Indonesian Students Adopt Sit-In Tactics
By Cindy Shiner
The likeness, fitted with a big yellow tie and black jacket, was designed to ridicule the president -- something that used to be a treasonable offense. A dollar bill was pasted across its eyes and a coin wedged into its mouth. This, the students had written above its head, was their "Material President."
Suharto announced early Tuesday, without specifying a timetable, that he would step down after new legislative elections, but the students, who have been demonstrating on campuses across the country for the past three months, were not satisfied. Their mistrust of the 76-year-old leader they accuse of corruption, collusion and nepotism runs so deep that they have vowed they will not stop demonstrating or abandon their occupation of the parliament building, until he leaves office.
"For us, all of the students want to change the president because from childhood until now we just know one president," said a student from Jakarta's Islamic University. "We want another president or another leader because all Indonesians want reformation and a better life from today."
The students began their takeover of the building Monday after the parliament speaker, a close associate of Suharto's, backed their calls for the president to give up power. By Tuesday night, they had been joined by several thousand more, and as of this morning more than 15,000 had gathered in the building or on the sprawling grounds surrounding it. For the most part, the atmosphere was one of gaiety and of confidence their cause would prevail. They beat out rhythms on trash cans and with empty plastic water bottles on tile floors. Others climbed atop the building's green roof and unfurled banners calling for Suharto to step down.
"The students need to be united," cried one protester over a bullhorn Tuesday night. "If we only have one sweeper, we can't clean up this place. But if we work together we can clean up all the corruption and collusion in this building."
As midnight approached, several hundred student sang "We Shall Overcome," in English, under the stars. Inside, they sat cross-legged in groups in the hallways, playing guitars, smoking cigarettes and talking politics. Others curled up on pieces of cardboard on the floor, on desks or in chairs and pulled baseball caps down over their eyes to get some sleep.
Tens of thousands of students from around the country had been planning to march through Jakarta today to demand that Suharto relinquish power immediately, a protest march meant to coincide with the 90th anniversary of the birth of the struggle against Dutch colonial rule.
This morning, that march was postponed as police barricaded streets along the proposed route it was to take to the National Monument outside the presidential palace in central Jakarta. Student leaders say they are wary of another confrontation with the military; a large street protest last week prompted a crackdown by security forces that left six students dead. That triggered massive rioting across the capital that claimed the lives of 500 people, most of whom died in fires set by looters. They remember, too, the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing nine years ago, in which hundreds of student democracy advocates were slain by by Chinese troops.
The students here also fear that elements linked to the Indonesian military could infiltrate their ranks at the parliament building and stir up trouble, thus prompting a crackdown designed to demonstrate that the military is needed to maintain stability.
At one point Tuesday, about 200 young members of the paramilitary Pancasilla Youth movement showed up at parliament, wearing their trademark orange and black camouflage outfits with knives or sticks wedged in their belts. They announced that they support reform but rejected calls for Suharto to step down. The students booed them off the grounds and shouted profanities at them as they left.
Later that night, several dozen students gathered in a circle inside the building to discuss how to deal with potential troublemakers. They drew contingency plans on scraps of paper, and students submitted their names to volunteer as guards. for the moment, though, it appeared that the biggest obstacles to protesters or provocateurs seeking to enter the parliament grounds were the dozens of food and drink carts that had been set up outside.
Despite calls from some religious leaders and the government for the students to restrain their protests, the demonstrators and some of their supporters said they are not ready to go back to their campuses because they have not yet achieved their goals.
"We believe that we have to follow through with the students," said Hendardi, of the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association. "Since the very beginning, it is the students who have led this reform movement in Indonesia. The students have the historical right to decide whether the reform movement has reached its objective or not."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company