half of Jakarta had woken up with the same
idea. We were in time for the midday show but found ourselves parked in the
burning sun waiting for the previous show to end so we could move into the
Finally, the audience from the earlier show disgorged
through the gates, and slowly the line in front started to enter.
Only it was
no longer a line: from the sides young men started to push. I envisaged being
crushed to death.
Instead of submitting to the tide of humanity, I played the
senior bapak. Stop pushing and wait
patiently, this is how people get killed, I intoned in my best colloquial
Perhaps surprised that the bule could speak their language, or responding to someone
who decided to exercise authority, the pushing kids calmed down and relaxed the
pressure. We entered, sat and watched the dolphins do their thing.
On the streets
of the capital, there is an increasing trend for motorbike riders to ignore
traffic lights and race across intersections in defiance of the rules. Unless
there is a figure of authority there, in this case in the form of a policeman, it
now appears that rules are meant to be broken.
Once again, this is the way that
accidents happen and happen they do, with alarming frequency.
Sulawesi on May 18, Governor Adnan Saleh and his retainers were held hostage at
his home by thousands of supporters of Mamasa regent Obed Nego Depparinding.
The protestors demanded the governor allow the regent to resume his position
despite a conviction for graft.
protestors, many armed with bladed weapons, blocked access to the home,
preventing the governor from leaving. A brief scuffle broke out between the
protesters and hundreds of police officers and soldiers guarding the home, with
the governor eventually managing to send the crowd home after a tense three
hours by holding talks with representatives of the protestors.
Then in July came the
stand-off at the Umar Bin Khattab religious school in West Nusa
Tenggara’s Bima regency. For more than 24 hours students at the school held off
the police, refusing to allow them into the compound following a bomb blast
that had killed the school’s treasurer. When police finally were able to search
the compound, most of the students had vanished into the mist, but a number of
disassembled bombs were found.
The stand-off was the most
serious case of insurrection seen in Indonesia for many years, representing nothing
less than open revolt against the authority of the government. In the
Suharto era, such defiance would have been met with the immediate intervention
of the Army, most likely with many deaths. In 1989, for example, some 200
people died when a unit of the Garuda Hitam regiment attacked a community of
Muslim hard-liners at Talangsari in Lampung province.
It is a mark of how far
Indonesia has come in protecting human rights in Indonesia that police were
prepared to wait out the students and resolve the case without the loss of any
life apart from the presumed bomb-maker. Yet in protecting human rights, the
authorities were forced to tolerate rebellion and allow a substantial number of
radicals to escape to continue their campaign against the state.
State of anarchy
On a national basis, there appears to be an increasing state
of anarchy in which people will do whatever they can get away with as long as
no-one is watching. Even the
presence of authority, as in the West Sulawesi and West Nusa Tenggara cases,
appears inadequate to ensure that people will follow the rules.
What has caused this situation? It has to be presumed that
governments at every level of the national administration have to take the
Regulations are issued, but never implemented. Corruption is rife, and
at the highest levels, as the Nazaruddin case has demonstrated.
It is possible to cheat the system and therefore people do
so. When they are successful in thumbing their noses at the law, the law
Licenses for everything from driving a car or motorcycle to
digging up the country are bought and sold.
The system itself has become
totally corrupted and, in a current new description of the state of affairs in
the country, the government is simply “not present” in the daily lives of most
Indonesians. The rule of the jungle returns, allowing the strongest to reap the
most advantage, the weakest to struggle through the hell of daily existence as
best they can.
In a country where tax can be avoided,
people avoid it, further reducing the role of government as people with money
use their cash to buy personal comforts, and those without it do without.
Increasing the tax base and improving tax collection remain
unfinished business, without which Indonesia can never hope to achieve the
Millennium Development Goals and all that they mean for the creation of a
In pressing the need for discipline in society, I surprise
myself. As a long-time libertarian, a believer in a minimum of constraints on
the person, I have to conclude that the reality is that such freedoms can only exist
when individuals display a sense of responsibility toward each other and
society as a whole.
And, in choosing to play the bapak at Ancol – rather than get crushed underfoot – I was
unconsciously reverting to the authority vs. the rest game that worked so well
for 30 years of the 32-year-rule of Indonesia’s pre-eminent bapak, the man called Suharto.
The task before the Indonesian government, and Indonesian
society as a whole, is how to turn the current situation around and restore a
sense of responsibility and discipline in the national psyche.
This will not be
easy since once allowed to run wild, people – just like any other animal – will
resist being constrained.
Perhaps the essential factor in pushing for change is, once
again, better education. Yet where educators are found to have encouraged their
students to cheat in the national examinations, and where schools can blithely
announce that 100% of their students passed – a ridiculous claim – it becomes
obvious that here too corruption has eroded all moral substance.
Change, then, perhaps has to be taught by example. Political
parties, not least the Democrats, must act to stamp out what now appears to be
the widespread practice of wheeling and dealing with government projects. Tight
supervision needs to be imposed on all government departments and every
Only when the nation is led by people of discipline can it
be expected that its people will exercise some discipline themselves. If they
cannot, the only solution may be the return one day of a bapak who will set the house in order with the same force
used by Suharto.
Another alternative, to do nothing, will result in a gradual
descent into the total polarization of the oligarchy of the powerful and the
rest of the country, able only to fight for the handful of the crumbs that drop
from the tables of the rich.
The rich will go everywhere defended by men with guns, while
the poor will tear each other apart.