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Jakarta Post

Jokowi’s allies are his biggest problem, not the students

  • Kornelius Purba

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, October 2, 2019   /   08:48 am
Jokowi’s allies are his biggest problem, not the students President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo (JP/Wienda Parwitasari)

It will not be too long before the young officers policing demonstrations in Jakarta lose their patience with protesters — many indeed are simply rioters — who continue to provoke them amid the broiling heat and polluted air of the city.

The police’s handling of the protesters in the last few days has been alarming enough. Perhaps the generals will be credited with restoring the peace and more junior personnel receive promotion if they tame the angry protesters. Equally, however, some officers may go to prison for human right abuses if they act outside their authority.

I am sure President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo fully realizes this difficult situation. But he is alone now. People who have previously declared themselves his loyalists now prefer to keep their distance.

Was Jokowi joking when he called on the protesters to act peacefully in accordance with the law and public order? Those who are taking to the streets are not only university students, but also people from different backgrounds and with various motives. It is hard to distinguish between protesters who fight for the supremacy of the law and mere troublemakers.

Many may join the protest without good reason, only interested in taking selfies while escaping the police snatch squads. Even minors are taking part in the rallies, prompting the National Commission on Child Protection to express its concern.

Jokowi now has no choice but to humiliate himself by swallowing his own words of support for the controversial revision of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) Law. If he wants to remain an effective leader, he should sign a presidential regulation in lieu of law (Perppu) to annul the KPK law revision.

For Jokowi, this is no longer a matter of right or wrong, but do or die. He can choose to remain with the people, risking the stability of his government, or side with the elites, which will transform him into a lame duck leader.

The President has strong reasons to criticize and revamp the KPK. But to the public, even among Jokowi’s staunch supporters, the political elites are seen as being motivated by the nefarious desire to incapacitate the antigraft commission.

There is a high risk that the newly inaugurated House of Representatives will block the Perppu, meaning the systematic weakening of the KPK will continue. But at least the people will see that Jokowi listened to their protests and that the political parties are the ones to blame. The President has the constitutional power to sign a Perppu, which will automatically come into force permanently unless the House rejects it in the sitting session after its signing.

With less than a month before the end of their term, the heretofore super lazy politicians suddenly became super diligent in making laws, including the controversial Criminal Code (KUHP) amendment bill and land bill. Jokowi showed his support for the House’s moves, causing many eyebrows to rise as to why he let himself be held hostage by political parties that he helped to win their House seats.

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), Golkar Party, NasDem Party and United Development Party owe much to Jokowi, because his popularity boosted their votes in the legislative election in April.

Five years ago, PDI-P chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri confidently dismissed Jokowi as a party worker. But Jokowi has proven that the party serves him instead. Megawati has been very critical of the KPK, which has sent many PDI-P politicians to jail. She has now asked Jokowi to help her.

Meanwhile back on the streets, the young protesters brave the heat, police batons and tear gas in a show of resistance to the attempts by nearly all the political parties and their leaders to equip themselves and their families, or even mistresses, with unlimited impunity.

I do not mean to scare you, but look at the ongoing trend of the street demonstrations. They no longer focus on the KPK Law and KUHP bill.

The circumstances of the protests today are totally different from those of the nationwide rallies in 1998, but never underestimate the danger of the current demonstrations.

Compared to the six preceding presidents, Jokowi has never been linked with any corruption case or abuse of power to enrich his family, inner circle or cronies. But strangely he is probably the fiercest in expressing opposition toward the KPK, the country’s most trusted agency.

It is not surprising that several retired senior Indonesian Military (TNI) officers have been involved in the ongoing upheavals. Former Navy chief Slamet Soebijanto led a rally near the TNI headquarters in East Jakarta. Army, Navy and Air Force officers have been relying solely on their salaries and pensions since the abolition of the military’s socio-political role in 1998.

By contrast, police personnel, from the rank-and-file to the top brass are more prosperous than those in the TNI.

The President needs to find ways to help the TNI. He has awarded positions as commissioners to his civilian supporters and he probably needs to provide a similar mechanism for military retirees.

The President has nothing to be afraid of when it comes to Ibu Megawati. She is the country’s most powerful politician now, but she also needs Jokowi. Mutual benefit has marked their relationship so far. She has often compromised on more strategic goals, such as her support for Jokowi’s nomination in 2014.

So Bapak Jokowi, just go ahead if you want to meet the people’s demands.