All of a sudden, politics has once again got more interesting in Indonesia.
To understand why this is so we need a little context and a term, let’s call it the Dark Forces.
Jokowi came into office with great expectations from Indonesians. They saw him as a reformer and expected sweeping changes. When these changes did not materialize as fast as thought, disillusion began to set in. This was not helped by seemingly obvious fumbles in the part of Jokowi in several matters, not least in the appointment of Arcandra, an Indonesian that had taken up US citizenship as Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources; and then fell further by appointing the disgraced Transport Minister Jonan to take over. All this contributed to the impression that Jokowi was now making so many political compromises that his Reformist agenda had been railroaded.
The Dark Forces
Suppose, just suppose that Jokowi is a reformer, but not just any reformer. He is a Javanese reformer. If this supposition is true then he would bide his time as he moves all the chess pieces into place to finally reveal his hand and bring about reform. The people who stand to lose if Jokowi succeeds are many — among them the corrupt politicians, their cohorts in the business world, powerful civil servants, the quasi-religious militias — these are the very people who want to protect the status quo because they can milk the country for their own benefit. They know the Javanese way of thinking and see the noose tightening, they realize they have to mobilize before too late. These are the people who would not hesitate to employ Order Baru tactics such as rent-a-crowd demonstrations, getting thugs to cause mayhem and to sow fear, even exploiting ethnic and religious divides. Let’s call them the Dark Forces.
What follows is pure supposition from the imagination of Unspun and has nothing to do with reality.
Contrary to popular opinion everything is going according to plan for Jokowi. Politically, he now controls Parliament. In security matters his elevation of Tito Karnavian, his closeness to Luhut Pandjaitan, and his appointment of Wiranto as Coordinating Indonesia’s chief security minister has ensured that the Police and Military are behind him. Economically, he’s brought back Sri Mulyani to ensure that the Tax Amnesty works.
The Tax Amnesty is ostensibly a way for the Jokowi government to fund its infrastructure projects that would underling Indonesia’s economic growth over the next few years. That may be so but there is also a political dimension to the Tax Amnesty: it would shine a light into the dark recesses of corruption in Indonesia and effectively put a stop the illicit way of bleeding the country dry.
Like stirring a beehive, the Tax Amnesty has driven the Dark Forces crazy. They must attack the source of the Tax Amnesty, otherwise their incomes and source of power would be saved in a wave of reforms that would surely follow.
How to attack? Jokowi has been very careful, opaque and growing more politically powerful by the day. The obvious point of vulnerability to the Dark Forces would be Ahok, who is contesting the upcoming gubernatorial elections. Ahok is brash, a Christian and a Chinese. Many of the hardline Muslims have already seen this as a threat and attacked Ahok along these lines. Ahok’s brashness also doesn’t sit well with many of the hardline Muslims.
So when controversy erupted over Ahok’s alleged blasphemy ,it provided them with the opportunity, they thought, to put Jokowi in a bind. They felt that by demanding that Ahok be prosecuted Jokowi would be forced to do one of two things, both of which would be a setback for him. The first is to intervene and say that Ahok has no case to answer for. This would open Jokowi to accusations that he’s meddling with the law to save his cohort. The second is for him to ask Ahok to resign, at which case he would be weakened as former President SBY’s son, Agus, would then be likely to win the election.
It is in this context that SBY’s Lebaran Kuda press conference last Wednesday – two days before the November seems to make sense. His message was deeply unsettling, coming two days before the November 4 demonstration. He said that Ahok must be brought to justice for what he said or the people will be justified in continuing their protests (He used the term Lebaran Kuda, a non-existent idiom in Indonesia. There is Lebaran Monyet that translates to “till the cows come home”. A more comprehensive explanation here).
Why did he say that? There are many theories. One says that he wanted his son to win the elections so anything that can get rid of the frontrunner Ahok is fair game. Another theory, and one that is particularly appealing if you believe in Dark Forces, is that Jokowi has been gathering evidence and building a case against him and his son over Hambalang. He knows this and backing the November 4 demonstration would help preempt further moves from Jokowi.
How much SBY was involved in the November 4 demonstration and the disturbances after remains to be seen but in the meantime the Dark Forces must have made a pact with the Muslim hardliners. They both had lots of common ground, getting rid of Jokowi. Anything that can weaken Jokowi would benefit the Islamic hardliners and their vision of establishing an islamic state. This would also benefit the powerful political/business forces so they can carry on with business as usual.
So November 4 happened and when it did Jokowi had all the pieces in the right place. The police was clearly behind him, the military was this looming presence in the background. On the frontline the police acted with admirable professionalism and restraint so that they would not inflame the situation and provide the hardliners with an excuse of rough handling.
They were also prepared to defend the Parliament against the mob if necessary. Disturbances in Penjaringan were quickly contained and brought to order. A group trying to attack Ahok’s house was also met with restraint and professionalism and dispersed.
And when some of the demonstrators had no means to go back to their villages, the Government provided busses to take them back.
This was a calculated action to neutralize the appeal of the Islamic hardliners.
Shortly after midnight on November 5, Jokowi made a statement thanking the hardliners for their discipline and support. He also said that there were political actors that rode on the November 4 demonstrations for their own ends by using the occasion as a platform to launch disturbances.
Trivia: Typical of the salah focus tendency for many Netizens in Jakarta, many people were more concerned about Jokowi’s bamber jacket that they felt was cool. The result: The jacket that is retailed in Zara was compeltely sold out over the next day or two.
Then, characteristic of the Javanese Opaqueness that he is known for, Jokowi kept silent. This force his detractors to demand that he pony up on who these “political actors” were to substantiate his claims.
He has continued to be strategically silent, although the head of the military has said that the government has intelligence and evidence of who the political actors are.
Over the next few weeks we may see Jokowi tightening the noose around these political actors and the Dark Forces. They have given him the excuse and justification to do so via the November 4 demonstration and subsequent disturbances.
What’s quite sure is that if this happens the Dark Forces are unlikely to take it lying down so there might be some action in store as Jokowi tightens the trap he’s set for the Dark Forces.
Makes for politics being a great spectator sport. Let’s sit back and enjoy the show.