15 Jul 2011

Civil unrest and political reform

Civil unrest and political reform

In September 1998 there were riots and looting of houses and shops owned by the country's ethnic Chinese minority, caused by rising food prices, and student protesters demanded President Habibie's resignation. In November 1998 at least 16 people, some of them students, were killed after troops opened fire on demonstrators in Jakarta. The protests, which attracted 20,000 demonstrators, had been organized to coincide with a special session of the law-making People's Consultative Assembly (MPR). This had been convened by President Habibie to make political reforms ahead of the June 1999 House of Representatives (DPR) parliamentary elections and the August 1999 election of a new president by the MPR. The protesters called for an end to the military's representation in the legislature and for the president's resignation.The MPR special session repealed much of the repressive legislation of the Suharto era, including the restriction to three officially sanctioned political parties.
New political parties were now legalized and a two five-year term limit was imposed on future presidents. There would also be a reduction of the military's quota of seats in the 500 member lower house from 75 to 38; some devolution of political power; and, it was agreed in January 1999, proportional representation, with seat allocation at the provincial level.
Unrest continued throughout 1998 and into 1999, when religiously-motivated fighting escalated, especially on the eastern Spice Island of Ambon. The violence, carried out by Christian and Muslim gangs, took religious and racial tensions to breaking point, and claimed more than 50 lives.
In October 1998, after the conclusion of a ceasefire agreement with the separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM), the government ended the status of the eastern province of Irian Jaya as a military operation zone.
In November, an independent commission reported on the country's May 1998 riots and blamed the military for provoking unrest, in an effort to create an emergency to enable Suharto to stay in power. It also urged the government to investigate former President Suharto's son-in-law, Lt-Gen Prabowo Subianto, for his activities at the time. (Prabowo officially retired from the army in late November). At the same time, Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the ruling Golkar faction within parliament, publicly apologised for past mistakes.

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