Police estimate that more than 81,000 people will protest across Indonesia on Friday as lawmakers debate the government’s plan to raise the price of subsidized fuel by 33 percent to 6,000 rupiah (65 cents) per liter from 4,500 rupiah. Up to 12,000 are expected in Jakarta and as many as 50,000 in Medan, North Sumatra.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is under pressure to curb a subsidy bill that threatens to sap funds from pivotal health, education and transport programs, as the nation seeks a credit rating boost from Standard & Poor’s to complete its return to investment grade. Surging oil prices led China to boost fuel costs the most in more than two years this month and are straining budgets from Malaysia to India.
“Increasing fuel prices is a sensitive issue not only for Indonesia but for all countries,” Changyong Rhee, chief economist at the Asian Development Bank, said in Jakarta this week.
Indonesia’s lawmakers have debated the government’s proposal to raise subsidized fuel prices since early this month. Lawmakers delayed a vote on the subsidy that had been scheduled for March 29, and were considering whether to revoke a law that requires parliamentary approval for any increase in fuel prices, Tamsil Linrung, deputy chairman of the budget committee, said earlier this week.
As of Friday morning, the Budget Commission of the House of Representatives (DPR) and the government were still unable to agree on whether the law should be amended to allow the government to make changes without going through parliament, should oil costs exceed certain parameters. The DPR resumed at 10 a.m.
Protesters, including college students, members of labor unions, political parties and non-government organizations have rallied every day since March 27 at “vital assets” such as government offices, airports and ministries, National Police spokesman Insp. Gen. Saud Usman Nasution said on Friday.
The National Police estimate 81,135 people will take to the street across Indonesia’s islands, which span 5,150 kilometers (3,200 miles), the distance from Florida to Alaska. There will be about 9,900 protesters in Jakarta today, Nasution said. Other reports say up to 12,000 demonstrators are expected.
Other reports say Medan can expect 50,000 protesters.
Additional reporting JG