Reporter 442, 8 November 1999

The University of Leeds and Indonesia

A report by Hywel Coleman, principal adviser (Indonesia)

In recent months, Indonesia has found itself at a critical point in its development. As questions are asked in the press and elsewhere about U.K. links with Indonesia, it may be useful to review both the situation there and the University's own contacts with the country.

The current situation in Indonesia

The Indonesian civilian government

In May 1998 the regime of President Soeharto was overthrown, largely by student demonstrations which received massive popular support. In June this year Indonesia held the first fully democratic elections since the 1950s. The democratically elected parliament took over on 1st October. One of its first tasks was to evaluate the record of President B.J.Habibie who had been running the civilian administration since Soeharto's departure; after several days of debate Habibie's "justification" for his 17-month administration was rejected. Parliament then went on to elect Abdurrahman Wahib (popularly known as "Gus Dur") as President and Megawati Sukarnoputri as Vice-President. A new "rainbow" cabinet was appointed on 28th October; representatives of a wide range of political, religious, ethnic and other social groups have all been accommodated. Indonesia has formally renounced all claims to East Timor.

Over the last 18 months, then, Indonesia has moved with astonishing rapidity towards becoming a fully fledged democracy. This can be seen in many ways. Three examples will illustrate :

a) The press is now free. (An editorial in The Times recently described the Indonesian media as "arguably the freest in Southeast Asia".) Consult The Jakarta Post ( or the English language pages of Kompas ( for evidence. There has been bitter and open criticism of the military authorities in the press, for instance.
b) There has been a massive shift in government policy towards decentralisation of all decision making. This can be seen in all facets of government activity, from curriculum planning in the Ministry of Education to allocation of locally raised taxes in the Ministry of Finance. The devolution process will gain even greater momentum with the appointment of the new cabinet.
c) Ideas are debated at all levels of society. The universities are buzzing.

The Indonesian people

The euphoria felt throughout the country at the overthrow of the Soeharto regime and again at the time of the general election earlier this year has received a battering in recent weeks but it is still tangible. The appointment of the new President, Vice President and cabinet have helped to restore the sense that the country is moving forward.

The Indonesian military

The military behaved in an appalling and inexcusable way in East Timor (and in other parts of the country, including Aceh). Most Indonesians feel that as a nation they have lost face over the behaviour of the military, particularly since the Western press seem to have had difficulty in distinguishing between the military, the government and the people.

Efforts are now being made to restrict the power of the military, partly through reducing the number of seats in parliament allocated to TNI and the police (with a clear indication that these special allocations will disappear altogether in the long run) and partly through appointing civilians rather than military officers to administrative positions in local government. For the first time in Indonesia's history, a civilian has been appointed as Armed Forces Minister. A radical restructuring of senior positions in the Army took place on 4th November.

The University and Indonesia

1) The University has no links with the Indonesian military. No Indonesian military personnel are studying at Leeds.
2) The University has active, dynamic and productive links with several private and state universities in Indonesia. Many of our current students and alumni are academics at these institutions. The universities have been the dynamo which has driven the reform and democratisation movement.
3) We have links and contacts with government ministries and departments, including the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Public Works and the Bank of Indonesia (the central bank). Each of these institutions is involved in interpreting and implementing Reformasi, the reform process. Several of our current students and many of our alumni are employed by these organisations; conversations with them - for example the 11 Ministry of Education curriculum designers currently taking a short course in the School of Education - show that they are deeply concerned to contribute to the reform process in their own fields. They are excited by the challenge and at the same time somewhat overawed by the responsibility for reform which rests in their hands.
4) Our alumni include journalists and NGO staff who are playing a visible role in the reform process.
5) The University has nothing to be ashamed of in its links with Indonesia. To the contrary, it should be proud of the contribution which its graduates have made in bringing about the transfer to a democratic society.
6) We should demonstrate our support, in so far as we are able, particularly for the 60+ Indonesians currently studying in Leeds. They are distressed by the way in which the media here have demonised Indonesia; at least one family reports that their children have been subject to verbal attacks at school because of their nationality.

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