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This week in Jakarta: Golkar, Ciliwung and the other PKI

This week in Jakarta: Golkar, Ciliwung and the other PKI
Published 20 May 2016 

Former president Suharto's party this week ended a bitter leadership struggle and pledged its support for Jokowi's government. Meanwhile, police and military figures lashed out at a perceived resurgence of communism in Indonesia, and the Jakarta governor considered the tourism potential of the Ciliwung River, known as one of the most polluted waterways in the world.

Donald Trump with Setya Novanto in 2015. (Getty.)

Setya Novanto became the new leader of the Golkar party on Tuesday at a national congress in Bali. The extraordinary congress was called to end a crippling rift in the party between supporters of Aburizal Bakrie and Agung Laksono, who both staged their own congresses late last year and were respectively elected as party chairman by their factions. But the new party leader is not without his own set of controversies. Setya in recent months has been implicated in a raft of cases involving US miner Freeport and Donald Trump, as well as other local corruption scandals.

Setya resigned as House Speaker last year after allegations emerged that he attempted to broker a US$4 billion deal with Freeport in exchange for assurance of the company's contract extension in Indonesia. President Jokowi and his coalition strongly condemned Setya's case at the time, which became known in the media by the name Jokowi jokingly gave it, as the papa minta saham ('papa wants shares') scandal. But one of Setya's first announcements as party leader was to pledge support for Jokowi's administration, moving Golkar away from the opposition Red-and-White Coalition led by Prabowo Subianto's Gerindra party. 

If the Freeport scandal didn't recommend Setya as a party leader, perhaps it was the glowing endorsement from Donald Trump, who introduced the Indonesian lawmaker at a rally in the US last year as 'one of the most powerful of men and a great man'. [fold]

Golkar didn't seem too impressed by the endorsement at the time, and especially not by Setya's flattered response that Trump was also highly regarded in Indonesia. An apology for Setya's behaviour issued by Golkar revealed a very different impression of Trump as 'anti-Islam' and a 'racist'.

Away from the Bali congress, police and military this week continued a campaign against a so-called leftist resurgence. Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu warned of a 'rise of communism' in Indonesia, calling it a 'sign of treason'. The military in recent weeks has seized books and detained citizens alleged to be spreading communist propaganda. The basis of detention in some cases has been for wearing T-shirts featuring the hammer and sickle — in one case on a memorabilia T-shirt for local metal band KREATOR, and in another case on a T-shirt for Pecinta Kopi Indonesia,the 'Indonesian Coffee Lovers' community, whose initials mirror that of the banned Indonesian Communist Party, PKI. President Jokowi and the National Police have warned against overreaction to the perceived threat.

Paranoia seems to have sprung up about the return of communism to Indonesia following the controversial National Symposium on the 1965 Tragedy in Jakarta last month. The symposium was the first of its kind to be hosted by the Indonesian government, giving much-needed state recognition to victims of the killings and their families. The symposium team this week announced that it was ready to submit recommendations to the government regarding a reconciliation process.

But some anti-communist mass organisations have rejected the state's move toward recognition of the tragedy, promising to hold their own rival symposium in Jakarta in June. Resistance to the government's handling of the historical issue has been stoked by the military, which has been blamed in reports for orchestrating the mass killings in 1965-66.

Elsewhere in the capital, governor Ahok has been floating various ideas for revitalising the Ciliwung River, Jakarta's largest waterway and one of the most heavily polluted in the world. Choked at various points by garbage and flanked by slum settlements on its banks, the Ciliwung River could be surrounded by green spaces, populated by boats and even become a tourist destination for Jakarta, Ahok says.

The governor is continuing contested efforts to clear Ciliwung's banks of informal settlements, moving residents into government flats in other parts of the city and reclaiming land for green space and flood reduction strategies. However, after surveying the river by boat this week, the governor conceded that on reflection, water transport could be an impractical goal.

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