First Published Newsweek International in issue dated September 20, 1999
By Megawati Sukarnoputri
(Sukarnoputri is Indonesia's leading presidential candidate.)
Indonesia's international reputation has suffered terribly as a result of the human tragedy in East Timor. The daily
barrage of news about our country and people portrays us as a nation that loves to kill and torture. Friends and
associates abroad report that Indonesians are subjected to taunts and disdain everywhere they go. We are accused of
murder, torture and violations of basic human rights. The outside world seems to believe that we have lost our sense of
humanity. It is as if the tragedy of East Timor has not claimed enough victims — now the whole Indonesian people have
been dragged unfairly into the mess. As an Indonesian citizen, I am saddened, concerned and ashamed.
I would like to assure the people all over the world who are shocked and outraged by the terror they are witnessing in
East Timor that the Indonesian people share these same feelings, and more. I stress the Indonesian people — because they
should not be equated with the transitional government of B. J. Habibie, a regime that neither represents nor reflects
the views and aspirations of its constituents. The root cause of this dual tragedy, both East Timor's and Indonesia's,
can be found in the attitude and stance of a government that sacrifices the public interest for its own narrow political
and personal interests.
To many leaders of the world, Habibie appears to be a democrat, a supporter of human rights. That is a pity. The
international community, including the world's media, has elevated him to this undeserved stature. In fact, Habibie's
government is a continuation of Suharto's New Order regime; they are one and the same. The facts speak for themselves:
violations of human rights have not let up; state funds are misappropriated on a staggering and damaging scale. The most
telling sign of Habibie's undemocratic attitude is his rejection of the results of the June general election. To date,
he refuses to accept the victory of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) under my leadership. The vast
majority of the Indonesian people have rejected Habibie and his Suharto-clone regime. So he is pushing to retain power
by any means necessary — which leads directly to the pervasive fear and upheaval throughout the country. His latest
political victims are the people of East Timor.
The recent round of trouble began last January. Habibie suddenly and irresponsibly announced that the people of East
Timor could hold a referendum to choose between autonomy within Indonesia and independence. Why did he do it?
To score political points as a "democrat" and supporter of freedom and justice. At first, it worked; the news drew
praise from around the world. People thought the president was opening the door to freedom for the Timorese; in fact he
was opening the door to disaster.
I was the first leader of a political party to express concern that a tragedy — such as we are now witnessing in East
Timor — could occur if the referendum proceeded under the terms Habibie had proposed. I was fully aware of the risks I
was taking by raising these objections — some have subsequently tried to portray me as a foe of Timorese
self-determination. From the beginning, I have endorsed the substance of the referendum. But its procedures were flawed.
We are in the middle of a political transition in Indonesia. The current government is headed by a transitional figure
who is tainted by his association with the Suharto regime and by countless scandals since Suharto stepped down. Habibie
lacks the political legitimacy and popular support to handle sucessfully a referendum on East Timor's freedom. What was
the international community thinking when it joined with Habibie on this dangerous course and schedule for East Timor?
I met with diplomats from many countries and registered my concerns about what could happen in East Timor if the
referendum were held under Indonesia's uncertain political conditions. At my last such meeting, with the special envoy
of the secretary-general of the United Nations to East Timor, Ambassador Jamsheed Marker, I urged a delay — not a
cancellation — of the referendum. My proposal was to hold off on the referendum until we had a change of government, a
new Parliament and a stable and legitimate national leadership. No one listened. Now my worst fears about East Timor
have come true.
The way forward is clear. First, the international community should halt the demonization of the Indonesian people. We
know too well about violence and abuses of human rights — but as victims, not perpetrators. Second, the violence and
terror in East Timor must stop immediately. And third, the government of Indonesia, the United Nations and the entire
international community must work together to build a lasting peace that will allow the East Timorese to pursue a safe
and secure future of their own choosing.