Suharto’s removal needs backup plan

Students all across Indonesia are protesting President Suharto’s regime with the lead of students from the Institute of Technology of Bandung. The rallying continues this week despite the police killing of six student demonstrators from Trisakti University. The force used by Suharto is a desperate attempt to remain in power, while the rest of the country demands his removal. It is good that the Indonesian people are protesting for a democracy. But even if they manage to remove Suharto, the question of who and what will replace him remains. Like the plight of most demonstrations, having a realistic contingency plan is still ahead.
As a result of the International Monetary Fund’s financial restructuring plan in response to Asia’s economic crisis, increased prices and unemployment required Indonesia to balance itself economically as well as politically. In the last few months, Indonesia’s 20 million unemployed people more than doubled. The country’s economic and political distress combined to spark the three-month old student protests. The current uprising by Indonesian students marks the beginning of the end for Suharto, a fate long overdue. Suharto’s regime dates back to 1965-66 when his military coup massacred more than a million workers and peasants. The political search has been for a president that will justly represent workers, while preventing a kind of government that has historically represented private profit.
Even if Suharto is ousted, the problems of Indonesia’s dictatorship will remain. Banks and big businesses will likely continue to dictate economic and political policy. The next Indonesian president is likely to be Joseph Estrada. Although Estrada’s political ticket is backed by wealth, his platform is not. The living standards of Indonesians will continue to decline amid the economic crisis. The Indonesian people will most likely find themselves surviving under a ruling elite that will fail to adequately represent them politically. Students calling for a unification with workers and the poor worldwide is a start, but terribly idealistic. It remains to be seen just exactly how protesters intend to accomplish this goal.
One of Suharto’s chief spokesmen, Amien Rais, is trying to stop further demonstrations in Jakarta and other cities. Surprisingly, he also announced plans to mobilize enough support to force Suharto out of office. But removing Suharto will not represent a victory for democratic reform if another Suharto-type is scheduled to take his place. International banks, an imperialist government and other local ruling groups pose a greater threat to democracy than one unpopular dictator. History is filled with lost political revolutions as witnessed throughout Asia, Africa, India and even Russia.
The rallies at Bandung and other college campuses help open a dialog for democracy, but the students need power in numbers. More aggressively seeking support of the IMF and the United Nations, as well a democratic-based United States, is necessary if Indonesia is to come out of this latest upheaval with any positive results. Replacing a stratified class society with a more egalitarian one is unlikely to happen without a combined world effort.