Meeting on democracy turns into brawl

A seminar on democracy at the Hotel Aryaduta, which strongly criticized the country's lack of national leadership, ended up in apparent failure on Tuesday as the forum turned into an ugly skirmish when members of the Association of Islamic Students (HMI) began throwing items at one of the participants.

The discussion, entitled ""New Direction of Democracy in Politics and Economy"", erupted into a near brawl between the conflicting camps, who hurled water glasses and insults at each other. Several participants stood on the tables. Some others fled the room as the event turned into total chaos.

Three Cabinet members, Minister of Trade and Industry Rini Suwandi, State Secretary Bambang Kesowo and Minister of Transportation Agum Gumelar, were at the hotel for their respective businesses when the incident took place.

The speakers, including lawyer Adnan Buyung Nasution, Sjafi'i Maarif, who chairs the second largest Muslim organization Muhammadyah, lawyer Abdul Hakim Garuda Nusantara, political observer Moeslim Abdurrahman and member of the Democracy Forum (Fordem) Rahman Tolleng.

Also attending the meeting, sponsored by the Indonesian Democracy Monitor (Indemo), were former Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. (ret) Wiranto, chairman of Government Watch (Gowa) Farid Faqih and student activists from the 1980s Syahganda and Agustiana -- the two were also known for their link to former president B.J. Habibie.

Indemo is a non-governmental organization managed by activists Hariman Siregar, Kastorius Sinaga and Mulyana W. Kusumah.

The speakers had reached a consensus to launch a ""social revolution"" against political elites, who they asserted were only busy with their own ambitions for power.

They later expressed concern that if the situation continued without any correction, it would only pave the way for the military to take power.

They also accused the political elites of ""losing their minds"" as they continued practicing corruption, collusion and nepotism at a time when many people in the country were suffering from the prolonged multi-dimension crises.

""All of our national leaders have failed to bring prosperity to the people, and I do not think the President -- Megawati Soekarnoputri -- can bring this country out of the crises.

""It is time for the people to take over her role through a revolution,"" Hari Rusli, chairman of the Democratic People's Party (PRD), told the forum and hundreds of participants gave their applause.

They later appointed Nasution as ""leader of people's revolution.""

The chaos began after chairman of the Indonesian Law Students Association Dipa, called on the government to make a break with past political powers by dissolving its major organizations such as the Indonesian National Youth Committee (KNPI) and the HMI.

Ali Nurman of the Jakarta-based HMI, hurled a glass at Dipa following the latter's remarks, but it missed the target.

The clash was brought to a halt after Hotel security entered the hall to separate the combatants.

* Published by The Jakarta Post on January 16, 2002