NEW ARTICLE: Indonesia: trade unions and the regeneration of radical politics – by Max Lane

A major thesis of Unfinished Nation[1](written between 2007 and 2008), was that the fall of Suharto was not the simple product of objective conditions, such as the 1997 Asian economic crisis, nor of some kind of automatic rot from within the regime due to corrupt “sultanisation”, contradictions within an oligarchy or similar phenomena.[2] The crucial factor in the process was the emergence of a political vanguard that set out to re-popularise mass action and succeeded in setting in motion a wide protest movement based on it. This movement rapidly undermined the legitimacy of the dictatorship while at the same time “mainstreaming” a new pro-democratic political agenda beyond that of “simply” ending the dictatorship: “End the dual function of the military” and “Repeal all repressive political laws.” This agenda added to the general sentiment against corruption: demanding an end to nepotism, corruption and collusion, referred to as NKK. The delegitimation of the regime achieved between 1989 and 1997 through the mass protests laid the basis for the acceleration of this delegitimation in the aftermath of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. By 1996, there had already been mass riots and demonstrations. The demonstrations had been mainly in defence of Megawati Sukarnoputri’s leadership of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI), and by May 1997, hundreds of thousands of people across the country – more than a million in Jakarta – had protested, demanding an end to dictatorship and corruption under the bannerMega-Bintang Rakyat (a call for an anti-dictatorship coalition of Megawati’s supporters, the Muslim United Development Party and the people) in very combative electoral mobilisations, in defiance of threats of repression. It was only a matter of time before a confrontation with the regime would come to a head, and the financial crisis later in 1997 accelerated the confrontation, which ended in May 1998 when Suharto resigned. This was followed by a failed, brief – but huge – resurgence of protest in November 1998 calling for an immediate end to the role of the military and for a government headed by a presidium of opposition figures.

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