This is an excerpt from a contribution I sent to 
several mailing lists on Sun, 18 May 1998:

This was mounted on the Web on Tue, 20 May 1998
From The Sunday Times
== May 17 1998 ==

"....... An even more Machiavellian theory holds that Suharto's loyalists were not unhappy to see a social convulsion that would let them back away from the IMF austerity plan."

What a coincidence!
On Friday May 15 shortly after 6 PM Middle European Summer Time, I volunteered exactly this theory to a former German colleague who dropped in on a short visit, and just two hours later I repeated the same in a telephone conversation with someone in the Netherlands. How interesting to read this in the Sunday Times. (Don't worry, I know I'm a bit paranoic, but I'm not THAT paranoic as to think I'm the mysterius Machiavellist....)

Actually, the "sudden" rioting in Jakarta, looting and burning particularly Chinese owned stores, and the army's convenient sudden disappearance although otherwise usually omnipresent.... somehow this all smacked too much of the familiar routine of the "Old Man" and his tricks: mysterius Petrus killings, burning churches, anti-Chinese lootings, mysterius disappearances......

Anyway, if there's any truth in this "Machiavellist" conjecture, then things may be expected to calm down, and there would not be serious cause to evacuate. Apart from the lowering of fuel and other prices, which will have a calming effect, there are no bad feelings against foreigners (I don't regard Indonesian Chinese as foreigners, but even for them, the situation will probably calm down; only that knowing Soeharto, nothing would surprise me anymore, so I don't dare vouch for that). On the contrary. Indonesians generally like foreigners, and all the political factions are anxious to remain in the good books of whatever countries they might be wanting to address pleas for aid to afterwards.

Apart from that, the reform initiative is at last gathering all significant elements of the political class together, and Soeharto will have little choice other than to come down to negotiations for a transition of power. Both sides will be interested that this happens under peaceful conditions, and the third side, the people, would be most of all interested in that. So instead of flying people out, it's better to concentrate the stragglers in some centers (e.g. hotels etc.) and fly in emergency supplies (e.g. baby food, medicines etc.). Costs less, causes less stress for all involved, and will leave vital personel on the spot where they'll be immediately needed when life goes on again. (It's also a relief for the poor blokes who have to stay put till the last).

Up to now, Soeharto has been following a strategy of playing poker with regard to the outside (Westerners are firstly "soft", and secondly divided, they're bound to get squeamish first and if not the one then the other will let you have your way), and in general to follow a line of least concessions. So now too he's hoping to get away with some semi-reform that leaves him in control, or letting rumours of General Wiranto as possible successor and other similar things divide the opposition. But the realization will quickly reach all those whom it hasn't reached yet, that now, only a clean cut will do. Half-way solutions will only lengthen the agony.

More and more people in the army are understanding that too much army in politics is bad for politics AND bad for the army. I understand that General Wiranto is among these. The army necessarily has an authoritarian hierarchy, which does not blend well with democratic strucutures of civil government. On the other hand, politics corrupts the army, and brings it into conflict with significant parts of the population. Both circumstances seriously diminish its fighting quality.

The best choice for next president still is Megawati Sukarnoputri. The spectrum of the population that can identify itself with her as president is by far the largest, compared with that of other likely candidates. It includes Muslims as well as Christians, and even Hindus (at least, her paternal grandmother was of Balinese nobility). Although of Javanese descent, she embodies a much more Pan-Indonesian tradition than the very conservative traditionalist interior-Central-Javanese one that Soeharto (mis)represents. She is not associated with any noticeable authoritarian ambitions or tendencies.

But above all, she presents a mother-of-the-nation figure, which in itself already encourages political differences to seek solutions through peaceful channels, and would directly address matriarchal traditions inherrent in the culture of greater parts of the population. On one hand, a gentlemanly "ladies first" would avoid the consequence of either Amien Rais, or Emil Salim, or General Wiranto or anyone else being "the loser" as would seem if one of them became President. On the other hand, Megawati can be expected to be wanting to complement own political experience through substantial consultation and cooperation with the other prominent reformist personalities, so that these will not feel deprived of adequate opportunity to politically prolify or to excercise influence.

Last but not least, everybody knows, that when a lady sits at the head of the table, men automatically start to behave themselves in a civil and cultivated manner. Lootings notwithstanding, Indonesians are generally a very cultivated nation, and our worst insult is "kurang ajar", which means "[you] lack upbringing".

I invite all to join me in the conviction, that beside their patriotic feelings of duty, our leaders also enjoyed sufficient thorough upbringing.

Salam hangat to all, Waruno


© Waruno Mahdi, 1998.

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