Soekarno’s Pancasila national state and its opponents

Essentially an administrator’s cabinet, Soekiman’s government did not last long, but subsequent attempts to form a politically coherent cabinet headed by a charismatic leader also failed. After two months of negotiations, Soekarno resolved to let Wilopo (of the PNI) form another coalition government. Between its inauguration in April 1952 and its fall in June 1953, this cabinet saw many changes in the national climate. Political Islam was weakened by Nahdatul Ulama’s decision to leave Masyumi, the Communist Party succeeded in overcoming the legacy of the Peristiwa Madiun

(Madiun Affair) and became a supporter of Soekarno and army hierarchies were reorganized after the 17 October affair.

As noted, Masyumi had emerged during the Japanese occupation from the merging of various political and non-political Islamic organizations. During its reorganization after 1945, NU members had been relegated to the Majelis Sjoero on account of their legal expertise. In 1949, however, this organ had been transformed from a legislative body into an advisory committee, stripped of its legal authority. NU’s final split from Masyumi resulted primarily from two main factors. First, NU’s political aspirations had been repeatedly frustrated: in the two Masyumi cabinets, NU had only been assigned the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and in 1952 NU had been deprived of this ministry as well. Second, there continued to be a great difference between modernist and traditionalist understandings of the religion-politics nexus which entailed quite different strategies for achieving the Islamization of state and society.

Soon after the split, the NU re-constituted itself as a political party and joined forces with the PSII, the Sumatran Persatuan Tarbiah Islamiyah (Perti, Islamic Tarbiyah Union) and a smaller Islamic party from Sulawesi, to form the Liga Muslimin Indonesia (League of Indonesian Muslims). Aside from supplying an alternative to Masyumi’s vision of Islam and politics, the formation of the league overall weakened the Islamic front in parliament. In the 1955 elections, Masyumi would finish second, after the PNI, whilst the NU would finish third, closely followed by the PKI.

The Communist Party underwent much transformation in the 1950s. Dipa Nusantara Aidit, representing the younger generation, had returned to Indonesia soon after the end of the revolution, and in 1951 succeeded in assuming the party’s leadership. Gradually playing down his connections with Moscow, Aidit espoused nationalism. By 1953 the party had become openly supportive of Soek- arno, and in 1954 it embraced the Pancasila. It was this very step that raised concerns within Muslim circles and marked a change in Islamic groups’ approach to the state philosophy.[1]

Masyumi’s and Nahdatul Ulama’s worries rose in the following years, and not just because the first principle of the Pancasila - the belief in the one and only God - was being emptied of its religious value gradually becoming acceptable even to communists, but also because Soekarno had abandoned his professed ideological neutrality. In late January 1953, during a visit to Amuntai, South Kalimantan, Soekarno declared that ‘the state we want is a national state consisting of all Indonesia. If we establish a state based on Islam, many areas whose population is not Islamic, such as the Moluccas, Bali, Flores, Timor, the Kai islands, and Sulawesi, will secede’.[2] Whilst in Makassar the following year, Soekarno explained that the first sila should be understood to include also ‘the animist belief in spirits and ghosts’.[3]

The 1953 speech made in the Muslim town of Amuntai resonated across the religious spectrum, not least because of the looming elections. When Soekarno was asked to elaborate further on the Amuntai statement, he solemnly replied that the Pancasila already represented a compromise and that what Indonesia needed now was unity, not debate. Not only would a national state refrain from opposing Islamic precepts, he argued, but because Islamic texts include no explicit basis for democracy or elections, Muslims should not be able to say, ‘My party has the larger numbers, I must win’. Laying the foundations for his konsepsi (vision), Soekarno added that democracy was just a means, not a goal in itself, and what the people needed was a ‘democracy with leadership’.[4]

These declarations also reassured non-Muslims that even though Soekarno was a Muslim who often welcomed others with the Islamic greeting as-salam ‘alaykum and mentioned the Qur’an and hadith in his speeches, the Indonesian Republic was a national state based on the Pancasila. Reactions to the Amuntai speech ranged from ‘Soek- arnoists’ praising his political savoir-faire in ensuring that the nation would not collapse into a civil war, to religious political leaders condemning the statement. Isa Anshary accused Soekarno’s speech of being un-democratic, un-constitutional and in open conflict with Islam. Anshary’s comments were followed by the NU chairman’s refutation of the president’s statement that ‘an Islamic government would not concern itself with the unity of the people’. Another reaction came from the Front Muballighin Islam in Medan, which argued that Muslims did not reject the Pancasila, but felt this was an ‘incomplete’ ideology. Perti argued that the issue of dasar negara (foundation of the state) should be surrendered to the constitutional assembly ‘in a democratic fashion’, without necessitating presidential intervention. Finally, the GPII sent a letter to Soekarno stressing that he was misleading Indonesians about the true meaning of Islam, that he was not teaching them the principles of democracy and that ultimately he himself was planting the seeds of separatism.[5]

The greatest impact of the Amuntai speech was felt in Aceh, where in March the crowd received the president with banners reading, ‘We love the president, but we love religion more’.[6] These banners suggested that if creating an Islamic state would have driven away non-Muslim regions, Soekarno’s Pancasila state would have the opposite effect, leaving Islamic regions no choice but to separate themselves from the state. The ‘Manifesto of the Atjeh Rebels’ issued by Daud Beureueh in 1953 seemed to confirm this view; because the Pancasila was taking over the law of God, Beureueh argued, ‘we shall therefore be the ones to secede from a state that is based upon nationalism’.

Showing some similarities with Kartosuwiryo’s approach, the manifesto went on to describe not ‘a state within the state’, but rather a separate state entirely: ‘We have always seen the Republic as a golden bridge to the Islamic state, but it has now become an obstacle [....] We urge the Republic not to use arms in dealing with our problem, we will resist with whatever arms we have.’[7]

The relation between Soekarno and Daud Beureueh was an uneasy one as ethnicity, religion and regionalism all played key roles in defining the links between Jakarta and Aceh. Rebellion in the westernmost province of the archipelago broke out in 1950 after the central government refused to allow Aceh to be a selfstanding province and forced its merger into North Sumatra. This act stripped Aceh of its territorial identity, which its population had also defended at length against the Dutch, and caused changes in the military hierarchies, as local troops were replaced by non- Acehnese ones. Internal tensions developed between the uleebalang as traditional bearers of authority and the new hierarchies instituted in the post-proclamation years.

Religion was not the primary reason for disagreement, but, as Aspinall has argued, Soekarno’s failure to establish Islamic law in Aceh ‘laid the foundation for the fourth great myth of modern Acehnese history: that of the broken promise’. Hence, the tensions between Islamic, ethnic and territorial identities tipped the balance, leading Daud Beureueh to join Kartosuwiryo’s DI-TII in Aceh and pushing him to declare Aceh a ‘federal state’ within the NII in 1955.[8]

  • [1] Feith, The decline, pp. 225-46; Nasution, The Islamic state in Indonesia, pp. 91-9.
  • [2] Feith, The decline, p. 281.
  • [3] Soekarno’s speech was given in Makassar in May 1954, as reported in Nasution, The Islamicstate in Indonesia, p. 99.
  • [4] Feith and Castles (eds), Indonesian political thinking, pp. 164-70; quote from p. 170.
  • [5] All the above visions are recorded in Sajuti Melik’s booklet, Negara nasional ataukah NegaraIslam (Yogyakarta: Kedaulatan Rakjat, 1953), pp. 10-4.
  • [6] Feith, The decline, p. 346.
  • [7] Feith and Castles (eds), Indonesian political thinking, pp. 211-3; quotes from p. 212 and p. 213.
  • [8] Aspinall, Islam and nation; see pp. 31-4 on the Darul Islam. The quote is from p. 31. Aspi-nall’s main argument is that there was no sense of national identity in Aceh before the twentiethcentury, and this absence mostly emerged from four ‘myths’ of local history: the golden age ofthe seventeenth-century Sultanate; the heroic struggle for self-preservation; Aceh as backboneof Indonesia’s national liberation; and the myth of the broken promise.
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