Here’s an attempt to make sense of last night’s demonstration and disturbances

First the facts as I understand them:

The protesters

  • Tens of thousands of people, ostensibly from Muslim groups throughout the country, converged on the area around the Presidential Palace and Monas yesterday to demand that Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Purnama be prosecuted by the police for allegedly insulting Islam
  • There was some inflammatory rhetoric but on the whole the protesters were well-organized and disciplined. They had volunteers to pick up rubbish, others to provide food and drinks and medical aid.
  • The protest officially ended at 6pm, according to their police permit, and many of the protesters headed home or away from the venue
  • As the crowed dispersed, a group that some believed represented members of the HMI, clashed with the Police. FPI members were seen forming a line between them and the Police, trying to prevent the former from attacking the latter. At least two police vehicles were torched. Tear gas was fired and the crowd, many of whom brought toothpaste because they believed smearing it near their eyes would mitigate the effects of tear gas. The situation was brought to order within an hour.

The renegade groups

  • Around 9pm reports emerged of a group of people wearing white Islamic shirts and skullcaps was causing mayhem at a convenience store in Penjaringan, north Jakarta
  • Rumors, through social media began spreading about how one group was heading toward the DPR. Others reported that cars were being damaged in anti-Chinese cordons near Baywalk, Pluit. There were reports of violence elsewhere, and in other towns, but they were unverified.
  • The disturbance at Penjaringan was quelled and some arrests were made. Police announced that order had been restored.

The Government

  • President Jokowi appeared nonchalant about the protest, spending his day inspecting facilities at the airport and elsewhere. Supporters praised him for studied and strategic nonchalance. Detractors said he was oblivious, didn’t care or was afraid
  • Vice President Yusuf Kalla was not seen much although he headed the government team to speak with the protesters and agreed to process Ahok’s case with firmness and speed.
  • Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs  Wiranto, showed he was very much a frontline person and still  a military man when he took to the field. There was even some blood on his shirt from an injured policeman. There is debate on how visible he should have been.
  • Shortly after midnight Jokowi delivered a statement that thanked the protest organizers for being disciplined but blamed their disturbance on political actors who were riding on the event. As usual, it’s in Javanese Vague terminology so lots of guessing on what he meant.

The Police

  • They acted with exemplary restraint and discipline.
  • They also psyched the protesters with their display of manpower (backed by the military) as well equipment. Speeches given by the Police Chief in the run up also left no doubt that they would keep the peace neutrally and strictly.

Social Media

  • As usual lots of noise between supporters and detractors of one side against another.
  • There were some positive developments though. Lots of Netizens urging calm, checking and rechecking social media posts before believing in them and some even started #safetycheckjkt to report where there was any disturbance, where was peaceful and normal.
  • The Teman Ahok Twitter account made a blunder when a timed-tweet appeared on the timeline, just as when things were getting heated up, to sell merchandise. They quickly apologized when netizens scolded them.
  • Coach, motivator and now one of the campaign advisors/influencers for the Anies-Sandiaga team Rene Suhardono dissed off many Netizens when he tweeted that though he respected Ahok, the Governor was really asking for whatever come his way. He hasn’t been as contrite as the Teman Ahok twitter administrators when criticised and the anger is still being vented against him today.

The Media

  • A bit better from their coverage of previous incidents when they were given to sensationalism, hyperbole and continuous reruns of violent scenes without pointing out that they were shots of incidents some time ago. TVRI was singled out by some observers as good news anchoring when it pointed out that some the clips had been taken before but the situation had changed.

On Saturday, the morning after the demonstrations, order seems to have restored, although some protestors had spent the night at the Parliament and was still there.

So what takeouts are there?

  • Unlike 1998 Jokowi seems to have the full backing of the Military and Police.So a repeat of the 1998 riots scenario seems unlikely.
  • It seems quite evident that there are political forces trying to bring down Jokowi and Ahok is seen as the chink in Jokowi’s armor (pun realized but unintended)
  • Jokowi’s maneuverings of Police appointments, Wiranto’s entry into the Cabinet and Luhut’s continued influence in the Cabinet seems to make more sense now
  • The battle between Jokowi, whom many now see as an honest man trying to slowly clean up the system, and the political forces that stand to lose if he is successful (tax dodgers, corrupt politicians, officials etc) continues and is likely to escalate after this.

Stay Tuned.