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Jakarta Post

Handling protest with care

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, May 10, 2019   /   09:15 am
Handling protest with care A sign on a footbridge, which reads “The elections are over, let’s bring back our brotherhood and nation’s unity”, is seen in Tanah Abang, Central Jakarta. (The Jakarta Post/Dhoni Setiawan)

Tension is understandably simmering ahead of May 22, when the General Elections Commission (KPU) will announce the result of the April 17 polls, but the government’s response to the political dynamics is feared to aggravate animosity between supporters of the two rival presidential candidates. Furthermore, the government’s penchant for restrictions will not only silence the opposition but also endanger the nascent democracy.

On Monday, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto revealed the government’s plan to form a team that would monitor and evaluate “words, acts and thoughts” of public figures. While dismissing allegations that the government was emulating the New Order way of keeping the opposition in check, Wiranto said the policy would ensure “people could rest easy in the holy month of Ramadan”.

Most recently, Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said a plan by supporters of presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto to mobilize “people power” to protest the KPU’s failure to address their claims of massive election fraud could be considered treason. According to one of Prabowo’s supporters, people power refers to demonstrations, which is legitimate according to the law.

It’s not difficult to read the minds of both Wiranto and Ryamizard, who have served in the military for decades under Soeharto’s New Order regime. (Wiranto was Soeharto’s last armed forces commander and remained in the post during the transition period that followed the fall of the New Order regime in 1998). The problem is they represent the government of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who was democratically elected in 2014 and is on course for a second term after the democratic election last month.

Many, however, would agree to the security approach Wiranto and Ryamizard have chosen as a quick fix, especially because Prabowo and his supporters have persistently been claiming victory and crying foul of widespread cheating. At the same time, they say they distrust the KPU over its alleged favoritism benefiting the incumbent.

A security approach is indeed tempting. Back in the New Order era, such an approach was effective in helping spur economic growth without much trouble. But this nation paid a lot for the security-for-prosperity model: the loss of freedoms.

If the government thinks it has legitimacy to suppress the opposition, it will look for any reason to act against whoever dares to criticize it — similar to the New Order. To maintain public order, democracy prescribes enforcement of the law. There are prevailing laws and regulations that govern matters related to, for example, libel, fake news and incitement, and a number of people have stood trial or been convicted after a due process of law.

Jokowi once called on the nation to consider elections a joyful, rather than frightening, moment. The elections have been held in a peaceful manner, so should the ensuing process that will climax when the KPU unveils the verdict.

Refraining from unnecessary use of force is therefore the best policy to tackle the protests.