JAKARTA: Days before he is inaugurated for the second time, Indonesian president Joko Widodo has his work cut out to regain public trust, after several controversial Bills and laws sparked widespread youth protests.
Analysts interviewed by CNA expressed concern that the recent developments could hamper Indonesia's efforts to combat corruption, or worse still, shake the foundations of democracy in the country. They added that the president needs to act fast and take people's views into consideration.
In under a month, the Indonesian parliament hastily revised the law which governed the country’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). The new law is widely believed to limit the agency’s independence and power in investigating and prosecuting graft cases.
The revision was seen as a triumph for the elites who for years have tried to defang an agency that has jailed corrupt judges, businessmen and more than 200 politicians.
This time, however, it was a step too far for many Indonesians, who regard the KPK as the embodiment of the country's commitment to democracy and a clean government.
The same parliament also expedited the deliberation of the Criminal Code revision Bill, which was supposed to replace the Dutch colonial-era penal code.
But many of the antiquated provisions are still in place in the latest draft of the Bill, including a hefty fine for homelessness and penalties if one’s chickens eat a neighbour’s feed.
The Bill instead introduced new provisions which the current code does not outlaw.
In its latest draft, ordinary Indonesians could go to jail for insulting the president, criticising the judiciary system, performing an abortion, promoting contraceptives or having sex out of wedlock.
CORRUPTION LAW PASSED IN RECORD TIME
Ms Bivitri Susanti, a Constitutional Law expert from Jakarta-based Jentera Law School said it was no accident that the parliament was trying to rush many controversial Bills towards the end of its term on Monday (Sep 30).
“The parliament is getting smarter at dodging public scrutiny,” she told CNA.
Ms Susanti added that using the argument that time was running out, the parliament was able to bypass the public consultation process, which allows experts and activists to weigh in on the Bills. Instead, most of the deliberation process took place behind closed doors.
The law on the KPK, she noted, was passed on Sep 6, in a record 13 days after the parliament motioned to revise the law. In comparison, it took the parliament three years to deliberate the Bill on the eradication of sexual violence before it was finally dropped due to a prolonged deadlock.
“The law on the KPK is truly an anomaly. What is more disappointing is that the president could have stopped the Bill from being deliberated in the first place. Instead, he gave the parliament the green light to begin the deliberation process,” Ms Susanti said.
Other Bills which the parliament expedited were revisions to the agrarian law – which would compel people to give up their properties if they are needed for government infrastructure projects – and the revisions to the manpower law which, among others, would eliminate female labourers’ rights to call in sick when they have menstrual cramps.
The revisions frustrated millions of Indonesians who have already been disappointed by the country’s slow response over the choking haze from the country’s worst forest fires in years.
Meanwhile in the restive province of Papua, a string of violence erupted resulting in the deaths of dozens. The violence came after widespread protests over a series of racial discrimination cases which reignited calls to secede from Indonesia.
As dissatisfaction towards the president – known popularly as Jokowi – grew, tens of thousands of students across Indonesia began pouring onto the streets last week.
The students demanded Jokowi to repeal the KPK law, intervene on the deliberation of the contentious Bills and put an end to the discrimination towards the ethnic Melanesian Papuans.
The dissatisfaction towards Jokowi deepened after security officers employed what was believed to be heavy-handed tactics to muzzle the street protests, firing tear gas and rubber bullets at the unarmed students while beating them with batons.
In the city of Kendari, Southeast Sulawesi, two students were killed after they were hit by rubber bullets at close range. Meanwhile in Jakarta, dozens of students had to be hospitalised after they were severely beaten by security officials.
Mr Hendri Satrio, a lecturer at Jakarta’s Paramadina University said the president seems to be taking all the wrong steps in responding to the street protests.
How he handled the demonstrations, the loss of lives, the excessive use of force made public trust slide ahead of his inauguration on Oct 20, the analyst told CNA.
Mr Satrio, who is with the political science department, also highlighted a decision by the Minister for Higher Education Mohamad Nasir to summon university rectors and force them to prohibit students from joining the protests.
There was also a move by the police to interrogate a former journalist turned musician who started a crowdfunding campaign to buy food and first aid kits for the student protesters.
“These are huge blunders which further eroded public trust in Jokowi,” Mr Satrio continued. “He must resolve these issues if he wants people to continue to support his policies and programmes. If unaddressed, there will be further erosion of public trust and his popularity.”
Amnesty International Indonesia’s executive director Usman Hamid said the tactics employed by the security forces would only antagonise the students further.
“The students’ deaths show that police tactics are not there to keep the protesters safe. It’s clear that the unlawful use of excessive force by police is contributing to a volatile situation. The priority must be to prevent further loss of life and ensure that security forces are protecting people’s human rights,” he told CNA.
Mr Hamid said the tactics had only put more burden on Jokowi’s shoulders. “Now he has the responsibility to ensure that this fatal shooting is investigated in a prompt, thorough and independent manner,” he said.
The activist also hit out at the government's handling of the situation in Papua, by sending in more troops and throttling internet access in the region.
“These tensions are not an excuse to prevent people from sharing information and peacefully speaking their mind,” he said.
JOKOWI'S REFORMER IMAGE AT STAKE
As a furniture businessman turned bureaucrat with humble beginnings, Jokowi was initially seen as a fresh face in the Indonesian political scene. There were hopes that he would be able to get rid of entrenched corruption which had hampered economic growth in the country.
He went on to defeat Prabowo Subianto, a military general with ties to the late strongman Suharto both in 2014 and 2019.
However, as he enters his second term, public perception has slowly changed, noted Mr Yunarto Wijaya, executive director of the think-tank Charta Politika.
“There is a disconnect or a wide gap between people’s aspirations and policies of the elites. There are Bills which serve only the interests of the few. And the Bills were deliberated quickly, without public consultation,” the analyst told CNA.
“People were hoping that this outsider (Jokowi), who is not a party leader, not an elite and perceived to be anti-corruption, can stop this. But Jokowi appears to be hopeless. He merely postponed the passing of the criminal code and he supported the deliberation of the KPK law.
“This is why Indonesians felt abandoned (by Jokowi) and created the impression that Jokowi is a part of all this”.
Dr Robertus Robet, a sociologist from the State University of Jakarta said the fact that Jokowi is an outsider meant that he is bound to please his political patrons and allies to keep his coalition intact and his administration running smoothly.
The country’s vice-president-elect, conservative Islamic cleric Ma’ruf Amin, is one figure who openly announced his support for the draft criminal code.
In a letter dated Aug 12, Mr Amin, as the chairman of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), appealed directly to Jokowi to support ratification of the new penal code before the outgoing parliament finished its work on Monday.
“God willing, the ratification of criminal code drafts will be a historic event recorded in golden ink as one of the biggest achievements of President Joko Widodo, after previous administrations failed to pass the draft,” Mr Amin wrote.
Jokowi’s choice of running mate has been credited with delivering an increased majority at April’s presidential elections by securing the support of the country’s conservative Muslims.
“Most political decisions in Indonesia are made based on financial and oligarchic considerations,” Dr Robet argued, adding that Jokowi’s policies are no exception.
Dr Robet said that Indonesia could follow the path of the Philippines, “which has seen a worrying backslide in the quality of its democracy and human rights in the hands of a populist president who is fanatically supported by a majority of the population.”
Mr Wijaya of Charta Politika echoed the sentiment, saying that the challenges faced by Jokowi in his second term would be greater than his first.
“Coming into his second term, he will have more burden. Parties no longer cling to him because he won’t be in power once his second term ends. They will concentrate on grooming their own candidates. They will advance their own agendas and support for his administration will be less,” he said.
But Mr Wijaya also noted that none of the student protesters were urging Jokowi to step down. He said this is a sign that people still have faith that the president will rectify the situation.
“Jokowi must show that he is not interested in securing power and pandering to his coalition and political patrons and show that he is a president which wants to leave a good and lasting legacy. He should listen to people’s aspirations and act quickly,” he said.
CAN JOKOWI FIX THIS?
In the wake of the student protests, the president said he would consider a veto of the newly passed law on the anti-graft agency. He also halted the deliberation of the controversial Bills although they could still be passed into laws by the new batch of parliamentarians who were sworn in on Tuesday.
Constitutional law expert, Ms Susanti said it could be months before the new parliament revived the deliberation process for these controversial Bills.
“The MPs (Members of Parliament) would have to elect new speakers. The parliament would have to assign various MPs to different commissions. They would have to agree which laws to be deliberated first. Realistically, the deliberation process could start in February,” she said.
“This time, we have to make sure that the deliberation is not rushed and all views are taken into consideration.”
Ms Susanti said Jokowi would also have to keep a close eye on how the Bills are being deliberated.
“I think Jokowi is weak when it comes to legislation. He never monitored how the bills were being deliberated between parliament and the executive and he delegated this power completely to his ministers. He never checked to make sure that the final draft did not deviate completely from the initial draft,” she said.
“Jokowi must make sure that this never happens again. He should control how the Bills are being deliberated. He should make sure that deliberation is transparent and open to public scrutiny and input.”
Paramadina University lecturer Mr Satrio said Jokowi could still retain much of the public trust towards his second term if he acts quickly to veto the KPK law.
“The issue of corruption is in the hearts of many Indonesians who are sick and tired of seeing their hard-earned tax money siphoned. Unlike the Criminal Code which still has the support of many conservatives, the fight against corruption is the one issue everyone supports,” he said.
“Jokowi has made combating corruption the heart of his campaign promises and this issue will be a test whether he is serious in keeping these promises.”