'A girdle of emeralds strung around the equator.' Indonesia's description is apt. Green predominates in the country's 13,000 islands stretching over 5,000 kilometres and covering five million square kilometres of land and sea: the flashing greens of coconut, banana and pepaya trees; the sombre greens of tropical rain forests; and the delicate, pale greens of freshly planted rice seedlings in terraced fields.
'Unity in Diversity' is the national motto. Yet many visitors are struck more by the diversity than the unity of the people: from devout Moslems in northern Sumatra, artistic Hindus on the islands of Bali, through to bow-and-arrow tribes-people in Irian Jaya (West Irian). But the cultural and political heart of Indonesia is the island of Java. It makes up only seven per cent of the country's land surface but is the home of over 90 million people.
For over 300 years prior to 1942 the sprawling archipelago had been under Dutch domination. Then the Japanese invaded and quickly dispelled the myth of white supremacy. But their harsh regime soon created resentment.
After 1945, under the flamboyant leadership of President Sukarno, the newly independent country experienced economic decline and outbreaks of violent rebellion. Sukarno's juggling act, keeping different power factions like the army, Muslims and the Communists in the air at the same time, fell apart in an orgy of blood letting in September 1965. After an abortive left-wing coup, the army and Moslems killed between 100,000 and a million people in a grim year of the long knives. From this emerged the 'New Order' government of President Suharto.
The pressure of people on land is intense, especially on Java, where average farm size is only 0.3 hectare. About 40 per cent of Java's rural households own no farming land at all, and a 'large' farmer is someone with more than two hectares of irrigated paddyfields. Thanks to the Green Revolution, Indonesia's rice production has risen by about four per cent during the past decade. But production increases have been at the price of equity.
The rise in world oil prices during the 1970s was a great windfall for Indonesia. Royalties and taxes on oil exports now account for two-thirds of government revenue and the country has a healthy balance of payments surplus. Yet converting oil income into decent living standards for those at the bottom of the heap has been a non-starter. Most of the country's generals have sticky fingers in one or more lucrative commercial pies. The President's relatives are also involved, with Suharto's wife known in Djikarta's coffee shops as Madame Ten Per Cent - claimed to be her rake off on government contracts.
The government faces a general election in May 1982. Despite the dithering, the corruption and the widening gap between the oil rich and the land-hungry poor, the present regime will probably win again. The intimidation of opposition candidates and sleight-of-hand with voting forms will see to that.