For Indonesians, 'The Egg Is Only Half Cooked'

Reaction to Suharto's exit ranges from relief to cautious hope for reform.

Purwo Ista can't quite take it all in.

After seven years of campaigning against Indonesia's President Suharto, the civil engineering student has finally seen the end of the "old man's" rule. As other students at the country's legislature erupt into wild cheers of celebration, Mr. Ista watched from his seat on the ground, laughed, and shook his head.

"We've been fighting for so long," he says, pulling at his sweaty white T-shirt. "I'm very happy we've done this, but the future isn't guaranteed."

News of Suharto's resignation Thursday morning set off exuberant festivities at the student-occupied parliament buildings and slowly filtered through Jakarta. Throughout the city, people described his departure as a step forward for Indonesia.

But like Purwo, many feel that "the eggs are only half cooked," a local expression that means many real challenges lie ahead.

Most students at the green-domed government complex were too busy celebrating the here-and-now to worry about the future. Hundreds of euphoric young men and women cheered, clapped, and danced around the litter-strewn square fronting the parliament buildings. Leaders with megaphones shouted themselves hoarse, while jeans-clad students charged up and down the square's long wading pool carrying banners.

Their excitement was enough to diffuse tensions of the past few days. Soldiers guarding the entrance of the square stood by as students raced in and out, giving each other high-fives. "The students are just trying to say something to the legislature," says an older marine officer.

Even the legislature's chief groundskeeper, A.K. Sobal, says he doesn't mind as students scatter plastic drink cups and flyers all over. "I just hope gas and food prices will go down now," he says.

Reaction in the city was rooted in equally practical matters - the cost of living as opposed to political progress.

For Buyono, a laborer who scavenges dumps for odd parts to sell, the new government holds out hope of better times. Perched on top a pile of rubble in Jakarta's Chinatown, grimy with soot and dust, he tells how the failing economy has made it harder to feed his family of five.

"I'm happy he's gone," he says of Suharto. "I hope a change of presidents will make life easier. With all this unemployment, many people are [now] doing what I do for a living, and that makes it harder for me."

CHINATOWN was ravaged on May 14 by Indonesians venting their economic frustrations on the wealthy Chinese minority. For Chinese businessman Li Tufung, a new government signals a chance for his devastated community to rebuild. His copy shop escaped damage, but his friends weren't so fortunate, he says. "Suharto listened to the students and the people," he says. "Hopefully this is the end of our troubles."

Even amid the revelry at the legislature, there are reminders of the damage done in the last few weeks. "I feel sad for the students who lost their lives and aren't here to see this," says graphic-design student Yogi Cahyono.

"We are grateful for what Suharto did for the country," he says, "but he abused his power."

Mr. Cahyono and others expressed reservations about Suharto's successor B.J. Habibie, who was sworn in immediately after Suharto's resignation. Mr. Habibie is considered Suharto's crony, and is therefore unfit to carry out reform, students say.

But many said he would do for the short term. "We don't want Habibie, but we don't want a power vacuum," says Islamic University student Nurhilaliah.

Even if Habibie or his successor proves unsatisfactory to students demanding total reform, "We'll keep demanding for as long as it takes," says Henri Prawiroamijoyo, an engineering student.

"Even if we have to teach our children how."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.