02 October 2017


As we reminisced on experiences of September 30, 1965, my friend of 56 years opened his remarks by an observation which resolved many questions. Who set off the drama? Who was to blame for the rural massacre? Was General Suharto the solution or the problem? Why are some people raising the PKI as a current issue? His perspective cut through the noise that has enveloped social media. Here is what I learned.

  • In 1965 President Sukarno was seriously ill. The news leaked through the severely controlled media. Now this could be suspected as fake news. Anyway, a team of doctors from the People’s Republic of China has examined the President and given a grim prognosis, This made a lot of people nervous because should something happen, nobody knows who will be president of Indonesia. Sukarno has been made President for Life by the MPRS. There is no mechanism for succession. So people with bad and good intentions made every effort to secure a place. There is nothing like a vacuum of power to start a power struggle, in which there is no arbiter to judge the contestants. Whatever the methods used, politics will decide the winner.

Many wanted to be sure their side would win, and some just wanted to be sure the other side would not win. As there were only two forces who could claim a serious chance of winning, the other forces had to take sides. The choice boiled down to the Army and the PKI, who were in a standoff with President Sukarno playing balance of power. People could not be sure on which side the President was, so everybody kept claiming that they were loyal to Sukarno, calling him the Great Leader of the Revolution even as he lost power

In the end the Army won out, and the PKI were decimated. We will never know what the PKI would have done were they to emerge as the victors of the power struggle. It is obvious what the Army did after they won. What is less clear is whether everything was part of the original plan, and how much is runaway excess. Suharto skillfully juxtaposed ambition with development management and got away with everything.

There are people like BJ, Habibie who say he is not interested in looking at the past, his business being the present and the future. Although that may sound extreme, it is reflected in the attitudes of the multitude who are preoccupied by present-day concerns. September 30 is done, and it cannot be undone. That is true, but the Night of the Generals could have a sequel. There are people who try to encourage that thinking by making an issue of the danger of the PKI. Although the PKI is not only dead but Communism is no longer practiced even by the nations that depended on the idea, there are those in Indonesia who try to revive the PKI as a common enemy. We have seen crowds who fill the streets without understanding what the cause was. Gullible masses are driven by ruthless manipulators of symbols. This formula worked as a political strategy in the DKI gubernatorial campaign. and now they are going for a larger political objective: the Indonesian Presidency. They are fantasizing a repeat of September 30, not recognising the major difference between 1965 and 2017.

Back then there was no succession plan for the presidency, Now it is clearly laid out in the laws and the electoral mechanism. We will have  the presidential election in 2019. Sukarno was ill and spent all of his time on politics. Jokowi is in good health and working on development.

The real questions are not the ones stated in the beginning of this article. There is just one big question now. What do we face in the next two years? Why are some people anxious to create chaos and tension when things are just fine? There are two main groups: provocateurs who exploit ignorance by using emotional symbols, and ambitious politicians who need unrest to build power. Without unrest, they cannot maneuver. Without provocation there is no unrest. The tools of provocation are familiar: fake news, hate mongering, identity politics. Then there are the corruptors who would pay anything for a diversion to escape from the process of law.

Anyone is free to run for President in 2019. The problem is that some cannot wait that long, and they would lose even if they did. The longer President Jokowi governs, the more people support him. Opportunists strike while the iron is hot. So an unholy alliance is built between the mass manipulators and the ambitious politicians. Both are losers unless they create disruption.

Fifty-two years later, will there be a sequel to September 30, 1965? Probably not. But to prevent losing our peace we must fight ignorance and empower positive values. It is necessary to vaccinate the good people of our land against infection by hate campaigns.

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