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Jakarta Post

Q&A: Another anti-Ahok rally, another riot?

  • Devina Heriyanto
    Devina Heriyanto

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, December 1, 2016   /  10:25 am
Q&A: Another anti-Ahok rally, another riot? Religious protest – Thousands of people alongside the Movement of Indonesian Council Edict Supporters (GNPF MUI) stage a massive rally in protest of incumbent Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama’s allegedly blasphemous remarks in Jakarta on Nov. 4. (Antara/Akbar Nugroho Gumay)

A month after a massive rally on Nov. 4 that involved more than 100,000 protesters, Jakarta must brace itself for another rally this Friday. If the former rally, which took a violent turn in the evening, was dubbed ‘peaceful’, the organizers have been promoting the upcoming one as ‘super peaceful’.

This will be the third rally calling for the arrest of Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama in a blasphemy case, after one on Oct. 14 and another on Nov. 4.

The Nov. 4 rally proceeded peacefully until 6 p.m., when its permit expired. A riot, however, erupted in front of the State Palace as some protesters expressed their anger about not being able to meet President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo in person.

At a press conference held shortly after midnight, President Jokowi echoed a promise previously made by Vice President Jusuf Kalla that the legal process on Ahok’s blasphemy case would begin immediately in a fair and transparent manner.

Ahok was named a suspect on November 16, less than two weeks after the rally. After canceling a diplomatic visit to Australia, President Jokowi quickly embarked on a series of meetings with political leaders in pursuit of stability. The President also called for an end to the rallies, after rumor broke that another anti-Ahok rally would be held on November 25. The rally turned out to become a quiet demonstration of solidarity with the Rohingya people in front of the Myanmar Embassy.

Who is behind the Dec. 2 rally?

The rally was initiated by the so-called National Movement to Safeguard the Indonesian Ulema Council’s Fatwa (GNPF-MUI), referring to a fatwa from the MUI stating that Ahok had indeed committed blasphemy. The leader of the hard-line Islam Defenders Front (FPI), Habieb Rizieq, is a leading organizer of the planned rally.

Ahok, a Christian and Indonesian of Chinese descent in a Muslim-majority country, has sparked uproar among Islamic groups after he made a comment about a Quranic verse during his visit to Thousand Islands regency in late September.

Indonesia’s two largest Muslim organizations have expressed their disapproval over the rally.

Muhammadiyah and Nadhlatul Ulama (NU) have called on the GNPF-MUI to refrain from holding another demonstration, saying the move would disrupt the ongoing legal process.

The Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI), meanwhile, has also called Muslims not to stage another rally, asking them to channel their aspirations through more democratic ways, namely through meetings with the government or through the media. The MUI has also distanced itself from the GNPF-MUI, saying the latter was not part of it and did not have any formal relations with the council as an Islamic organization.

What will they do?

Rizieq had initially said the protesters would carry out Friday prayers along two of the capital's main roads, Jl. MH Thamrin and Jl. Sudirman. National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian quickly rejected the idea, as doing so would cause massive congestionNU leading cleric Ahmad Mustofa Bisri has also expressed concern that conducting Friday prayers on the street had no precedent in Islam.

The MUI, meanwhile, announced in a fatwa on its website that Friday prayers could be held outside a mosque as long as there was coordination with law enforcement bodies and no disturbance to public activities.

After a series of meetings between the GNPF-MUI and the National Police, it was decided that the rally’s Friday prayers would be held at the National Monument (Monas) from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. and would consist only of dzikir (mass chants in praise of God), sermons and Friday prayers instead of street demonstration. Jl. Merdeka Selatan is also prepared to accommodate protesters.

Up to 600,000 people are predicted to join the rally according to Monas management, but police estimated the number to be closer to 150,000 to 200,000 people.

How will this rally affect business and traffic?

The National Police will reroute traffic around the Monas to prevent congestion, and Jl. Medan Merdeka Utara and Jl. Medan Merdeka Barat will be closed.

(Read also: Police to reroute traffic during anti-Ahok gathering on Friday)

Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin) chairman Rosan P. Roeslani said local and global investors had expressed hope that the rally would not turn violent.

Previously, the leadership of the Confederation of Indonesian Workers Unions (KSPI) announced that its members would participate in the Dec. 2 rally. Aside from demanding Ahok’s arrest, the labor union would also voice its protest over Government Regulation No. 78 of 2015 concerning wages. The union boasted that 500,000 workers would join the rally. The National Police are calling on labor union leaders to postpone their rally.

Some schools in Central Jakarta, such as St. Theresia Catholic School, will be closed on Friday.

Will the rally turn chaotic?

Gen. Tito has called on Greater Jakarta residents to not be alarmed about the rally. Jokowi has also stated that he considered the rally a mass prayer event rather than another anti-Ahok demonstration.

The police and the military are ready to deploy 22,000 joint forces to secure the rally. The personnel will secure not only Monas, but also government offices surrounding Monas and other government offices and hotels, such as Jl. Veteran, Lapangan Banteng, the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle, Tanah Abang, Jl. Abdul Muis and Jl. K.H Hasyim Ashari.

Just like for the Nov. 4 rally, the personnel would not carry firearms and take a friendly approach toward protesters. However, not everyone is convinced the rally will run peacefully. National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) chief Comr. Gen Suhardi Alius, for example, has warned that former terrorism convicts may join the rally.

What about the legal process in the blasphemy case?

The legal process is still in progress and moving quickly as the case has been given a priority due to its sensitive nature.

Is it true that the rally can lead to the President’s impeachment?

Speculation that the demonstrations are actually targeting President Jokowi is rife since Nov. 4. At his press conference following the large-scale rally, the President vaguely accused “political actors” of being behind the rally.

During the rally, House of Representative Deputy Speaker Fahri Hamzah made a provocative speech about impeaching the President. In his speech, Fahri said there were two ways Jokowi could be impeached, through the legislature or through the ‘street legislature’.

Jokowi’s supporters grouped in the Red and White Solidarity Group (Solmet) reported Fahri to the Jakarta Police for allegedly violating Article 160 of the Criminal Code on provocation. Another group, the President’s Volunteer Forum (Bara JP), reported Fahri to the National Police’s Criminal Investigation Department (Bareskrim).

Fahri later dismissed the impeachment rumor.

The Constitution allows lawmakers to impeach a president if two thirds vote in favor. However, an impeachment seems far-fetched after Jokowi made a series of meetings with leaders of political parties to consolidate support after the Nov. 4 rally.