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Jakarta Post

Stop, in the name of free speech

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, September 4, 2018   /   08:25 am
Stop, in the name of free speech A group of people intercept a car carryring Neno Warisman, an anti-Jokowi activist, to prevent her from exiting Sultan Syarif Kasim Airport in Pekanbaru, Riau, on Aug. 25. Neno was slated to attend a #2019GantiPresiden event. (Antara/Rony Muharrman)

The police crackdown on the movement to unseat President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, through the use of the hashtag #GantiPresiden2019 (Change President 2019), may be intended to shield him, but the police are doing a great disservice to their President and to the nation. If they are not careful, their actions could contribute to his defeat in the April 2019 election.

The bans on meetings of the hashtag proponents in several cities in Indonesia in the past week are already being portrayed, at home and abroad, as suppressing free speech. As far as freedom of expression, and hence our democracy, is concerned, this is nothing but a huge setback.

There is absolutely no need for the police to do this. Their boss Jokowi is leading in all the surveys, he has all the advantages any incumbent could ask for. The successful Asian Games, in terms of hosting it and the nation’s performance, has added to his credentials going into the race.

Jokowi is doing alright. The last thing he needs is this sort of helping hand from the police.

The hashtag emerged as far back as early 2017, maybe even before, during the height of the Jakarta gubernatorial elections. The opposition had used this occasion to start its campaign early, even when it had no clue then who would run against the President. 

But that was just the point. The incumbent is too strong that the only democratic way to unseat him is to discredit his performance. That is the theme of the campaign, but we have seen the counter campaign, equally aggressive, using the hashtag #Jokowi2Periode (Jokowi two terms) for much of the past year.

Indeed, democracy in the end is a war of words. Neither side really needs police protection or support. This is digital democracy in the 21st century, through hashtag wars. Police should move on from the comfort of their analog world.

Now that the opposition already has a candidate to rally around in Prabowo Subianto, its campaign is getting more aggressive as we get closer to the election date. The #GantiPresident2019 meetings are picking up pace, but so are the activities supporting the incumbent.

The police claim they stopped these meetings to prevent potential conflicts, because Jokowi supporters had plans to disrupt them. Once again, security and order trumps free speech, the sort of excuse popularly used by the Soeharto regime, then to suppress dissenting voices.

In recent years, we have seen time and again when police, citing law and order, curtailed freedom of speech and also freedom of religion. Rather than providing protection for those wishing to exercise their freedoms as guaranteed by the Constitution, police are taking the easy solution by shutting them down to prevent conflict. 

This sort of overreaction on the part of the police against the#GantiPresiden2019 movement is unnecessarily elevating the hashtag and its proponents, giving them a new platform and a new cause to rally: Free speech.