Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Megawati; Plots

It was near the end of July 1996 and, while I was in my bedroom doing my packing for my holiday trip to Britain, I was listening to the world service of the BBC.

To my alarm, the news was about rioting in Jakarta.

It seems that, early in the morning, the party headquarters of Megawati had been attacked by men claiming to be supporters of her rival Soerjadi. After a two hour clash, the police had moved in and Megawati’s people had been ejected.

Scores of people had been taken to hospital with serious wounds and scores of Megawati’s supporters had been arrested.

During the afternoon stones had been thrown at the military and rioting had taken place in more than one part of central Jakarta. I switched on the television to watch the evening news and saw scenes of smoke rising from burning vehicles and buildings.

Then the phone rang. It was Fergus wondering if I had seen the TV news.

"Nothing to worry about," said Fergus, in his usual calm voice. "The authorities seem to have got things under control."

"Is it going to be safe if I go into town tomorrow?" I tried not to make my voice go too high.

"This trouble is only in one very small part of Jakarta," said Fergus. "There have been troubles before. Suharto will stamp on it hard. I’ve been out to the shops and it’s all perfectly calm. And now I’m off to play squash."

The day before my holiday trip to Britain I met Carmen for a coffee at cafe in Kemang in South Jakarta. It was one of those American franchises with bright coloured plastic tables and uncomfortable seats.

"What’s in your Telegraph?" asked Carmen.

"It’s an old Telegraph. There’s a story about some women in Britain raiding an airfield where Hawk fighters were based. It seems the Hawk is used in East Timor. The rumour is that the Indonesians often get aid on condition they buy British-made water cannons or jets."

"I remember a Labour government in 1969 selling weapons to Nigeria," said Carmen with her habitual chuckle, "and not seeming to worry too much about the Biafrans."

"There’s not been much in the British papers about the take over of Megawati’s HQ," I commented. "Fergus seems to think the recent riots are nothing to worry about."

"I’m not so sure," said Carmen. "My driver said that thousands of people poured out of the slums and that a number of people were killed. Worst riots since 1974."

"What happened in 1974?"

"Ah," said Carmen, almost convulsed with excitement, "the ’74 riots were started by undercover intelligence agents."

"You’re a conspiracy theorist?"

"The Guy Fawkes plot," said Carmen, "was probably the work of King James’s spy master. He set up the plot so he could clamp down on Catholics and increase his own power."

"So, in 1974, was it President Suharto who was behind the riots?"

"Not necessarily," said Carmen. "King James didn’t know what his spy master was up to. Now, in 1974, one of the chiefs of one of the spy agencies may have been looking for an excuse to clamp down on student dissidents, and may have been looking for a way to increase his own power."

"You’re suggesting that Suharto may not always be in control of his own spy agencies."

"Exactly," said Carmen with a giggle. "President Kennedy obviously didn’t foresee that part of his intelligence apparatus was plotting against him."

"So, these recent riots, are the work of some hidden force?"

"Suharto benefits from the removal of Megawati, because Megawati is very popular. But the riots don’t help Suharto."

"Don’t the riots allow the government to clamp down on students and people like the Democratic People’s Party?"

"Yes," said Carmen, "but the riots make Suharto look weak. They may be part of a long-term plan to topple the president."

"Any other scandal, rumour and gossip to cheer me up?"

"Yes," said Carmen. "My driver said he had heard a rumour that Suharto’s wife did not die from natural causes. She was allegedly accidentally shot during an argument between her sons Tommy and Bambang."

"Any details? Any proof?"

"None. But listen to this. You’ve heard of Eddy Tansil?"

"Eddy Tansil," I said. "Chinese-Indonesian businessman, given a twenty year jail sentence about two years ago. He was said to have bribed people at one of the state banks. The bank gave him a loan to build a factory. The money was misspent. He supposedly stole about five hundred million US dollars."

"And, as you know," said Carmen, "he escaped from Cipinang jail a few months ago. Well, the rumour is that, to pay for his escape, he bribed the late president’s wife and bribed Liem Sioe Liong, also known as Salim. You know Salim?"

"Salim is the rich Chinese business partner of Suharto. He’s into everything from noodles and cement to textiles and electronics."

"Right. One of the six richest people in the world."

"So, does Salim own Indonesia?"

"No," said Carmen, as she finished her coffee. "It’s not just Salim. There are the other ultra-rich Chinese-Indonesians, such as Prajogo, Pangestu and Widjaja."

"You’re forgetting certain non-Chinese Indonesians, certain pribumi."

"I’d forgotten," said Carmen with her usual laugh. "The President’s family. And his friends like Habibie."

"And you’re forgetting the Americans. Freeport and all those other American companies."

"Yes," said Carmen, "but the point is that certain people in the army are not too happy about the wealth of certain Chinese and certain members of the Suharto clan."

Before heading for the airport and my brief holiday in England, I made sure that I called in on Min. Was it going to be safe to drive deep into the city? The streets seemed quieter than usual; but there were no signs of the military or of damaged property.

Min’s kampung appeared no different from usual; goats wandered peacefully, schoolchildren smiled happily and workmen hammered away as usual at bits of car and bike in little repair shops. Min was looking well and his mum seemed unconcerned by the political situation.

"We don’t have time to worry about these things," she said. "We just get on with our work."

As I left for the airport I was thinking about physicist Alain Aspect’s discovery that particles, thousands of miles apart, could apparently communicate with each other. Would I be able to communicate telepathically with Min while I was in England? I would never know. Min’s vocabulary was so limited that he would not be able to tell me what had gone through his mind while I was away.


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