Snap, Crackle, Flop: Jakarta Demonstrations Underwhelm
Anita Rachman, Dessy Sagita & Nurfika Osman
About 7,000 protesters from a number of little-known organizations, each with a shopping list of demands, were outnumbered by police and Public Order Agency officers during Thursday’s antigovernment protests at three locations in Central Jakarta, ensuring no major dramas ensued.
In fact, the most dramatic moment of the day came when two people were allegedly caught engaged in one the nation’s most dangerous past-times — picking pockets. They were promptly beaten and both suffered serious injuries.
Alghifari Aqsa, a lawyer from the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH), which represents the Opposition Front of Indonesian People, said two of its members were falsely accused of theft. They were still being questioned by Jakarta Police on Thursday afternoon, he said.
Haris Rusly, head of the Petition of 28, an umbrella group of nongovernmental organizations and individuals participating in the protests, said they were satisfied with the outcome, but conceded that coordination among protest groups was lacking.
“We are satisfied as this is a process of revolution, even though it was not organized very well,” Haris said. “Some organizations came alone and held rallies without us. But we think it is successful enough and we conducted a peaceful rally.”
The protests, dubbed the January 28 Movement to mark the completion of the first 100 days of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s second term in office, were held at three main locations — the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle, the Presidential Palace and the House of Representatives.
Haris said the protesters were concerned about four main points: first, that Yudhoyono was the new puppet for colonial forces; second, that his government was corrupt just like past regimes, as evidenced by the Bank Century bailout; third, that the government should pay more attention to the welfare of the people, especially the working class; and fourth, that education expenses should be cut.
Haris said education costs have increased by 200 percent. “It’s not acceptable. It endangers the next generation,” he said.
However, other protesters also called for Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati and Vice President Boediono to step aside because of their roles in the Century bailout, while still others called for the abolishment of the Asean-China Free Trade Agreement, which they said endangers Indonesian jobs.
Abidin, an activist from the Front for the People’s Struggle, said the police were preventing many of his group’s members from reaching the demonstrations. “Many of our labor friends from Bogor have been detained, stopped by the police,” he said. “They don’t want us to get here to Jakarta to join the rally.”
Central Jakarta Police deputy chief Firli estimated the total number of protesters in on Thursday as not more than 7,000.
“Forty-thousand people, they said? How can they manage to get them and pay all those people? It’s all about money,” he said, commenting on reports the rally would be attended by more than 40,000 people.