The Jakarta Post
There must be déjà vu among the many Jakartans who witnessed and endured the horror of the May 1998 riots, after seeing the wave of acts of violence that shrouded the city since Tuesday evening. What happened in the past two days could hardly rival the tragedy 21 years ago, but the two events have much in common, particularly in spreading fear.
The schools that closed, employees who were told to go home very early and the Tanah Abang wholesale market, one of the capital’s busiest trade centers, that ceased operations mirrored the sense of anxiety, despite the heavy presence of police and military personnel. Circulating news and graphics related to the unrest, substantiated or not, exacerbated the bewilderment, forcing the government to restrict public access to popular social media platforms with the view to protect people from hoaxes.
Clashes did erupt between security personnel and those protesting the presidential election result, initially outside the Elections Supervisory Agency office on Jl. MH Thamrin and later shifting to Tanah Abang and its vicinity. The mob attacked a police dormitory and set fire to a dozen cars parked nearby, while reports of protesters dying from gunshot wounds went viral. Thanks to the police’s handling of the protesters, the nightmarish May 1998 unrest did not recur.
Addressing a press conference, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo claimed security and order had been restored and the law would be strictly enforced against those behind the riots. That sounds cliché, but such a statement is needed to convince the public that the state is present to protect the whole nation.
We have no qualms in condemning the use of violence in the most recent demonstrations to reject the election result, which showed the incumbent, President Jokowi, and running mate Ma’ruf Amin winning the race with 55.5 percent of the vote over their contenders Prabowo Subianto and Sandiaga Uno. The General Elections Commission announced the outcome early on Tuesday, when almost everybody, including Prabowo’s supporters, had expected it to happen on Wednesday.
Prabowo has insisted on contesting the official vote count, which he said was the result of massive cheating, at the Constitutional Court. He called on his supporters to refrain from “unconstitutional ways” of protesting, but only after the damage had been done and lives were lost later on Wednesday did he speak out against the violence.
There is no justification at all for any use of violence, not only because it will only breed more violence but also because it betrays our commitment to our nascent democracy. Having seen the generally peaceful elections with a record high voter turnout of more than 80 percent, we cannot accept the democratic process ending in violence.
At the end of the day, the statesmanship of the political elite matters. We should praise the Democratic Party and National Mandate Party (PAN), which were part of Prabowo’s coalition, for accepting the election result. Prabowo’s option for a court battle is equally legitimate, although if he follows the Democrats’ and PAN’s initiative it will ease tensions quickly.