by SAM ABRAMS
The death of terrorist Noordin Mohammed Top at the hands of Indonesian police last week was good news for Indonesia and the region’s stability. Top was linked to the 2002 and 2005 suicide bombings on Bali and the July attacks on luxury hotels in Jakarta. As analysts evaluate the security implications of Top’s death, other historical sources of instability, namely the Free Aceh movement and Chinese-Indonesians, are worth looking at as well.
As International Crisis Group has reported, tensions were high in Aceh during the run-up to elections this spring. Prior to the elections, sporadic violence, including the killing of several former members of the militant separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM), made many in Aceh nervous. Many are suspicious of GAM despite its 2005 agreement to disband after the political Partai Aceh was formed. These people fear that the Partai Aceh will continue GAM’s work, if only peacefully, and threaten the unity of the state.
Chinese-Indonesians, about 1.5 to 2 percent of the population, occupy the country’s business class and are a racialized “other” in Indonesian society. Suspicions of Chinese-Indonesian, based on its “otherness,” has been manipulated and perpetuated by the state to shore up nationalists credentials. Not a few have compared Chinese-Indonesians to Jews in Europe. Chinese-Indonesians have been the target of mass violence during periods of political uncertainty, as in the country’s fight for independence after World War II, the establishment of the Suharto regime between 1965 and 1966, and most recently in 1998 with the fall of Suharto. While democracy seems to have muted anti-Chinese feelings, political uncertainty would give an instigator the opportunity to manipulate lingering anti-Chinese sentiment and provoke violence.
On the surface, Indonesia’s political system seems to be in an era of unprecedented stability. After a series of short lived governments after 1998, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was recently elected to a second term as president. Nevertheless, observers fear that this period of stability is not sustainable, noting that the state’s stability is based on Yudhoyono’s personality rather than an institutionalized party structure. Should a climate of uncertainty emerge as Yudhoyono’s term comes to an end, Indonesia could see a militants in Aceh lose faith in the political path they chose in 2005 and Chinese-Indonesians suffer violence as elites jockey for power and the nation looks to affirm its identity.
(Photo: The Jakarta Globe)