OurIndonesia – Sutan Sjahrir is one of the national heroes of Indonesia. He was a leading politician and a charismatic intellectual. Sjahrir served as Indonesia’s first Prime Minister in 1945, just after the country got independence. Prior to independence, he was a revolutionary leader who was strongly committed to the democratic principles. Sjahrir was quite close to Mohammad Hatta, the first Indonesia’s Vice-President and his compatriot from West Sumatra. Both studied in the Netherlands and were involved in the Indonesian Association (Perhimpunan Indonesia).
Sjahrir was born in Padang Panjang, West Sumatra, in 1909. However, he grew up and spent his childhood in Medan, North Sumatra. His father was a public prosecutor in Medan and an adviser to Sultan of Deli. His eldest half-sister, Siti Rohana, nicknamed the Minangkabau Kartini, was an activist and a journalist who built the first national newspaper that voiced women’s rights.
Sjahrir studied at ELS and MULO in Medan and then at AMS in Bandung, where he founded Tjahja Volksuniversiteit or Cahaya Universitas Rakyat, a school for the natives. After graduated from Bandung, he continued his study in the Netherlands, where he studied Law at Amsterdam University and Leiden University. Unfortunately, Sjahrir did not finish his degree. In 1931, Hatta asked him to join a political party he founded in the homeland. The party was called the New Indonesian National Party (PNI Baru).
Sjahrir was one of the founders of Jong Indonesie, an Indonesian youth association that inspired the establishment of Pemuda Indonesia (PI, Indonesian Youth). PI was the mastermind behind the Youth Congress (Sumpah Pemuda), a historical congregation that is still commemorated until the present time.
For his political activities, Sjahrir was sent to jail several times. In March 1934, the Dutch colonial government sent him to Cipinang prison and then moved him to Boven Digul, another prison for political activists, in 1935.
During the Japanese occupation, Sjahrir had a little public role, mainly due to his health condition. He got tuberculosis and faced difficulties to mingle with other people. However, after independenc, Sjahrir had fully recovered and returned back to his political activities. In October 1945, he wrote a political pamphlet titled Our Struggle (Perjuangan Kita), which then became the manifesto of his future political party, Partai Sosialis Indonesia (PSI, Indonesian Socialist Party).
A month later, President Soekarno appointed him as Prime Minister, a position that he held until June 1947. Sjahrir was known for his non-cooperative attitude towards the Japanese colonial government, a position that benefitted him when Indonesian government had to deal with the Dutch on several negotiations. Sjahrir played a crucial role in the Linggadjati Agreement, a first step for Indonesia to be recognized as an independent state.
In 1948, Sjahrir set up the Indonesian Socialist Party (PSI), a small party, which was quite influential during the early times of Indonesian independence. However, in the first democratic election in 1955, the party only got a small number of votes, which forced Sjahrir’s political career into the margin.
After the election, Sjahrir’s relationship with Soekarno got worse. It culminated in 1962, when he was charged for conspiracy against the Soekarno’s government. Soekarno sent him to jail. He suffered several deseases and had a stroke in 1965. He was then sent to Switzerland for treatment. He died there a year later. (Septa Dinata)