Indonesia: Escalating anti-government protests

  • For a mass working class party for workers, young people, poor farmers and the oppressed.

Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, was inaugurated for a second term on Sunday, 20 October, but he has been facing a continuous wave of protests from young people, workers and others ever since the general election in April of this year.

During the last week of September, two people were killed and hundreds more injured when young people – university and school students – and other demonstrators clashed with government authorities such as the police and national security personnel. In the same week, no less than 32 people were killed in Wamena, West Papua, during an attack by an unidentified group.

The mass protests, mostly organised by youth groups and students, took place in major Indonesian cities including Jakarta, Bandung, Denpasar, Yogyakarta, Palembang, Makassar and Surabaya. In Jakarta on 25th September, it was reported that more than ten thousand protesters who had gathered in front of the House of Representatives (DPR) were violently attacked by police. In Yogyakarta, the protest was attended by more than 13,000 people. This was the biggest mass protest since the 1998 ‘Reformasi’ movement that overthrew the former dictator, Suharto, who dominated Indonesian politics for more than three decades.

These protests were sparked by a series of smaller protests organised by university students in the Riau area opposing the illegal forest fires being carried out by local and foreign plantation companies. They surrounded and occupied the Local Council building with the aim of spreading the struggle throughout the country. A total of 2,000 forest fires in Indonesia are causing millions of people to suffer from respiratory problems and illness. In addition, a number of new laws being introduced in the House of Representatives in mid-September were also received strong opposition, especially among young people and students nationwide.

The youth and student movements received support from the People’s Workers’ Union (GEBRAK) – a trade union coalition – and other labour organisations including the KPBI, ​​KASBI, KSN, SGBN, FPPI and SINDIKASI. organisations.

Corruption and oppression

The House of Representatives, under the leadership of the president, Joko Widodo (known as Jokowi), has enacted and passed a number of highly controversial bills seen as favouring the rich investors at the expense of the well-being of the working people. Among the most repugnant were the amendments made to the corruption eradication commission, known as the Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK). With this latest amendment, the Commission will lose much of its power to eradicate corruption and essentially can no longer operate independently. It will be transformed into a government entity, subject to the control of a supervising body chosen by the government itself. It will need permission from certain authorities to carry out its work and is required to recruit members from the country’s police body, which is already considered to be a very corrupt institution. Jokowi, who campaigned to combat corruption in the past presidential election, is currently seeking to ease the minimum sentence imposed on those convicted of corruption from 5 to 2 years!

Apart from this, a number of other acts in the Criminal Code, known in Indonesia as the Kitab Undang-undang Hukum Pidana (KUHP), have also created negative reactions among the people and especially the youth. Most of the mass media in the country and internationally only highlight some of the conservative measures introduced such as the prohibition of premarital sex, punishment of same sex relationships and severe penalties for couples living together without legal proof of marriage. But the amendments to the Criminal Code would also erode a number of democratic rights, workers’ rights, women’s rights and bring in new laws that would favour private corporations over the mass of the population.

Under the new Criminal Code, ordinary citizens, the media, social and human rights activists cannot express criticism of the President, Vice President, Government or any government agency which could be considered an insult. They would be punished by imprisonment. In addition, Indonesians are also prohibited from joining or participating in any activity or organisation that is considered to be in line with ‘Marxist teachings’ (though no concrete definition is provided for this label) or the left generally.

Several codes in the act are discriminatory against women. They can be prosecuted if they fail to provide a valid reason to go out of their residences after 10pm. Any women and doctors found to have performed abortions will be sentenced to heavy prison terms. Homeless people will also be considered criminals for spending the night on the streets or in public spaces. Many of the other provisions of the act are seen as an attempt to oppress people by using conservative narratives with the aim of creating divisions in Indonesian society, especially between the urban and rural populations.

These proposals would enable the government to suppress and imprison any political party that it considers would interfere with the flow of investment into the country. In addition, the Minister of National Development Planning is proposing that prisons be taken out of government hands and managed by private companies. This is supposed to reduce government spending and has already been implemented in some more developed countries such as in Australia. But this proposal will not only increase the profitability of private companies, benefitting from government concessions, but will also transform the inmates into low-cost workers and an additional source of profit.

All this reflects the nature of the government. It wants to reduce the penalties onrich capitalists who swindles millions of dollars through corruption, and, at the same time, increase the number of prisoners from the layers in society who are  already victims of the deteriorating economic and social conditions.

The government’s move to weaken the power of anti-corruption agencies is just one of the measures introduced to benefit the wealthy capitalists. The Criminal Code also includes laws such as the land and mining bills that will empower private companies to procure public land and increase the exploitation of the natural resources of Indonesia. The privatisation of water supply has already been approved and will be in force in the coming months.

Rise of the working class

In addition to the protests from young people, the working class in Indonesia has also begun to move into action by protesting against the new labour regulations and the ever-deteriorating living conditions for the workers. Minimum wage policies and proposals to increase health insurance premiums anger millions of workers who are now gathering in large numbers to voice their objections. On 2nd October, more than 50,000 workers gathered in front of the House of Representatives in Jakarta and 150,000 more were involved in protest actions across Indonesia.

Unfortunately, the leaders of the Confederation of Indonesian Workers’ Union (KSPI) such as Said Iqbal and Andi Gani Nena Wea who called the protests failed to win any reasonable results for the Indonesian working class. They simply put call for one of their representatives to become Human Resources Minister in the existing government and reject any prospect of forming an independent Workers’ Party to bring a clear alternative.

Southeast Asia’s largest economy has millions of working people ready to fight for their future if there is a leadership capable of presenting a clear perspective and a strong programme. At present, the trade union leadership has not offered any reasonable way forward for Indonesians who have been involved in various forms of struggle with the government since President Jokowi’s electoral victory last April.

A democratically formed Workers’ Party, capable of leading the masses towards meaningful change, would unite all the social movements and empower the masses who are struggling against the economic dominance of the capitalist minority.

Jokowi increasingly unpopular

President Jokowi who was elected President for the second time has already received strong opposition from the youth, the working class and ordinary people of Indonesia at this time. The deteriorating economic conditions are forcing Jokowi to reveal his true face by implementing policies that are in favour of the capitalist class and wealthy corporations. Despite having the executive power to postpone the approval of these highly unpopular bills, Jokowi stubbornly refuses to give up his intentions to pass the new KPK Act to protect the corrupt oligarchs. This proves that Jokowi and the Indonesian ruling class are highly dependent on widespread corruption to safeguard their interests and will continue to repeal any existing restrictions in order to continue the exploitation of natural resources and the workforce of the people. Currently, almost half of the parliamentarians who are appointed to important positions are from big business representatives and wealthy corporate owners. This provides a clear picture of the government’s focus on capitalist interests and complete abandonment of the fate of the common people.

The struggle of thousands of protesters on the streets and in major cities is not limited to the demands of social and democratic rights alone. They are also fighting against a lack of regulations against plantation companies that are burning Indonesia’s forests at will, the exploitation of natural resources and cruel oppression of West Papua people under the grip of the National Army, numerous unfair incarceration of activists and human rights fighters, and now, the introduction of acts that will open up opportunities for both domestic and foreign capitalists to continue the oppression of the toiling masses ever more freely.

The youth, students, workers and ordinary people struggling to break free from the grip of the oppressive government must find a way to unite the masses and bring an alternative to the existing corrupt political structure. The capitalist system that are causing the economic crisis is also the cause of the social crisis and political instability that exists not only in Indonesia, but around the world today. The corrupt capitalist system controlled by the oligarchs consisting of wealthy individuals, military bureaucracy and capitalist powers should be replaced with a well-planned socialist economy, which could serve the needs of the common people.

Failure of 1998 ‘Reformasi’ movement

The current developing mass movement could be compared with the situation that followed the 1997 economic economic crisis that weakened Indonesia’s iron-clad government and triggered a mass movement of students and working people that overthrew the president (dictator) Suharto in 1998. The Democratic People’s Party (PRD) led the biggest social movements of the time and successfully united the grassroots movements of the people – students, peasants, working class and poor – until the dictatorship was successfully ousted.

However, the PRD, which lacked a strong programme and leadership, gave capitalist parties the opportunity to take over the Indonesian government structure and establish an economic order that still maintains all of the capitalist ways of organising society. Therefore, although various democratic rights were introduced, the living conditions of the ordinary people did not improve and their welfare was ultimately forgotten about.

The PRD at that time gave support to the Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P), which was dominated by the capitalist class under Megawati Soekarnoputri. Today, President Jokowi, who is oppressing the masses at the behest of the capitalist class, is also a member of this party that has remained under the same leadership for more than 20 years.

As a result, the aspirations of millions of people have been diverted towards some minimal reforms within the framework of capitalism, irrespective of the fate of the majority and the poor who are still living in poverty and oppressive conditions. These so-called ‘progressive bourgeois’ programmes are found to only bring wealth to the elite, the upper class oligarchs and the wealthy capitalist class while leaving the working class and the oppressed masses at a significant disadvantage.

Without changing the character of the government and the capitalist economic system controlled by the rich minority, channelling the power of the working class and capable of bringing in socialism, any kind of reforms won by the people’s struggle cannot be guaranteed and can be easily reversed at any time by the government. In order to guarantee democratic rights, as well as bring economic prosperity to millions of poor people, the corrupt and rotten capitalist system must be completely uprooted and replaced with a progressive socialist system that fulfils the aspirations of the oppressed people. It is clear that the agenda of ‘reformasi’ alone cannot satisfy the aspirations of the majority and that only a revolutionary movement under the leadership of a party of the organised working class will be able to fulfill their dreams.

Advance the struggle of the working class and the oppressed!

In order to realise a democratic socialist system, a mass movement capable of uniting all the oppressed along class lines through a robust economic and social programme is a must. All the struggles and mass movements that exist in Indonesia must be united under one banner, to demand the freedom of the common people from the clutches of the oppressive capitalist economic system.

The organised working class, comprised of tens of millions of people in Indonesia, is the main force behind mass social movements which are capable not only of fighting and defeating the government machine, but is also able to establish a new social order under socialism. Therefore, the building of a Workers’ Party with mass strength will bring this aspiration to the fore and offer a clear alternative for the millions of toiling masses and oppressed. Not only that, a powerful Workers’ Party in Indonesia, comprised tens of millions of people in Indonesia, would be an inspiration to millions of people looking for alternatives across Southeast Asia and on a global scale.

Young people and students who are the main proponents of the mass protests that are taking place across Indonesia have the responsibility of establishing a revolutionary organisation, capable of bringing the message of the struggle to the masses clearly and at the same time capable of attracting the working class to take up the role of leadership in these movements. Only a mass organisation under the leadership of a democratically organised working class with a strong programme will be able to bring this struggle to a socialist conclusion that will benefit all oppressed masses.

  • Support the struggle of students, youth, the working class and poor people against the KPK and the Criminal Code bills.
  • Free the political prisoners, including student activists, human rights activists and social activists who are locked up in prison.
  • Fight for agrarian reform, distribute the rural lands to the farmers fairly.
  • Demand job security, a living wage and reduced work hours for workers.
  • Support the right of the people of Papua to govern independently, under the democratic control of the people and the working class.
  • Build action committees to build a stronger student and youth movement that links up with the workers in struggle..
  • Call on trade unions to engage and provide leadership in protests and emerging movements.
  • To prepare a generalised strike struggle to weaken the grip of the oppressive capitalist government and to raise working class awareness of their role in leading the economic and social revolution.
  • Struggle for a socialist alternative to break free from the shackles of oppressive capitalism, as well as to build a federation of socialism in Southeast Asia and internationally.

West Papua

Although the exact cause for the killings in Wamena is not exposed to the general media and public, there were reports of hundreds of students from the Wamena and Jayapura region of Papua clashing with the Indonesian military forces which lead to riots and chaos. The unrest is an expansion and continuation of a mass struggle by the Papuan population for the right of self-determination after being subjected to racist attacks by the Indonesian National Army and right wing vigilante forces in August this year.

For more on the struggle in West Papua, see article on this site

For Indonesian elections, see article on July 4, 2019.

For material in Bahasa Indonesia language:

Leave a Comment

Alamat e-mel anda tidak akan disiarkan. Medan diperlukan ditanda dengan *

Scroll to Top