Jokowi Under Fire - Konten Islam

Jokowi Under Fire



Oleh: DR. Rizal Ramli

KONTENISLAM.COM - IN an extraordinary turn of events, with less than six months after being re-elected and only weeks away from being sworn into office for a second term, President Jokowi now finds himself under fire and harsh criticism by the average Indonesian.  Over the past week scores of students have clashed with police in cities across the archipelago, and there are signs the demonstrations will only grow in size and numbers in the near future.

Much of the ire directed towards the president can explained by elementary economics.  Not long after his re-election, Jokowi and his economics team unwisely introduced a hike in the national health insurance premium and electricity prices.   Middle- and lower-income classes, already finding it difficult to cope with food inflation and a lack of employment opportunities, suddenly discovered that their pocketbooks were being strained yet again.

This economic discontent was the tinder for what finally sparked the demonstrations, which was when the president stayed silent as the National House of Representatives, or DPR, passed legislation that effectively disempowers the Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK.  WIth Jokowi barely protesting the DPR's play against the KPK or exerting his moral authority to condemn lawmakers,  both the president and the DPR have now become the focal point of a growing student activist movement demanding the KPK law be rescinded.

Similar to the anti-government protests in Hong Kong, where the extradition bill was a trigger that led to a cascade of demands for change, other grievances are now coming to the surface:  Besides watching the government passing legislation that can only result in more corruption, Indonesians of all ages, gender and creed have also been angry about the DPR's draft law to revise the Criminal Code.  Included in the draft are provisions to outlaw sex before marriage.  Criticizing the president would be tantamount to commiting a felony.  In other words, if passed, it will serve a devastating blow to civil rights.

For now, Jokowi has asked the DPR to delay a final vote on the new Criminal Code until a new House takes office later this October.  There has been chatter of the need for the government to obtain more inputs from the public before taking the bill to the floor of the DPR.   But Indonesians want to hear more from their president on this issue and for him to take a leadership role in the debate, not just pass the buck.  Does he personally believe the draft law, as it stands, is for the better or worse of the citizenry?  Under what pretext could one argue that the law, which tramples upon individuals' rights to make their own choices in their private lives and express their opinions, is trumped by some greater collective good?

Unfortunately for Jokowi, restive students are not his only problem.

One is the province of Papua, where Jokowi must grapple with growing civil unrest and violence.  Over the past few weeks, dozens of locals have been killed or injured in clashes with security forces after there erupted protests over news of racist slurs being heaped upon Papuans.

So far, the government's violent response to discontent in Papua, as well as with the student demonstrations, has been what would expect from an authoritarian, not a democratic nation.  It is apparent Indonesia's leaders have forgotten lessons from the past: in places such as East Timor and Aceh, and during the 1998 anti-Suharto movement, the use of state violence and repression bred yet more contempt and fueled the fires of conflict.

Another brewing issue facing Jokowi that could spell trouble during his second term in office is Indonesia's increasingly cozy diplomatic and commercial relationship with China.  Over the past few years, there has emerged a very strong pro-Beijing faction within the Jokowi administration--Belt and Road Initiative projects, now running the gamut from strategic infrastructure to natural resources, have the potential of placing Indonesia's national security and sovereignty at risk.  Unlike other Belt and Road recipients, such as Malaysia and Sri Lanka, there has scarcely been an open policy discourse in Indonesia about the pros and cons of participating in Chinese-financed mega projects.

Left unchecked, Jokowi's romance with Beijing could end in a serious backlash.  If, as in the case with Sri Lanka, Indonesia falls into debt traps or loan-to-own schemes, there would certainly be dire consequences for Jokowi and his administration.

Given this almost perfect storm of challenges that could endanger his legitimacy, and ultimately his presidency, Jokowi must act decisively to correct his mistakes of the past.

On the economics front, Jokowi should find ways to get more disposable income into the hands of consumers.  This can be accomplished by having the government recapitalize the national health insurance program while providing free health care to the poor and more moderate premiums to middle-income Indonesians.  The cost of electricity, which constitutes a large portion of less affluent household budgets, should also be relaxed as a means of stimulating consumer spending and hence the economy.

In the realm of legislative affairs, a safer path forward for the president is within reach, as well.  Jokowi should seek legal counsel and craft a presidential decree that would restore the effectiveness of KPK in combating corruption.  He should use the powers of his presidency as well when the new DPR takes office and call for meetings with key legislators to discuss and strike a deal on a revised Criminal Code bill that is less intrusive and more aligned with majority opinions.

In the case of handling student protestors and discontented Papuans, Jokowi needs to use the powers of the office of the presidency to order a moratorium on the use of lethal force in order to avoid any bloodshed.  And for Papua in particular, the president should call for a unity dialogue with Papuan leaders and civil society.

Finally, when it comes to his China policy, Jokowi should take an example from the playbook of Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir.  Rather than blindly taking on investments being offered by Beijing, Jokowi must not only think about the potential long-run benefits of a modernized infrastructure.  He must also have around him a team of technocrats who can assess the shorter-term economic and security risks before any deals with Beijing are allowed to move forward.

What happens next is anybody's guess, but so so far the prospects don't look promising.  We have seen the president and his men looking for excuses, not solutions.   For example, when asked about the KPK, one close advisor to the president was quoted as saying the KPK acts as a deterrent on investment.  Officials have blamed hoaxes and "intellectual actors" for being behind the unrest in Papua.  A similar argument, that some unseen hand is behind the latest student demonstrations, can also be heard.  And more recently, Jokowi has refused students' demands for him to issue a presidential decree to restore the KPK's powers.

Hopefully the president will display more wisdom in October, which is when he needs to make final selections for his new cabinet.  To make it through this difficult period he will need men and women to present him with the hard truths and more viable solutions.  He can regain the trust of the electorate, and his legitimacy, if he addresses the fact that Indonesians from across the country want a more prosperous future for themselves and their families.  Neither do they don't want to move backwards in their politics-- they want to preserve their basic democratic rights, not to have them undermined by their government.  [rmol]



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