Echoes of Change: The Nomination that Reshaped Indonesia’s Political Landscape

Dipo Alam and Bambang Sulistomo, both clad in white shirts adorned with an image of Ali Sadikin on their chest and the text, “He is the best, we choose the best leader,” confidently strolled into a small eatery in Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM), Central Jakarta. It was Monday, June 20, 1977, and they had invited journalists from both domestic and international spheres. The purpose of the meeting became apparent as Dipo and Bambang officially nominated Ali Sadikin as a candidate to replace President Soeharto.

Surprisingly, their move wasn’t fueled by a perception of Soeharto’s failure during his reign since 1967. Instead, they admired Soeharto’s successes and believed that Ali Sadikin, with his dynamic leadership style, was essential for the acceleration of development. “We need someone like Ali Sadikin to continue the success of Soeharto,” Dipo stated, as quoted in TEMPO’s July 2, 1977 edition. Bambang added that they had no political agenda but aimed to involve the grassroots in the political process, intending to stimulate a new cultural climate in politics.

Their declaration caused a stir in the political landscape. At that time, Ali Sadikin was the Governor of DKI Jakarta, and his term was ending roughly three weeks after the declaration. Affectionately known as Bang Ali, he has been considered successful in leading Jakarta since 1966. Both Dipo and Bambang, aged 27 and students at the University of Indonesia (UI), had carefully planned their action. Dipo, in his biography titled “Dalam Pusaran Adab Dipimpin dan Memimpin” (2022), revealed that he wanted to ensure their organization, Himpunan Mahasiswa Islam (HMI), wouldn’t be negatively impacted. Hence, he brought in Bambang, who wasn’t an HMI member, recognizing his strong and unique character.

Dipo and Bambang labeled their action as the “Gerakan Pemikiran,” or thought movement. Two weeks later, Dipo met Ali Sadikin at a DMUI event. Bang Ali questioned their motivation, and Dipo explained that they aimed to break the political stagnation of that time. They wanted Soeharto to be aware that there were people desiring an alternative candidate. The conversation touched on the risk involved, with Bang Ali asking about potential consequences. Despite the risks, Ali Sadikin agreed to support their idea.

In Bang Ali’s memoir, “Demi Jakarta 1966–1977” (1995), he emphasized the significance of Dipo and Bambang’s boldness in expressing their opinions. He stated that it wasn’t about the name being nominated, but the meaning behind it. The incident raised important questions about the future presidency, and Bang Ali encouraged people to inquire with the MPR.

A day after completing his thesis on February 8, 1978, Dipo Alam found himself behind bars. In contrast, Bambang was not targeted during the political turmoil of 1977–1978. Instead, Bambang’s father, Bung Tomo, and numerous other figures were detained. When Bambang held his wedding reception in June 1978, Bung Tomo was absent, confined to house arrest in Nirbaya, East Jakarta.

As the political heat intensified, students from various campuses, including ITB, demonstrated against Soeharto’s potential reelection. Dipo and Bambang had paved the way, albeit individually and subtly, for the call for Soeharto to step down. Dipo was taken to the Tajimalela Infantry Battalion 202 headquarters in Bekasi, where he was interrogated by Colonel Kiemas. There was a moment when Kiemas triggered Dipo’s anger, demeaning the poet and playwright Rendra. This resulted in a heated exchange, as Dipo defended Rendra’s protest poetry.

In August 1978, Dipo was released without charges, but some DMUI leaders, including Heri Akhmadi, Lukman Hakim, Bram Zakir, and Sukmadji Indro Tjahjono, faced legal consequences. The political landscape continued to evolve, and it became apparent that the authorities were determined to secure Soeharto’s reelection. Dipo was invited by Colonel Eddie M. Nalapraya, Assistant Intel of Laksusda Jaya, to apologize. Eddie revealed that the students were detained until the MPR General Session was concluded to prevent any interference with Soeharto’s reelection.

Two days after his release, Dipo was summoned by Laksamana Sudomo, the Chief of Kopkamtib, to his house in Jakarta. Sudomo, pointing towards Ali Sadikin’s house, advised Dipo not to criticize Soeharto and his family, implying potential consequences. Dipo, having experienced detention, questioned the reason behind his arrest. Sudomo’s response underscored the delicate balance between freedom of expression and the political climate at the time.

Dipo later pursued his studies in the United States and earned a doctorate from George Washington University. He went on to work at the National Planning Agency (Bappenas) and, in his final public role, served as the Secretary of the Cabinet in the United Indonesia Cabinet II under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The succession idea may have faded from memory, but the bold move by Dipo and Bambang marked a crucial moment in Indonesia’s political history.