ISSN #1088-8136

Vol. 7, No. 3
Winter 2001-2002


East Timor Elects Assembly

Ashes to Ashes: Reflections on Terror

ETAN to Kissinger

ETAN Marks Anniversaries

September 11 Aftermath Brings Shifts

Lobby Days 2001 Yields Info, Action

Phillips Petroleum & Canberra Play an Old Game

ETAN Tour Spotlights Refugee Crisis

President Megawati: Bad News for Timor

Court Issues $66 Million Judgment Against Indonesian General

A Letter from Dili

About East Timor and the East Timor Action Network

Estafeta Winter 2001-2002

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ETAN Home Page



President Megawati: 
Bad News for East Timor

by Anton Sitepu

In the superb documentary film Scenes from an Occupation, Megawati Sukarnoputri appears at a rally in Dili, East Timor three weeks before the referendum of August 1999. She wears an East Timorese cloth over her shoulders as she stands stiffly before the lectern and implores the crowd to vote in favor of “autonomy” and remain within Indonesia: “If you vote for independence, you will no longer be able to call me Mother.” Given that she had never shown any concern for the East Timorese before and that she was supporting the army’s ultra-masculine occupation of their land, this was a particularly grotesque manipulation of the matronly image.

Some of her “children” in the assembled crowd — the militia leaders touted by their army handlers as noble sons of the soil — had only recently committed massacres of defenseless women and children. But that was none of her concern. Nor was it her concern that her most devoted “son,” the Butcher of Dili, Eurico Guterres, was up in the bleachers cursing under his breath (but still loud enough for the camera to record) the rent-a-crowd he had paid to greet her with loud cheers: “They yell ‘autonomy, autonomy’ now but when it comes time to vote they’ll vote for independence.” This was no concern to Megawati since she was lost in a fantasy world, where she was, by no labor of her own, a Mother figure for the poor child-like wretches of East Timor who only desired independence out of the sheer stupidity of their malnourished brains. A nice motherly touch and voila, the pathetic simpletons will swoon in rapture for Indonesia.

As the official Indonesian story line goes, these patriotic militiamen, or militiachildren in Megawati’s imagination, threw a rather nasty temper tantrum once they badly lost the referendum game. Megawati has been the forgiving mother to the militias and understanding sister to their patrons, the army generals; she has neither condemned their scorched earth operation of September 1999 nor called for any of them to stand trial. Her predecessor, Abdurrahman Wahid, went to East Timor after four months in office and laid a wreath at Santa Cruz cemetery in honor of the victims of the 1991 massacre there. With Megawati, one has no sense that she realizes yet that any atrocities were committed in East Timor, or that she even cares. Despite repeated displays of her lachrymose disposition, she has not been moved to tears by the mass killings of East Timorese.

Megawati was recently able to muster a statement recognizing that East Timor was indeed an independent state, and not the property of Indonesia, as asserted by Eurico, who has been appointed the head of her party’s militaristic youth wing. And she slightly amended a presidential decree on the ad-hoc human rights court to allow for trials on the Liquisa and Dili massacres of April 1999. But these acts only reflect her sensitivity to international pressure, not to a principled position on East Timor’s right to self-determination or a suspicion that the military and its militias were culpable for serious human rights violations.

All observers have noted that Megawati, whatever genetic proof can be adduced, does not seem to be the daughter of Sukarno, the leader of Indonesia’s nationalist movement and the state’s first president. What they have missed is the fact that she does take after her mother, Fatmawati. Her limited mental faculties and princess fantasies derive from longstanding feudal traditions among the Indonesian elite. While her father fought against many of those traditions, he tolerated them in his wives and mistresses since he, especially in the early 1960s, started playing the role of the sultan among his harem.

One historian of Asia, John Roosa, was quoted in the press as calling Megawati a “mannequin.” This is true to some extent. She has never shown a strong will of her own, from the moment she joined a political party to loyally serve Suharto’s fake parliament in 1987, to the moment she became president. During the night of July 22, 2001, when parliamentarians were feverishly scheming for their vote the following day to dismiss President Wahid, and Wahid was insanely plotting to dismiss parliament, and the entire country was worried about a military coup, Megawati went to a movie theater to watch Hollywood’s latest animated feature, Shrek. Obviously, she is not the one calling the shots in these political games.

The “mannequin” label, however, does not do her justice, for she does have a will. She has chosen which politicians and generals may use her motherly image and Sukarno name. The people she has chosen are among the most unscrupulous, greedy, vicious, and anti-democratic elements in Indonesia. And one of them is her husband. Although the so-called “pro-democracy” (really just anti-Suharto) movement took her as its icon from 1996 to 1999, she remained entirely aloof from the movement and actually seemed quite scared of it. In her cowardice and silence, she proved to be the exact opposite of Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

In an appalling display of inhumanity, she never deigned to help the victims of Suharto’s attack on her own party headquarters on July 27, 1996. The decisive event that made the public think of her as an opposition figure and victim was for her an unpleasant episode best forgotten. The fifth anniversary of the attack fell only four days after her inauguration as president. What did she do? Without a word of consolation for the victims or promise for justice, she left Jakarta to cut ribbons for the opening of a massive hydro-electrical project in Sulawesi. She let it be known that her ideological father is Suharto: smile, shake hands, open projects, say little, obey foreign capital, don’t talk with ordinary people, and rely on military action to deal with any problems.

In appointing her cabinet ministers, Megawati did her best to restore Suharto’s New Order. Her cabinet has been praised for being full of “professionals” rather than political party leaders. But these professionals attained their seniority in the bureaucracy through loyal service to Suharto. Such appointments include the Attorney General, M.A. Rachman. He is going to ensure that no one is seriously prosecuted for the war crimes in East Timor.

One of the overlooked appointments —but really the most telling — was that for the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment. Under Wahid, the minister was outspoken, articulate, hard-working, and very supportive of women’s rights. Megawati appointed a woman who has been a leader of the Suharto-era state women’s organization (Dharma Wanita) that only instructed women how to be good housewives.

With Megawati’s cabinet abjectly faithful to implementing the IMF-imposed economic austerity programs and allowing the military to do what it wills, Indonesians are being returned to the Suharto era, when they were subjects, not citizens. Megawati is simply the queenly figure presiding over this restoration of the old sultan’s men. She knows her ceremonial role in all this. With great fanfare, she staged an encore performance of her 1999 East Timor speech in Aceh. Under tight security, she visited the capital city, Banda Aceh, in the hopes of bringing them back into the national fold. She apologized to the Acehnese for the past “mistakes” and “shortcomings” of the Indonesian government. When her prepared speech was disrupted, she condescendingly told the crowd that they were not being polite. Thus, they learned that calling for thousands of summary executions and gruesome “mistakes” is the height of etiquette but speaking out of turn is très gauche.

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