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The Jakarta Post
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COMMENTARY: Generals, those flowers are no ‘carte blanche’

  • Ati Nurbaiti
    Ati Nurbaiti

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Sun, May 7, 2017 | 08:00 am
COMMENTARY: Generals, those flowers are no ‘carte blanche’ Hundreds of flower boards pleading with the Indonesian Military and the National Police to uphold Pancasila and the Constitution are seen along the sidewalks in front of the National Police headquarters. (JP/Dhoni Setiawan)

We’re still in the post-Jakarta gubernatorial election fever, particularly ahead of May 9, when outgoing Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama is to hear the sentence of his blasphemy trial.

Ahok has received a considerable morale boost with the thousands of flower boards arriving at City Hall, in what has become the first wave of the nation’s “flower revolution.” The revolution surely doesn’t lie in the courage to stand up against a dictator, but in a revolutionary safe way to make a statement; depending on diverse views, it’s a more timid/cowardly/ strategic/creative/peaceful/laidback and fun way than the massive — also largely peaceful — rallies against Ahok, where participants were also enjoying themselves.

People simply call and pay florists to send the flower boards with serious or humorous messages, on behalf of individuals, groups or alumni; they have no intention of joining any sweaty protests, let alone a risky revolution.

The message of the first “flower wave” was a farewell to Ahok and his deputy Djarot Saiful Hidayat, and a show of gratitude for their services.

Then, as the latest rally demanding the jailing of Ahok was held Friday, flower boards of the second wave were still being deployed to the headquarters of the National Police and the Indonesian Military (TNI) — partly in defiance of the burning of the boards around City Hall during May Day rallies.

Before Friday, the viral message around social media said, “Prove your love to NKRI,” the unitary state of the republic, by contributing cash and ideas for the flower boards and also trees, seedlings or flower pots, as the State Palace, to which people had also wanted to send flower boards, had reportedly announced it was not accepting them, perhaps following criticisms of waste.

Protesters on Friday claimed they had sought to remind law enforcers of their independence in determining the fate of “Ahok sang penista” (the blasphemer), whom they feared would walk free thanks to his ex-boss, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and his allies.

Meanwhile, the latest senders of flower boards were expressing support for the President, police and military to safeguard the nation against what they see as threats worse than terrorist acts; the dominance of far right Islamists who would go beyond successfully bringing down a rude Chinese Christian governor, to eventually lord over the daily life of Indonesia’s diverse citizens.

Amid such distress, one recalls the repeated exuberant welcome, with or without flowers, when the troops come marching in: In 1942, when our elders thought the Japanese would liberate us from the Dutch; in the mid-1960s, when the military was seen as the savior against the communists; and in foreign lands near and far, where people welcomed security forces who eventually forgot to leave.

I told friends early Friday, it’s enough to send flowers just to the police ahead of likely orderly demonstrations.

“It’s been settled,” one replied. Pak Jokowi, National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian and TNI commander Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo would get the flowers and trees with the message “One heart, one resolve, one struggle for NKRI.”

My other appeal was similarly ignored: that the NKRI jargon is often abused for human rights violations in Papua. Indeed Papua, where Gen. Tito earlier served, is too far for most of the media’s audience because it’s beyond the coverage of most media, too.

So, generals, even with such support for you, those flowers are no carte blanche. Civilians indeed turn to their state protectors in times of need.

But today the support comes with many limitations.

Despite calls to disband the Hizbuth Thahrir Islamic group, which has long called for an Islamic state (khilafah), that doesn’t mean we’re giving a blank check to authorities to revoke New Order powers and disband this and that group at a whim.

Neither does expressing support to safeguard the “NKRI” mean that the police and the military are given free rein to trample around remote places for “separatists” or arrest anyone in white who has joined a peaceful rally.

This reminder is needed time and again as today’s politicians, including Jokowi, in election periods and beyond, keep reaching out to military and police officers for their support amid unpredictable fellow civilian politicians.

Reminders are also needed as these state protectors are not always clear about which citizens they are protecting. Under Gen. Tito’s previous term as Jakarta police chief, Islamist vigilantes disrupted a workshop for sexual minorities and talks on the 1965 anti-communist pogrom.

With such support or passiveness of either the police, military and local governments, until today the vigilantes continue to be a menace; this week they tried to cancel a painting exhibition on the missing activist Wiji Thukul in Semarang, Central Java.

But never mind those details; what my friends of the Class of 1979 Tarakanita private girls’ high school cherish is the lasting camaraderie of diverse Indonesians that they fear their grandchildren might not experience.

So enjoy the flowers, generals, and be consistent with your public mandate.

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