The Rise of Indigenous Conglomerates into Indonesian Politics

A brief post before this thought escapes my mind.

Some tweets from @revolutia in twitter today regarding Indonesian Chinese ethnic (will be called Tionghoa from here on) conglomerates and ORBA policy reminded me of my thought about Soeharto Tionghoa discrimination policy that I’d like to write from a long time ago but never had the chance to do it.

As we know, in ORBA era President Soeharto implemented discrimination policy towards Tionghoa in almost every aspect of life except business. Soeharto had been very helpful to his Tionghoa businessmen friends, issued government facilities and protections for their businesses. Facilities were given in form of letters of credit, tax incentives, and right to monopoly. Protections for security were given for the business daily operation and also involving some land clearing. Meanwhile indigenous (pribumi) businessmen seldom had that privileges except those inside his closest ring.

The question will be why was that? Why did Soeharto discriminate Tionghoa but help them in business? It’s not a like dislike thing, it’s a well thought strategy from our Smiling General. The discrimination towards Tionghoa made sure they will never enter politics and only interested in business. By doing this, Soeharto had the “money” in his side. Monopoly in business means Tionghoa businessmen became the richest in the country, far richer than their indigenous rivals. This strategy also caused indigenous businessmen would not be able to have enough money for politics thus preferred to side with government resulted in Soeharto didn’t have any serious opposition at all. It was not only those Tionghoa businessmen that got rich, this strategy also helped Soeharto to amass $15 billion fortune during his reign (estimated by TIME in 1999).

No script could be perfect though, there were some Tionghoa businessmen that opposed Soeharto monopoly of business and politics but they were wiped out immediately. William Soeryadjaya – founder of ASTRA, second biggest business group at that time was stripped from his business kingdom ruthlessly by Soeharto and his conglomerate friends (see my post of Oom Willem obituary).

For 32 years, this strategy succeeded perfectly until the monetary crisis in 1997-1998 hit the country. Loyal Soeharto supporter, those Tionghoa businessmen left debt in their own banks in amount big enough to collapse the country. Soeharto was stripped of his main powers in politics: the money and loyal friends. IMF required liquidation of banks (mostly owned by those businessmen and of which were used to fund their collapsed businesses) to save the country. Those Tionghoa friends of Soeharto facing utter destruction of their business and bleak future in the country immediately fled to Singapore, Australia, leaving this Lone General in the mess. Student protests everywhere demanded him to step down. Some even shouted for public court of the Dictator. Facing no option, he stepped down, leaving big burdens (and debts) to the country which are unsolved until now.

The falling down of Soeharto and ORBA era means a new era of politics and business in this country. Tionghoa businessmen don’t have the same privileges they previously enjoyed and Indigenous businessmen don’t have the obstacles of monopoly anymore. We observed the rise of indigenous conglomerates without Cendana stamp like Panigoro, Bakrie, Kalla, Tanjung. We also saw how some of them powered their business with their activities in politics and later powered their politics with money from business. So in this post-ORBA era we witness the rise of indigenous conglomerates into Indonesian Politics.

So if you have ever wondered why there were stability in government and politics in ORBA era and now we are facing the opposites day today, you have the answer.

Business and politics are powerful combination to play. Add to that combination the third one: the media. Being aware of media significant role in politics, especially in this modern democracy, some businessman-politicians started building their media empire. We know the major two News TV stations are owned by businessman-politicians. And in this era of modern democracy without authoritarian government, they could play their parts in politics effectively.

I have to end this article up to this part. I’ll write the second part in few next days. Thanks to @revolutia for some fresh thoughts where I drew my inspiration from. For the mean time feel free to discuss in comments section below.

Ignorance Leads to Conflict #koja

Riot at Mbah Priuk Tomb (picture courtesy of Tempointeraktif)

Someone wrote in twitter, “Are Indonesian people violent by nature?” This tweet referred to latest riots in Koja, Tanjung Priok. As we knew conflicts between Satpol PP (Pamong Praja) with locals resulted in violence yesterday. Two from Satpol PP died and hundreds from both sides injured. Details of incident won’t be discussed here, we could find it easily in newspaper or news website.

To that question I would answer I don’t believe Indonesian people are violent by nature. Instead, I would argue that people are ignorant by nature. Ignorance in certain emotional circumstances could result in violence. That’s what I believe.

What is ignorance? Ignorance is delusion, unawareness state of mind. It’s the lack of awareness due to overwhelming of one’s ego. In ignorant state of mind, one could only think of oneself. One couldn’t sympathize with others, couldn’t feel others sufferings, so the hurting of others.

We try to fight ignorance with education, with knowledge. By education we learn what is right and wrong, what is good and bad. We learn why we should be good and not bad to others. We learn how to communicate, how to socialize with others.

However, even though we have the highest education, ignorance still stay in some place of mind. When we are clear headed, we could be intelligent, we could be wise. But when we are emotional, intelligence is easily replaced by ignorance.

In that Koja riot we could see ignorances were everywhere. Satpol PP members were instructed to clear Mbah Priok Tomb area and locals were gathered to defend their rights (at least that’s what they believed). Conflicts couldn’t be avoided. People shouted at each other in anger. They hit each other, mostly in the heads. Some even used sharp weapons. Blood was everywhere. Cars were burnt. People fell down from both sides, injured, but the fights continued. Were they not intelligent enough to understand that violence won’t solve it? Didn’t they have feeling for injured victims? Why did they persist on fighting their own cause? Questions flew in our mind that couldn’t understand it. Mind of us, observers from a distance.

The answers are most of them might be intelligent enough to understand it, they certainly had feeling for victims from both sides. But ignorances kept them fighting. They wouldn’t stop until their goals achieved. Intelligence and feeling had stepped aside, emotion took over awareness in mind. Ignorance caused hatred. Hatred turned eyes blind. For locals, Satpol PP were enemies and vice versa. Thus the pursuit of Satpol PP by locals even though the conflict had ceased. Material damages could be seen and recorded but such kind of mental damages to human being we hardly could describe and understand. Human could act like animal, hunting each other and worse, not for food.

So ignorance causes unintelligent acts, one of those is violence. And violence caused suffering to others. We could conclude ignorance is the root of suffering. If we examined our mind carefully, inwardly, we could also see that not only others suffer from our ignorance but we ourselves suffer from it too.

So next question will be could we be free from ignorance? Let’s save that for another blog, it’s a question of a lifetime. For the mean time, lets discuss if you agree with my observation that ignorance leads to conflict.