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Civil unrest has been at boiling point in Indonesia for almost a week now, in response to the attempted introduction of new conservative reforms by the government, report the Independent and the BBC. Hundreds of people were injured in clashes between protestors and police on Wednesday 25 September, when tear gas was fired into crowds outside the parliamentary building in Jakarta. Two students are known to have been killed. The government wishes to impose repressive laws that criminalise sex outside marriage; ban abortion for reasons excluding a medical emergency or rape; and ban any public insult or blasphemy toward the president. These regressive reforms are a worrying trend for Indonesia. They only recently ousted the authoritarian President Suharto in 1998, after his oppressive 30-year reign, so these laws are seen as a return to these dark days.
“It’s not a one-issue protest,” explained Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch in Indonesia. “And it’s also not a unified or organized movement,” he goes on to add. Professor Tim Lindsey, director of the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society, has his say on the issue as well, “what we are seeing is the rising use of religious identity politics on the national political scene.” The new laws and reforms, that are being pushed by most parliamentarians, are heavily influenced by a rise in Islamic conservatism within Indonesian politics; thus, leading to an increasing fear of repression among the LGBT+ community and others whose behaviours run counter to strict Islamic values. For instance, stricter blasphemy laws “would make it illegal to promote atheism”, reports Andrew Whitnall in the Independent.
The points raised by Mr Hurarsono are particularly important if we want to truly understand why this situation has escalated so quickly. It is not a “one-issue protest.” There are a number of deep issues with the current government program that have angered protesters. They have vocalised how corruption is rife within Indonesian politics, and that these laws are merely a way to quell any form of opposition against corrupt dealings. These accusations by protestors are not unfounded – Indonesia’s anti-corruption agency, the KPK (Corruption Eradication Commission), has faced repeated attempts by parliamentarians to restrict its powers. Graffiti was found near the parliament building in Jakarta that read “RIP KPK”, evidently, people are aware of the government’s desire to cover-up charges of corruption.
Protestors’ frustrations also stem from President Jokowi’s inability to take control of his government. Jokowi was celebrated as a man of the people, rising to politics from quite humble beginnings; however, many people are now doubting the intentions of their once idolised leader. Clearly, Indonesian citizens have become increasingly disillusioned by politicians who appear to break their promises.
Fortunately, lawmakers have agreed to postpone the ruling of the new laws till after the beginning of the new presidential term on 2 October, reports Reuters. However, is this merely a move to quieten opposition in the hopes of gaining votes, for them to hastily U-turn and enact the laws to limit future opposition? Only time will tell. All that can be said is that the past week has been an embarrassment for President Jokowi, who is seeking re-election, and a clear statement by protestors that they will never allow a repeat of the authoritarian New Order politics, that are still present in the social memory of many individuals and their communities.