Political parties lack environmental and resource rights commitment

Down to Earth No. 42, August 1999

Almost all of the 48 parties which contested Indonesia's June elections have failed to show the commitment to community rights and the environment that is needed for the sound management of the country's natural resources.

Days before the June 7th poll, Indonesia's main environmental organisation WALHI, announced the "deplorable" results of an investigation into the environmental programmes of the 48 contesting parties. Only four of the parties had the environment high on their agenda, with another seven addressing the issue, but lacking detailed plans for implementing their programmes. The four parties identified by WALHI were PDI-Perjuangan (Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle), led by Megawati Soekarnoputri, which won the highest share of the vote, and three other opposition parties, PAN (National Mandate Party), led by Amien Rais, the Indonesian Justice Party and PKB (National Awakening Party) led by Muslim leader Abdurrachman Wahid.

PDI Perjuangan has pledged to form a clean government, to allow greater public participation in decisions on environmental issues and says it wants to promote community-based environmental management. The other three have made similar pledges with different emphases.

WALHI is calling for the future management of natural resources in the country to fulfil five criteria:

  • Decentralisation of control of natural resources from central to local government;
  • Democratisation and stronger community supervision to ensure transparency in decision-making;
  • Holistic approach instead of sectoral approach to resource management;
  • Equity for local people in the access to and use of natural resources;
  • Natural resources management which is founded on ecological sustainability.

WALHI criticised the pre-election administration for attempting to rush through legislation affecting natural resources, without proper consultation. Many NGOs are concerned that the new laws – especially the new forestry law - are deeply flawed and do nothing to fundamentally change the way Indonesia's forests are managed (see also forestry article ). WALHI wants a Natural Resources Management law to be introduced which considers resources as a whole, rather than dividing them into forests, minerals, fisheries etc. In a pre-election statement, it called on all political parties, existing and prospective parliamentarians and government officials to commit themselves to this new approach "in order to bring about real change for a new Indonesia which in future will be more democratic, equitable and sustainable."

However, none of the three main 'opposition' parties (PDI-P, PKB and PAN) have called unconditionally for the total abolition of the political role of the military. The only party to do that is the People's Democracy Party, whose chairman, Budiman Sujatmiko is in jail. Military intervention in civil society has been a major issue for local communities defending their resource rights against large-scale development projects, where troops are brought in to enforce unjust compensation settlements or evict homes and clear the way for developers.

The leaders of all five main political parties have also agreed to continue with the IMF's controversial economic recovery and structural adjustment policies. These have been criticised by NGOs and peoples organisations for putting the interests of Northern-based creditors above those of Indonesia's millions of poor. They say that some of the measures will lead to further destruction of the environment in the rush to generate foreign exchange revenues for debt repayment.

The performance of the parties, whatever their role in the future government, will require close monitoring to see how their election pledges are reconciled with the commitment to economic policies.

Indonesia's millions of indigenous people, organised under the newly formed AMAN (Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago) will be scrutinising government performance on issues that affect them. Until now there has been little evidence that the main parties have given them much thought, as was evident at AMAN's inaugural congress in March. Then, only three parties bothered to attend a session to present their policy ideas. No PDI-P representative attended (see DTE 41).

Farmers' organisations pushing for 'agrarian renewal' are also dissatisfied with the low priority their interests have been afforded. In a last ditch appeal in May, the North Sumatra Farmers' Union (SPSU) urged the 48 parties contesting the elections to prioritise land reform in their programmes, to listen to farmers organisations and to sever links with known violators of farmers' rights. The SPSU also urged parties to take a critical position on all international bodies – including the International Monetary Fund, (IMF) APEC, the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and multinational corporations – whose activities have disadvantaged farmers.

The elections themselves have been described as generally free and fair, although thousands of violations of the electoral law have been recorded by monitors, mostly involving the incumbent GOLKAR party of president Habibie. In parts of Sulawesi the vote had to be carried out a second time because of the level of fraud. There are also fears that the long delay in counting the vote and declaring the final result means a higher likelihood of rigging and large-scale fraud. As DTE went to press the result had still not been officially declared, one and a half months after polling date. The most recent tally of 80% of the votes counted showed that PDI-P had won the highest number of votes, followed by GOLKAR, then PKB and PAN.

In Aceh, where there is strong support for a referendum on separating from Indonesia, three districts were unable to hold the vote because of poor security. Military terror is continuing in the region, with the massacring of 60 suspected independence movement members in late July. A serious internal refugee problem has developed. In West Papua a police order banning discussions on independence arising from a February meeting of West Papuan leaders with President Habibie, meant that the elections here, as in Aceh and East Timor, were far from free and fair.

(Sources: Jakarta Post 6/6/99, 10/6/99, 14/6/99; WALHI press release 2/6/99; Green Left Weekly 25/5/99; SPSU Resolution 27/29 May 1999; International Forum on Aceh, Press release 29/7/99)