Rocked by Millennials
President Joko Widodo should realize that the ongoing demonstrations by high school and university students are not just a usual phenomenon.
THE wave of demonstrations in Jakarta and a number of cities are a slap in the face for the President and the House of Representatives (DPR). These protests are sending a clear message: the elites in this country cannot pass laws as they please while ignoring the public interest.
It turns out that the millennial generation, which had been thought apathetic, do really cares about affairs of state. They are protesting against the Criminal Code Bill which intrudes too much on people’s privacy and morality—an issue which directly effects the interests of their generation. Students are also highlighting other controversial issues such as the revisions to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) Law.
They are still fresh faced. The posters they carry have humorous slogans. But the government would be making a big mistake if it disparaged the aspirations of these students. After all, they are representing the 15-24-year-old age group, which numbers 40 million people—the largest section on the age pyramid. The government would also be wrong to use repressive tactics against these millennial demonstrators because that would only trigger public anger.
The Kendari tragedy should not have happened. Randi, a student at Halu Oleo University, was shot dead when taking part in a demonstration in front of the Southeast Sulawesi Provincial Legislative Council last week. Fellow demonstrator, Yusuf Kardawi, who was hurt and taken to hospital, also subsequently died. Meanwhile in Jakarta, Al-Azhar Indonesia University student Faisal Amir was seriously hurt in demonstrations in front of the DPR building last week.
The government should get to the bottom of this tragedy. And the police need to investigate the paid demonstrators who always take advantage of student actions. They are the people who usually cause trouble. Efforts to wreck the image of student demonstrations using these dirty tactics remind us of the methods often used by the New Order regime.
Jokowi should also understand that the authoritarian approach will not be effective in assuaging public discontent. Relying on so-called buzzers to influence public opinion will also make the situation more confusing. And students must not be forced to confine themselves to campuses and stay out of state affairs. The government should not have ordered Research, Technology and Higher Education Minister Mohamad Nasir to stifle the demonstrations on campuses. Trying to silence people like this will only damage the right to freedom of opinion.
The root of the problem is with the ruling elite. Jokowi’s administration has given the impression of arrogance after its post-election political consolidation endeavors. President Jokowi managed to embrace Prabowo Subianto, his rival in the presidential election. The political parties also hurried to join forces with the government, with not a single party declaring its opposition.
This situation might have made Jokowi complacent. The government has begun to renege on the reform mandate using the excuse of expediting investment and development. The President subsequently gave his blessing to the emasculation of the Corruption Eradication Commission through the revised KPK Law. It was only after demonstrations broke out around the country that Jokowi changed his stance. He is now considering passing a government regulation in lieu of law on revoking the revised KPK Law, which has been approved by the DPR.
The government’s reasoning that the existence of the KPK is obstructing investment is clearly contrived. Logically, eradicating corruption will reduce high economic costs and save state funds. Weakening this body will only lead to politicians and the elite in power being free to commit acts of corruption or take bribes. The public had no problems seeing through this unseemly motive.
Other bills were questioned because it would do more to protect the interests of those in power rather than the people. For example, the Criminal Code Bill contains articles about slander that are aimed at preserving the dignity of the president and the vice president. The Penitentiary Bill is also under the spotlight because would give those convicted of corruption the right to remission and recreation. Meanwhile, the Land Bill also sides with the interests of businessmen as it would make it easier to obtain concessions on state land for longer periods of time.
Elected directly by the people, President Jokowi should not bring about a system of government that only benefits a small political elite. Moreover, the stance of the party political elite should not become the basis for policies because it is not certain that that it reflects the public interest. Parties tend to take a pragmatic stance and give the impression of only needing to listen to the people at election time.
The demonstrations by hundred thousands of millennials last week have delivered a shock to our critically broken political system that for some time has only benefits the powerful elite and ignores the interests of the people.