STATE VIOLENCE AND THE ELITE’S CONSPIRACY: An Analysis of the “27 July Incident” in Indonesia


Luthfi Makhasin



            The 27th July incident refers to violently taking over of PDI’s office occupied by Megawati’s supporters and the following mass riot taking place in Jakarta on the whole Saturday, 27th July 1996. According to the official report of Indonesian Human Rights Commission, the incident resulted in 5 people killed, 149 wounded, and 23 missing (Laporan HAM YLBHI, 1997:4). The incident left unprecedented results in relation between the  New Order regime and civil society. Suddenly, from just none but an ordinary housewife, Megawati came up as symbol of “wong cilik” or small people to challenge Suharto’s hegemonic power.

            Actually, the incident is not the only systematic violence carried out by the state apparatus during the New Order regime. In fact, almost throughout its history, the New Order regime recorded many events in which the state deliberately designed violence against the civil society in order to oppress the political oppositions. For instance, mass killing between 1965-1966 (Cribb, 2002:550-563), “Malari” in 1974, “Tanjung Priok” incident in 1984, “Warsidi” incident in 1989, “Haur Koneng” in 1990, and so forth. Unlike the previous incidents, the 27 July incident completely failed in eliminating the dissidents. In contrast, the dissidents were becoming bigger and bigger.

            It has been widely known that the military involved in plotting attempts to topple Megawati from her position as the chairperson of the PDI (Indonesian Democratic Party). The military even is considered as the sole mastermind, which designed and carried out the plot. However, considering the military as the sole actor in plotting and carrying out the incident oversimplifies the complexity of the incident since it assumes that the New Order regime is as solid as seen on surface. In fact, the New Order regime had been becoming fragmented since the late of 1980s.

            Despite the inner circle of the New Order regime, the civil society was also becoming critical toward the regime. Given the rise of social problems, the civil society criticized the New Order’s establishment by emphasizing the need for democratization and Presidential succession. The prominent civil figures, such as Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati, and civil institutions – NGOs and student activists – voiced their criticism to the regime. As a result, the regime perceived them as the threat for status quo.

            To some extent, the incident can be understood as a result of elites’ fragmentation (civil and the military) to strengthen their own position under the hegemonic power of Suharto. Violence action against Megawati’s supporters and stigmatization of communist to the victims indicated the insistence of the New Order regime to maintain an old fashion approach – using “stick” rather than “carrot” – in managing its legitimacy over the civil society.

            This essay tries to investigate the 27 July incident by revealing as many actors as possible that involved in “rakayasa” or plotting the incident and the way of the regime covered it up from the public. In doing so, I am going to present many kinds of testimony or official statements from the victims or witnesses and the suspected plotters as well. Of course, I realize that not all the documented statements and testimonies are valid and accurate. In case the suspected plotters, most of them claim know nothing. It can be understood since the victim (Megawati) had already become a winner. When the police run an investigation over the incident, Megawati is the Vice President of Indonesia. Therefore, they try to hide their involvement in the incident by giving contradictory testimony. While, in case of the victims and the witnesses, they are strongly influenced by emotional biases to condemn the military, rather than presenting the truth facts of the incident. However, just by considering these pieces of facts, the whole story of the 27 July incident can be reconstructed.

            To explore this topic in more detail, I am going to divide this essay into five parts. Firstly, I am going to present the political changes taking place in late of 1980s when Suharto began to expand his political basis by approaching Islamic community and how it took effect in increasing the fragmentation and competition in the inner circle of the elites. In this section, I focus to explain the triangle of power relationship – Suharto, Habibie, and the military. Next, I am going to discuss PDI’s conflict and the government’s intervention to hamper Megawati as the legitimate leader of the PDI. Then, I come into the core of this essay by investigating what really happened surround the incident. In this section, I am going to map conspiracy networks among political elites in the inner circle. Fourthly, I am going to show the efforts of the regime to hide the incident from the eye of the public. It was carried out by making “kambing hitam” and exploiting the ghost of communism to avoid the criticism from the civil society to the incident. Finally, I end this essay by making conclusion based on the previous explanation.


The Rise of Habibie and the Military Fragmentation

            At the beginning, the New Order regime considered Islam as the threat rather than partner in the Indonesian political system. The New Order regime feared the revival of Islam as an ideology to mobilize political support as happened in the 1950s under liberal democracy. The regime even identified Islam as the permanent threat for domestic politics by repeatedly warning what so-called as “bahaya ekstrem kanan” or the danger of right extremist.

            In the late 1980s, the atmosphere began to change. Suharto was no longer hostile to the Islamic community. Liddle (1996:614) identified some changes considered as the revival of Islam under the New Order regime. (1) The imposition of Islamic court act in 1988, (2) the imposition of national education act in 1989 allowing religious lesson in the public schools and allowing “jilbab” or headscarf for female students in 1991. (3) Banning the Monitor weekly magazine and prosecuting its chief editor, Arswendo Atmowiloto, for insulting charge of the Prophet Mohammed in 1990. (4) “SDSB” or national sport lottery was also discontinued in 1993 as a response to demand by Islamic community regarded it as gambling. (5) Suharto “made the pilgrimage to Mecca”, (6) the establishment of an Islamic bank (Bank Muammalat Indonesia) and most interestingly the emergence of ICMI – Indonesian Moslem of Intellectuals Association – with Habibie as its first chairman (Schwarz, 1994:175).

            However, Liddle (1996:613-634) argued that “Islamization” just took place in artificial meaning rather than in substantial one. Instead of establishing Islam as a real political power in the New Order regime, Suharto designed “Islamization” of the New Order regime to maintain his own political power. Moreover, the emergence of ICMI with Habibie as the chairman was no more than a form of state corporatism imposed by Suharto to co-opt Moslem intellectuals under his control (Liddle, 1996:615; Schwarz, 1994:176). In addition, this measure was taken by Suharto to enhance his own legitimacy by manipulating Islamic sentiment (Ramage, 1995:142).

            Beyond the issue of “Islamization”, the emergence of Habibie with ICMI indicated the change in the elites’ inner circle of the New Order regime. Basically, the inner circle of the New Order regime is structured on the patron-clients line in which Suharto placed himself as a patron to whom all inferior clients depend on. A patron can survive as long as all the clients were kept under control. In case of the New Order regime, Suharto maintained his control by keeping balance relationships between his two main pillars of power, the military and Golkar. The emergence of Habibie as one of the most powerful ministers in the cabinet is a part of Suharto’s grand design to keep all his clients under control and therefore a whole political process.

            This change could not be separated from the changes taking place in the military. The military under General Benny Murdani (Chief Commander of the Armed Forces from 1983-1988) developed to be the most powerful institution in Indonesia. As a former of intelligence officer, Benny developed the Armed Forces with intelligence networks throughout the country. Ironically, the military with a strong leadership under Benny began to criticize Suharto on two very sensitive issues; Presidential succession and business activities of Suharto’s children (Liddle, 1996:629). After this, Suharto decisively decided to push aside Benny from his position as the commander of the Armed Forces and run “de-Benny-sation” campaign in the military. As a result, the military became fragmented into those identified as Benny’s followers (“the red and white officers”) and those identified as “the green officers”.

            Meanwhile, Golkar under Wahono (ex-military high officer) underwent the decreasing vote in the 1992 election. From 73% of total vote in the 1987 election, the vote of Golkar went down to just 68,1% in the 1992 election. The decreasing of Golkar’s vote worried Suharto that hoped to be re-elected with an absolute majority.

             Consequently, restructuring either the military and Golkar were considered by Suharto as urgent as fixing the balance of power between these two pillars. On the one hand, Suharto had to undermine the influence of Benny Murdani by appointing loyal officers, such as Faisal Tanjung and Hartono on the top rank of the Armed Forces. While for the top position of Golkar, Suharto installed Harmoko (Minister of Information) as the first civil chairman of the New Order’s political machinery.

            Habibie played an important role in installing Harmoko as the chairman of Golkar.  In his position as “Pelaksana Harian Ketua Dewan Pembina” or acting of the chairman of supervisory council – the highest authority in Golkar chaired by Suharto –, Habibie who had unlimited access to Suharto persuaded the President to install Harmoko, his close ally, as the chairman (Tim ISAI, 1999:17).

            It was undoubtedly that duet of Harmoko and Habibie in the Golkar and Tanjung and Hartono in the military provided a guarantee that Suharto would be re-elected without any obstacle. Liddle (1996:627) identified the similar pattern of strategy carried out by Suharto during his presidency by placing his loyalists in the military and the Golkar as well.


The Military



General Sumitro

Ali Murtopo


Benny Murdani





Source: Golkar and Armed Forces Agents of Suharto’s Electoral Strategy in William R. Liddle (1996). ‘The Islamic Turn in Indonesia: A Political Explanation’, Journal of Asian Studies, 55.


            Based on the Liddle’s table, political mapping of the New Order’s inner circle can be simply described as the triangle alliance of Suharto, Golkar and the military. Habibie had become the most powerful clients to whom Suharto depended in managing his power. However, Liddle failed to mention how fragile is this relationships. By keeping competition among different factions, Suharto actually was weakening his own power rather than strengthening it. For instance, competition between Ali Murtopo and Sumitro in 1970s resulted in what so-called “15 January Affair” in 1974. Whereas, competition between Benny and Sudharmono was manifested by unprecedented interruption during the 1988 General Assembly’s session from Ibrahim Shaleh – a member of the Armed Forces fraction at the parliament – protesting Sudharmono’s appointment as the Vice President. Moreover, through the intelligence networks, Benny also charged Sudharmono was indicated as a communist – a big sin during the New Order –.

            In the late of his power, Suharto faced the growing of fragmentation between those who are in the Habibie’s faction representing the most powerful civil elites and those who are in the military. I argue that the 27 July incident is a result of this elites’ fragmentation. In addition, I also argue that the incident shows how elitist nature of the New Order regime eventually failed in addressing the democratic pressure from the civil society.


PDI’s Conflict and the Government’s Intervention

            The violence action taken by the state apparatus toward Megawati’s supporters can not be separated from the internal conflict happened in the PDI. Ironically, the conflict was triggered by the regime itself. Since the beginning, the regime had deliberately designed the conflict in order to undermine the growing influence of PDI as a prospective political party in the political system. Under the leadership of Suryadi, PDI grew as a big political party. In the 1992 election, PDI increased its vote by around 5 % compared to the previous election. While, the Golkar under went the decreasing vote at the same time. The following table shows the election result during the New Order regime,






















            According to Gaffar (1992), Indonesia practiced what so-called “a hegemonic party system” in which PDI and PPP just functioned as a marginal political force to legitimize the existing regime. The regime tolerated both parties as long as they supported the establishment. If not so, the regime did not hesitate to oppress the opposition when necessary to achieve its objective (Liddle, 1996:625). In case PDI, the regime perceived Suryadi as a threat when he maneuvered in the general election 1992 to criticize the regime on issue of Presidential term (Tim Peneliti PPW-LIPI, 1999:155). As a result, the regime decided to topple Suryadi from the PDI in fourth party’s congress in Medan, 21-25 July 1993.

            After the toppling of Suryadi, interestingly, local branches of PDI began to nominate an alternative candidate, Megawati Sukarnoputri as the next chairperson of the PDI. This phenomenon expressed a very strong support from the grass root level of  PDI’s constituents for Megawati. The regime feared that the rise of Megawati would deteriorate the establishment given the fact that Megawati is the daughter of Sukarno, the founding father and the first President of Indonesia.

            In order to prevent Megawati becoming the chairperson of PDI, the regime attempted to intervene the party’s congress by intimidating the delegates from local branches of PDI not to nominate Megawati (Tim ISAI, 1996:8).  However, this attempt failed since the Megawati insisted to run the nomination and the resistance from the grass root level of PDI (Ibid, 1996:9). The strong support from the grass root of PDI for Megawati’s nomination and the reluctance of the regime to this nomination resulted in the deadlock of the congress. In the end of the congress, Megawati declared herself as a de facto chairperson of the PDI for the term of 1993-1998 (Ibid, 1996:12)

            In accordance to the rule at that time, the Minister of Home Affairs as “Pembina Politik Dalam Negeri” or domestic political supervisor must endorse the elected chairperson of the party. If not, she was not a legitimate leader. In case Megawati, Yogie S. Memet as the Minister of Home Affairs refused to admit Megawati as the chairperson of PDI. Therefore, the minister asked for holding “Musyawarah Nasional” in addressing the conflict and deciding definitive leader of PDI.

            When “Munas” was held in Jakarta on December 1993, the wind of change took place in the elites’ inner circle. Instead of refusing Megawati, the military endorsed her to be the chairperson of PDI. Alex Widya Siregar (Tempo, 1st  August 2000) testified that Agum Gumelar (Commander of Army Special Forces and one of the directors BIA or the Armed Forces’ Intelligence Body) forced the PDI’s local delegates to choose Megawati as the chairperson of PDI or took a risk to be shot. Despite Agum Gumelar, Commander of Jakarta Military Region (Pandam Jaya), A.M. Hendropriyono also endorsed the nomination of Megawati as the chairperson. Support from Agum Gumelar and Hendropriyono showed the tense fragmentation between “the white and red officers” and “the green” one. Both officers were identified as include in “the red and white” officers. In fact, not so long after “Munas”, both officers were replaced from their position (Tim ISAI, 1996:16).

            Nevertheless, attempts to push aside Megawati continued. After “Munas”, the regime even directed the attack directly to Megawati. Firstly, it was run by creating “the puppets”, such as Yusuf Merukh and Clara Sitompul. Through “PDI Reshuffle”, they questioned the legitimacy of Megawati as the chairperson of PDI. It is believed that General Hartono (Chief Staff of the Armed Forces’ Social and Political Affairs and then Chief Staff of the Army) was behind Yusuf Merukh’s move (Tim ISAI, 1996:21). Secondly, the regime tried to discredit Megawati’s credibility by charging her husband, Taufik Kiemas, having communist’s background (Tim ISAI, 1996:24). In addition, PDI also was charged to be run by ex-communist activists.

            The rise of Megawati’s popularity feared the regime. PDI under Megawati even was predicted to be a potentially serious contender for the Golkar in the 1997 election. If Suharto wanted to be re-elected with an absolute majority as he enjoyed so far, so he must do everything to undermine this political contender. It is the main reason why Suharto committed to push aside Megawati from the established political system.

            Close to the 1997 election, the regime committed to impose more certain measures in toppling Megawati from PDI. It was began by creating another PDI projected to be the only legitimate PDI and a participant for the next election. On 20-22 June 1996, the congress was held in Medan. This congress was claimed as a legitimate forum of PDI. The congress was fully backed up by the regime. It was proved by the presence Minister of Home Affairs, Yogie S. Memet, Faisal Tanjung (Commander of the Armed Forces) and Syarwan Hamid (Chief Staff of Social and Political Affairs). In his political biography, Syarwan Hamid admitted that he involved in organizing the congress (Tim IRSED, 1999).

            The regime-sponsored congress resulted in a new leadership with Suryadi and Buttu Hutapea as the Chairman and the Secretary General of PDI respectively. The new leadership was projected to replace the old one chaired by Megawati. But, a huge number of local branches refused Suryadi’ PDI. In response to the congress, Megawati organized her supporters by conducting a mass rally in Jakarta on 20 June 1996. The military oppressed this mass rally in Gambir. Then, Megawati’s supporters started to concentrate in the PDI’s office by organizing “mimbar bebas” or free-speech forum to express their protest to the regime. The free-speech forum attracted many participants, from internal PDI and other democratic activists (NGOs, students, and others) as well. They expressed their political view by criticizing the failures of the regime in addressing socio-political problems. At the following, it triggered what so-called “the 27 July incident”.

             The next part will explain the shift of policy carried out by the regime in dealing with Megawati. It will also show the elites’ conspiracy and the fragmentation among elites in dealing with the issue.


Elites’ Conspiracy and the 27 July Incident

            Like other political conspiracies in Indonesia, the 27 July incident actually has not fully confirmed. Unfortunately, even under Megawati’s administration, she seems to be reluctant to investigate the incident. The only formal investigation was done during the Abdurrahman Wahid’s administration. Instead of offering a complete explanation of the incident, the investigation was stopped without any charge to the suspected masterminds or the plotters. However, from many kinds of testimony and journalistic reports, we can reconstruct “a grand conspiracy” behind the incident. This conspiracy was designed to eliminate all political oppositions from the civil society. In Megawati’s case, it was called by Abdurrahman Wahid as “Operasi Naga Merah” or the Red Dragon operation – an intelligence operation designed to eliminate Megawati from politics – (Tempo, 20 February 2000).

            The incident itself involved many players in the elites’ inner circle. Of course, Suharto is the most responsible person for all the plots or “rekayasa”. Even though Suharto is the most responsible person of the incident, the incident can not be simplified as just a result of Suharto’s decision. I argue that the incident involved a tense competition among different factions in the elites’ inner circle in which each faction has own political interest. Under Suharto’s patron-clients structure, each faction attempted to be the most loyal client in order to strengthen their own faction so that they will get the most benefits from the patron.

            The inner circle of the elites divided into those identified as “hawk” and “dove” faction (Jatman (ed.), 2001:37). “Hawk” faction referred to Habibie with his supporting cliques in the Army, such as, Faisal Tanjung and Syarwan Hamid. While, “dove” faction or well known as “aliansi pelangi” or rainbow alliance referred to the figures, such as, Try Sutrisno (Vice President), Edi Sudrajat (Minister of Security and Defense), Ginandjar Kartasasmita – Coordinator Minister of Economic, Finance and Industry – (Jatman (ed.), 2001:37)

            I will focus on the “hawk” faction since it was the strongest faction at that time. Actually, Habibie was projected by Suharto to be a Vice President for 1993-1998 terms. However, he was refused by the military, which proposed Try Sutrisno instead (Tim ISAI, 1999:34). After that, Habibie put some his loyalists in the cabinet as a concession. In fact, Habibie’s loyalists dominated the cabinet form the term 1993-1998 (Tim ISAI, 1999:18). The “hawk” faction around Habibie believed that their survival was determined solely showing total loyalty to the patron, Suharto. Therefore, they were in line with Suharto’s policy to eliminate Megawati from PDI.

            The failures of previous “rekayasa” to topple Megawati convinced Suharto that he could do nothing but taking a military action to Megawati. Moreover, usage of free-speech forum to protest the regime could no longer be tolerated since it had been used to criticize the regime. Therefore, Suharto ordered the military to take over the PDI’s office on Diponegoro Street Number 58, Jakarta from Megawati’s supporters.

            In fact, there was no evidence whether the formal order was exist or not. Suyono (former Chief General Staff of the Armed Forces) did not believed that Suharto had ever ordered so (Tempo, 20 February 2000). As a former adjutant for four years, Suyono pointed out that Suharto is a typical of Javanese that never spoke a coarse language, such as, order to kill someone or such things. However, he confessed the difficulties in interpreting Suharto’s order. Interestingly, when Suharto met with Suryadi’s PDI on 25 July 1996 at the palace, he warned that there was “setan gundul” or bald satanic at the PDI’s office occupied by the Megawati’s supporters. It was the first time, a Javanese like Suharto publicly released a coarse statement.

            Presumably, Suharto ordered to take over the PDI’s headquarter. Then, this ordered  was given to Faisal Tanjung. On 1 August 1999, Tempo weekly magazine mapped the conspiracy’s networks of the 27 July incident based on the investigation from many sources.


 Source: Tempo Magazine, 1 August 1999


            However, this diagram missed other important actors and therefore failed to map comprehensively the conspiracy’s networks behind the incident. For instance, Suyono pointed out that Hartono (Chief Staff of the Army) offered Sutiyoso (former Commander of Jakarta Military Command) amount of fund from the Army. In addition, he also stated that Sutiyoso asked for some conglomerates the rest of the money that could not be provided by the Armed Forces’ headquarter (Tempo, 1 August 1999).

            I argue that the 27 July incident involved a tense competition among elites in the inner circle. It involved Habibie’s faction with its ally in the Armed Forces, such as, Feisal Tanjung or Syarwan Hamid and other cliques in the Army led by Hartono and Prabowo. Even though, the last two officers included into Habibie’s faction, Prabowo and Hartono often took different approach in dealing with a particular issue. Moreover, if Habibie has CIDES, Hartono and Prabowo have their own “think tank” called CPDS (Center for Policy and Development Studies). This “think tank” was run by two prominent intellectuals, Dr. Dien Syamsudin and Dr. Amir Santoso (Jatman (ed.), 2001:48).

            Hartono and Prabowo must be separated from two previous officers since both represented a new type of military officers who associated themselves as Suharto’s loyalist not only because their position in formal command structure, but also their personal closeness to the patron. Hartono had close personal relationship with Tutut, the oldest daughter of Suharto (Elson, 2001:282). Tutut was becoming important figure to whom Suharto depended on after the death of his wife. While Prabowo is Suharto’s son in law. He was also the commander of the Army’s Special Forces – the most well-equipped and trained force in the Armed Forces –.

            Considering the close relationships of Hartono and Prabowo with Cendana, presumably Suharto also ordered directly to both officers to take over the PDI’s office. The statement from Suyono that there was such dual command between Tanjung and Hartono confirmed this suspicion.

            The attack to the PDI’s office and the following social riots was designed to discredit PDI’s Megawati so that the latter lost a chance to participate in the election. The attack used the force unit from Brigif I Kodam Jaya (1st Infantry Brigade, Jakarta Military Command), Brimob (Police Mobile Brigade), and “preman” or gangsters from “Pemuda Pancasila”. The involvement of the gangsters this incident was not suprising since the Pemuda Pancasila is certainly Suharto’s loyalist and having close relationship with the military (Ryter, 2001: 124-155). Yorries Raweyai –“ Pemuda Pancasila”, a paramilitary youth group – testified that Sutiyoso asked for him to deploy the gangsters, even though Sutiyoso denied his testimony (Rakyat Merdeka, 8 May 2000). However, there is testimony that Kopassus (Army’s Special Force) and Kostrad also involved in the attack (Jatman (ed.), 2001:58). It also confirmed the possibility of direct order from Suharto to Hartono or his son in law (Prabowo) to take over the PDI’s office.

            The operation to take over the office was prepared in a quite short time. Based on the investigation, the order from Suharto presumably was given to the top rank of the military on 19 July 1996 when Suharto met Feisal Tanjung, Syarwan Hamid, Hartono, and Suyono in Cendana. The below table presented series of meeting, which is presumably conducted by the military officers to plan the taking over of the PDI’s office. It also showed statements regarding to “free speech forum” of PDI.









Order for taking over the PDI’s office?

Suharto, Feisal Tanjung, Syarwan Hamid, Hartono, and Suyono







The Armed Forces’ Headquarter




·   coordination?

·   For the first time, Feisal Tanjung indicated communist’s involvement in “free-speech forum” of PDI


500 military officers and the polices







·   Planning the attack

Colonel Haryanto, Lieutenant Colonel Budi Purnama (intelligence officers), some Suryadi’s PDI members, around 200 “preman”



Kodam Jaya’s Headquarter

·     Technical meeting of the attack?

·     In the interview with “Forum Keadilan” Suyono said that there was correlation between communist and PDI. He also stated the need of “police action” to address the PDI’s problem

SBY (Chief Staff of Kodam Jaya), Zacky Anwar Makarim (Director A of Armed Forces’ intelligence body), Colonel Haryanto, Colonel Joko Santoso (Kodam Jaya Officer), Alex Widya Siregar (PDI)


Presidential Office

·     Suharto warned to Suryadi and his colleagues that there was “setan gundul” in PDI’s office



Regent Hotel

Discussing the attack?

Syarwan Hamid, Syamsir Siregar, etc.

Source: Collected from the testimony of the suspected plotters, interview and journalistic report covered by Tempo, 1 August 2004, Forum Keadilan, 12 August 1996.


            When the attack happened on 27 July 1996, the top rank level of the military command began to blame each other. It was clear that the attack and the following riot had developed out of control as designed before. The following table reveals the chronology of the incident.





6.30 am

PDI’s office attacked by a group of people wearing red shirt and claimed as Suryadi’s supporters.

PDI’s office, Diponegoro 58, South Jakarta.

7.00 am

A bus burned and a jeep destroyed by the mass



The gate of PDI’s office fell, the attackers came inside the office


10am –3.00pm

The mass concentrated around the office

3 buses burned



An army’s owned building burned. The mass destroyed BHS Bank



An office building and four vehicles burned

Salemba Raya


Swansarindo Bank’ building burned

Salemba Raya


Auto 2000’s showroom looted and burned

Salemba Raya


BCA Bank’ building attacked



Warung Circle K looted and burned


6 – 10pm

9 buildings, 2 cars and several motorcycles burned

Kesawan Bank’ building burned

Proklamasi Street

Source: Gatra, 3 August 1996


            The attack itself can be divided into two phase. At around 5.30am, the first attack was carried out by Suryadi’s supporters to take over the office from Megawati’s supporters. However, this first attack failed. After that, the second attack took place at around 7.30. According to some witnesses, this attack was run by the military. Almost all witnesses testified that those taking over the office have strong body military’s short hair, using guns or military’s knife (sangkur), and wearing military’s boots (Tempo, 1 August 1999).

            The second attack to the office resulted in a huge number of victims. Regarding to the number of victims, it is still debatable even until now. Press conference from “Komnas HAM” or Indonesia’s Human Rights Commission on 31 August 1996 released official report stating that the incident caused 5 people killed, 149 wounded, and 74 missing (Gatra, 14 September 1996). Whereas, according to “Puspen ABRI” or Central Information Agency of the Armed Forces, there were 4 killed, 115 wounded – included 16 wounded soldiers, 134 arrested, 3 buses burned, 88 cars damaged or burned, 10 building burned.

               After investigating the missing people, the commission released the final number of missing people on 12 October 1996. Based on the final report of the commission, the number of missing people caused by the 27 July incident is 23 people  (Laporan HAM YLBHI, 1997:5). This number presented a speculation on the correct number of killed people. Furthermore, this number has never verified again until now. Some witnesses testified that the true number was much higher than official version as released by the commission. Some witnesses claimed that the number stood at around 47 killed (Ibid, 1997:58). A witness also testified that “Pondokrangon” cemetery as the place where all victims were buried (Tempo, 1 August 1999). However, this testimony has never clarified so that the actual number has never known. Whatever the case, the true number of killed people has been never known.

            The attack itself accomplished at around 9am, when the military succeeded in taking over the office and arrested all the Megawati’s supporters. However, the incident did not finish up to around 10pm. Based on the chronology of the incident, the first riot took place at 7am when the mass burned three buses. If the riot was certainly an expression of anger from Megawati’s supporters, why had the reaction erupted so fast?

            Taking over the PDI’s office clearly showed the growing frictions among factions and cliques in the inner circle of elite. At the top-level command of the Armed Forces, there was no coordination in dealing the incident between Feisal Tanjung and Hartono. Suyono confirmed this by saying “there was a dual command in the Armed Forces between Feisal Tanjung and Hartono”. (Tempo, 20 February 2000). When the plotters realized that the attack caused a huge number of victims, they began to blame each other and attempted to clean their bloody hand.

            However, the tense friction among elites, they have similar interest to hide the “the smell of conspiracy” around the incident. In order to avoid the criticism from the civil society, the elites needed to find out a “kambing hitam” or those who can be identified as the common enemy for the public.


The Ghost of Communism and the Failure of Plot

            The regime tried to create an official interpretation of the incident by saying that communist was the troublemaker that designed and engineered the riot. Soon after, the regime charged PRD as the mastermind of the incident (Gatra, 10 August 1996). In an interview with (Ibid, 10 August 1996), Dr. Amir Santoso from CPDS explained the similarity between PRD and the communist party. He concluded that PRD was as a new form of the communist party, so that it must be banned. Moreover, the regime also mobilized a mass rally from several Islamic groups to condemn the incident and its correlation with communism (Ibid, 10 August 1996).

            Creating the ghost of communism was designed to achieve two goals. On the one hand, it was designed to hide the conspiracy surround the incident taking place among elites. On the other hand, it was deliberately designed to push aside completely Megawati’s PDI from the politics. The regime hoped that by charging communist as the mastermind of the incident, the majority of Islamic community would keep distance from Megawati’s PDI.

               In the previous time, the ghost of communism was an effective way to push aside the political oppositions in the civil society. In fact, the military had adopted it as a permanent doctrine in perceiving what so-called as “the domestic threat” (Honna, 2001:54-89). Moreover, by correlating the incident with communist, the regime was encouraging the people to rememorize “the 1965 incident”. In addition, the regime also designed this story to regenerate a traumatic condition in the society regarding to the “1965 incident” (Zurbuchen, 2002:564-581).

            However, this old fashion strategy failed in convincing the public. Furthermore, Megawati consistently insisted that PDI had nothing to do with the communism issue. Eventually, the regime failed to topple completely Megawati from politics.


            To sum up, the 27 July incident shows the permanent approach of the New Order regime in overcoming the political opposition. By putting forward the coercive action and stigmatizing the opposition with communist label, the regime attempt to hide the permanent conflict among the clients in the elites’ inner circle in order to maintain elitist’ nature of the New Order regime.

            However, this campaign just strengthened one faction in the elites’ inner circle rather than balancing the power relationships among elites. By exploiting the Islamic sentiment, Habibie faction got most political benefits. Ironically, this stimulates further elites’ fragmentations, which then topple the authoritarian regime itself.

            The 27 July incident also shows that the strength of an authoritarian regime is limited by its own weakness in dealing with the elites’ fragmentation and the pressure from the civil society. Once the elites’ inner circle become imbalance, the civil society can topple the authoritarian regime.








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Gatra, 3 August 1996


Gatra, 10 August 1996


Gatra, 14 September 1996


Tempo, 1 Agustus 1999


Tempo, 20 Februari 2000


Tempo, 1 Agustus 2004


Forum Keadilan, 12 Agustus 1996


Forum Keadilan, 26 Agustus 1996


Rakyat Merdeka, 8 May 2000





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