246. Memorandum From the Director of the Office of Southwest Pacific Affairs (Mein) to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Steeves)0


  • Political Tension in Indonesia


The political atmosphere is probably more tense than at any time since the rebellion broke out in early 1958. Our Embassy and Consulates [Page 475]in Indonesia have reported their own observations and the comments of Indonesian leaders to this effect. Hatta, for example, recently told the Ambassador that it was not impossible for “something” to happen during Sukarno’s forthcoming trip abroad.1 The rising tension has been manifested for months in rumors of political plots and recently in several serious incidents of violence.

Rumored plots include these: (1) a Murba Party “pro-Sukarno” plot to free the President from Army influence; (2) an anti-Nasution plot among Army officers fomented by Sukarno; (3) a plot by Nasution to seize power in a coup; (4) a pro-PRRI plot by Menadonese elements intending to eliminate both Sukarno and Nasution. At least one version of the latter plot links it with the strafing of Sukarno’s palace by an Air Force officer of Menadonese origin.2 Another violent incident—the attack on the Bandung cavalry training center—has also been linked in some rumors with the Menadonese plot. The rich variety of reported plots and outbursts of violence highlight the jittery temper of the current political scene and the difficulty of forecasting the course of events.

Political Maneuvering

The present non-party Government rests on an uneasy balancing of major Indonesian political forces, among which there seem to be increasingly sharp cleavages. For instance, a so-called Democratic League of conservative groups has been formed with the avowed aim of preventing a further increase in PKI influence. On March 24, the League issued a statement, signed by prominents of the Catholic, Christian, Masjumi, PSI, IPKI and NU parties (although the NU leaders signed as individuals and were not identified with the party), calling on the Government (in effect Sukarno) not to appoint a “yes-man” parliament but to find a “democratic and constitutional” solution to the problem created by Sukarno’s recent suspension of the elected parliament.

Sukarno ignored the League’s advice and announced the composition of the new parliament on March 27, declaring that 130 seats would go to political parties, 131 seats to functional groups. Since he indicated [Page 476]that several of the member groups of the Democratic League would occupy seats in the new parliament, and since it appears that those groups will accept the proffered seats, there seems little likelihood that the League will prove to be a cohesive, effective political force. However, it represents an encouraging if hesitant sign of anti-Communist cooperation.

According to Sukarno’s announcement, the PNI, NU and PKI will dominate the political party segment of the new parliament. Preliminary reports of Sukarno’s intended appointments to the parliament suggest that the relative position of the extreme leftists will be enhanced by comparison with the old parliament. Our Embassy reports that Nasution will find it difficult to accept this shift without sacrificing (1) the principle of opposing increased PKI influence and (2) the budding Democratic League, which is said to have had his covert endorsement.

Whether or not Nasution cares for the composition of the new parliament, however, he may conclude that (1) the influence of the PKI has not been dangerously increased and/or (2) a direct conflict between himself and Sukarno, in which he might well be bested at this time, would not advance the anti-Communist cause. In any case, the real meaning of the new parliament’s composition in terms of the existing political power balance is not clear, despite an apparent gain for the leftists on paper. The armed forces will be substantially represented in the parliament, and the non-Communist elements therein, if acting together, would presumably enjoy a comfortable majority. Finally, it is not yet clear that the parliament will be other than a relatively powerless advisory body to the centralized executive—in which the Army leadership still occupies a key place.

The suspension and re-constitution of parliament is not an isolated incident but part of the process of giving institutional forms to the vague guided democracy concept. Thus, although tension has reached a high point over the parliamentary change, an uneasy political atmosphere has prevailed since the process of implementing guided democracy began in 1959. Just as the concept of guided democracy has never been made clear, the course its development would follow has not been predictable. Uncertainty has engendered doubt as to their fate on the part of individuals and groups, especially political parties, with a consequent nervous jockeying among them for position and favor. In addition to these selfish concerns over power and patronage relationships, there has been—and still is—sincere worry in the minds of some that guided democracy may lead to dictatorship. Others disapprove Sukarno’s evident intention to develop guided democracy in keeping with the “unity in gotong royong” principle—which he seems to interpret as requiring significant PKI participation in governmental affairs. Whatever misgivings about the nature and course of guided democracy there may be, [Page 477]however, this unclear concept is rapidly being converted into a wobbly institutional system within the framework of which Indonesia’s political development and struggles are likely to take place for some time to come.


A major governmental change could occur in the near future but the odds appear to be against it. There may well be minor changes and regroupings as Indonesia continues to feel its restless way to hoped-for institutional stability under guided democracy, but the outlook seems to be for (a) Sukarno to maintain his pre-eminence while subject to various influences limiting his complete freedom of action and (b) continuation of the delicate political power balance existing among Sukarno, the Army and the PKI. Should a major change occur, it is most likely to involve a move led by Nasution and backed by a variety of elements which oppose some or all present policies, particularly those related to the development of guided democracy, to economic affairs and to the rebellion. In making such a move, Nasution would probably try to win Sukarno’s support or at least his acquiescence with a view to associating the popular Sukarno symbol with a new government or new policy line. Nasution would likely try to effect major changes without Sukarno’s acquiescence only in response to (a) what he deemed a critical threat to his personal power position or (b) very strong pressure from military and civilian elements which are disposed openly to challenge some of Sukarno’s present policies. On balance, it appears unlikely that Nasution will make any major move in the near future, with or without Sukarno’s acquiescence, because (a) he probably does not believe his power position has been sufficiently undermined to require desperate action on his part and (b) the elements on which he would have to depend for support are neither united among themselves, nor clearly determined to act, nor uniformly ready to follow Nasution’s lead, particularly if to do so would involve them in an open clash with Sukarno.
The outlook for basic United States interests is not appreciably changed by recent events. Thus far we have found the development of guided democracy tolerable if nerve-wracking. Philosophically we may deplore the drift from parliamentary to authoritarian government, but there is little we could do to arrest this drift. In any case, the end result may well serve some of our short-run objectives, such as the avoidance of a Communist takeover and progress towards greater stability. Meantime, we have good relations with the Indonesian Government, including Sukarno personally, and we have close contact and influence with important non- and anti-Communist elements within and outside the Government. We can draw some encouragement from (a) the fact that [Page 478]such elements are still influential in the Government, and from (b) recent signs, however tentative, that anti-Communist forces are more disposed than heretofore to make common cause.
  1. Source: Department of State, SPA Files: Lot 63 D 436, Briefing File. Secret. Drafted by Moore.
  2. Hatta made this remark to Jones during a conversation they had on March 26. (Telegram 2739 from Djakarta, March 26; ibid., Central Files, 798.2/3–2660) See Supplement.
  3. On March 9 an Indonesian Air Force jet aircraft strafed the President’s palace in Djakarta with machinegun fire. No one was injured. (Telegraph 2537 from Djakarta, March 9; ibid., 798.00/3–960) See Supplement. In telegram 1530 to Djakarta, March 10, the Department authorized Jones to convey to Sukarno Eisenhower’s personal satisfaction that he and the members of his family were safe following the strafing attack. (Department of State, Central Files, 798.00/3–1060) See Supplement. Jones conveyed Eisenhower’s message to Sukarno during a meeting with the Indonesian President on March 11. (Telegraph 2581 from Djakarta, March 11; Department of State, Central Files, 798.5–MSP/3–1160) See Supplement.