Something amiss about the Government’s handling of demonstrations

There is something amiss in the Government’s handling of the demonstrations that have taken place in at least nine cities over the past week.

It is at best, half-hearted and amateurish; at worst, grist for a conspiracy theorist’s mill.

Contrast this week’s handling of protests with that of how it handled the protests surrounding the riots of May 21 and 22, after Prabowo refused to accept the results of the Election Commission’s decision that Jokowi had won the presidential elections.

Reformation in Repair. Source: The Jakarta Post

The police acted with discipline, determination and restraint.

And it was communicative, calling press conferences and briefing the media often on developments and messages the government wanted the citizens to know. Police Chief Tito Karnavian was also highly visible in press conferences, giving the public an assurance that things were being handled properly and everything was under control.

Jokowi too was visible, giving press briefings and appearing confident that everything was under control.

Unspun remembers conversations with Jakarta old timers marveling about how professional the Indonesian Police Force could be if it wanted to.

Then the student demonstrations began last Wednesday and the Police suddenly looked amateurish again in their handling of protestors. Time and again the police had to apologize for its mistakes and videos of police brutality began cropping up.

It had to apologize for a policeman running into a mosque with shoes on to apprehend a protestor. It had to backtrack after accusing Jakarta City ambulances of carrying rocks, petrol for Molotov cocktails and fireworks to supply rioters. It shot teargas into Atma Jaya University, a zone set aside for first aid to injured protestors.

In its communications Police seemed to play a defensive game, otherwise issuing admonitions that fell on deaf ears.

And all this wall, what realty stood out was the absence of leadership. Tito gave a press conference somewhere but he said nothing substantial. He then virtually disappeared from the public eye.

On the Government’s side the deafening silence from Jokowi is astounding. That left the way open for the relics of his government, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto and Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko to fill in the vacuum with their tone-deaf hectoring and defensive statements. Many wondered why the Presidential Chief of Staff, who should concern himself with the internal running of the presidential office, was acting as government spokesperson.

In the vacuum of information that they have created, all sorts of conspiracy theories have begun to surface.

Some say that Jokowi has his hands full trying to balance the demands of the parties in the new Cabinet. Others say that the police ineptness is part of a conspiracy to weaken him. Still others hint of dark forces at play orchestrating paid rioters to create mayhem.

Nobody really knows what’s happening and whether the government will get a handle on things, and that’s the problem.

Indonesia is at an important juncture. After over two decades of Reformasi, corruption and sense of entitlement among the elite have made a strong comeback. The swift and cavalier passage of the Bills to the KPK law and Criminal Code was a manifestation of this comeback and its contempt for the other sectors of Indonesian society.

Through the passage of the Bills Parliament has shown that it cannot be trusted to act in the public’s interest. The Judiciary Has along ago been discounted as an institution that can protect their rights. And now the Executive, helmed by Jokowi, is also showing signs of tentativeness, indecision and compliance to the demands of conservatives.

What that means for most people is that Indonesia is approaching a failed state. This sounds dramatic but how do you describe a nation when none of the branches of government can be relied on to act as a check and balance of the other branches?

This is why the students are right in refusing to meet with Jokowi unless it is in an open forum where he can be held accountable. And they are right to continue the pressure through further protests until the message gets through that the Executive and the Legislature is accountable to the people.

The incredible silence and welcome to China’s effrontery to Malaysia

Something incredible, unprecedented and potentially dangerous happened in Malaysia last Friday that most Malaysians do not seem to have paid much notice to.

In fact many of the Malaysian Chinese actually welcomed it, fed up as they were by Malay hooligans trying to stir up Malay supremacist and anti-Chinese sentiments in Malaysia.

Photo from Free Malaysia Today: “He was there to assure Chinese traders that they will be safe tomorrow and that the police were watching over them in the event there was trouble.”

The incident took place in Petaling Street, an enclave of Chinese traders and shopkeepers right smack in the middle of Kuala Lumpur, that has become the symbol of Chinese presence in Malaysia ever since the Red Shirt Rally on September 16.

Before we go on, a bit of context for those that don’t follow Malaysian political developments closely. The Malaysian Prime Minister is in trouble, not least because of his own stupidity. Already unpopular, he was caught with a smoking gun – US$700 million deposited in his personal account.

His refusal to explain how a large sum come to be in his account, apart from it being from a mysterious Middle East donor, has added to the attacks on him and his government. Adding on the pressure was a huge rally of about 500,000 people that was organised by Bersih, originally an elections watchdog grouping on August 29.

Besieged, Najib or his followers retaliated with a Red Shirt Rally on September 16. The Red Shirts ostensibly were rallying to protect “Malay dignity” and the disrespect the Chinese (the predominant ethnic group in the Bearish rally) have shown to the Malays and their leader, Najib. During their rally a group of the Red Shirts attempted to enter Petaling Street but they were stopped by Malaysia’s Federal Reserve Unit, a specialist division of the police that deals with crowd control.

They were left licking their wounds but threatened to stage a comeback on September 26 where the Red Shirts would enter Petaling Street to stage a protest and demand better conditions for Malay traders so they can also do business there. That was the ostensible reason but in the meantime the organiser Jamal Yunos threatened violence and was, rightly arrested by the police on September 25, a day before the planned rally.

In the meantime, though, the Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia Huang Hui Kang made a bizarre visit to the traders at Petaling Street on the evening of September 26 where he calmed the nerves of the traders by saying, as reported by Free Malaysia Today:

PETALING JAYA: China’s Ambassador to Malaysia has stated his firm belief that all Malaysians, save a handful, already enjoyed racial harmony and appealed to those bent on causing trouble tomorrow, to kindly refrain from doing so.

At a press conference, after distributing mooncakes to those present, Huang Hui Kang said, “I believe that 99 per cent of the Chinese and Malays live harmoniously and only a small number of them want to cause trouble tomorrow.

“We told businesspeople here that they can open as usual tomorrow if they want but if they feel unsafe, the choice is theirs to close instead.”

He also said that the traders at Petaling Street only wanted to carry out their business in peace and that for those who chose to open tomorrow, the police would be on standby to offer security in the event there was trouble.

“So far, about 50 per cent of traders, which equals to around 600 in number, are still fearful of opening tomorrow. However we will keep abreast of the news and act accordingly,” he said.

If you look at the social media feeds, his actions have been lauded and praised. The Chinese welcomed his comments and visit as a show of solidarity and brotherhood. Some even gave the impression that they would welcome China being their benefactor.

Others, including Chinese and Malay leaders in the Government and Opposition have been strangely silent. Only Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry, Wisma Putra, seems to be concerned by this development and has leaked the news that they will be summoning the Chinese Ambassador  for a discussion.

Where foreign relations go this is an incredible development on some levels.

On one level you have China blatantly meddling in the internal affairs of another sovereign country. The ambassador was making statements more appropriate for a Malaysian Minister than an envoy. Who begs the question of whether his message and gesture was sanctioned by China’s government. If it had been we should all shudder as you ask what China has to gain by stoking the racial fire. If it had not, was the Ambassador totally out of line and why has he not been recalled yet? The Chinese Embassy’s explanation sounds as credible as Mao doing a hip hop song. 

On another level, the Malaysian Chinese are making a grave mistake by accepting the Ambassador’s words and deeds as a sign of solidarity and empathy. The ancestors of the malaysian Chinese have been migrating out of China for at least the last couple of centuries – and for good reason, China is not a place that they would want to live in because of the socio, political and economic hardships. IN the intervening years, whole generation of Malaysian Chinese have grown up in a different political and social environment. The last thing they would want is China dictating their politics and social norms. China’s interest is not necessarily the same as those of the Malaysian Chinese and they should never forget that. Yet no prominent Chinese leader has come forward to denounce the Ambassador’s blatant assault to Malaysia’s sovereignty. And why? Because what’s popular now among the Chinese is anything slamming Najib and Umno. They won’t do the right but popular thing. 

 

On the third level is the response of the government. Has it become so weak that Wisma Putra has to leak stories to the media that it was summoning the Ambassador to chastise him? His offence has very clearly broken diplomatic protocols. Will this weakness lead to even bolder moves by China? The only criticism so far has come from the Government mouthpiece Utusan Malaysia and Umno Youth but no officials?

 

Jakarta rallies a sign of desperation in the KPK-Police struggle?

Does anyone else smell the same whiff of desperation in the air as Unspun? One would think that there are people in Indonesia who still think that rent-a-crowds would convince the public that public opinion is behind them.

Such people live in a world of their own divorced from reality. Technology has rendered much of the opaque business of gauging public opinion transparent. We all not only would know if the Emperor has no clothes but we can publish it online, and have it amplified by other onliners.

Nine Rallies In Jakarta on Thursday, Traffic Delays Expected

Nine rallies are scheduled for Jakarta on Thursday and will likely cause traffic delays.

According to Jakarta Police’s Traffic Management Center, the first demonstration began at 9 a.m. at the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle. A second rally was held outside the Supreme Court building at Jalan Medan Merdeka Utara at the same time.

The State Palace, which is located on the same street as the Supreme Court, will be the site of three rallies that will take place between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Groups of activists will come to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) at 10 a.m. and will march to the Presidential Advisory Board office. A different group of activists will also hold a rally at Hotel Indonesia traffic circle and march to the front of the National Police Headquarters on Jalan Trunojoyo in South Jakarta.

At 10:30 a.m. demonstrators will rally in front of the Chinese Embassy on Jalan Rasuna Said. Later in the afternoon activists will hold a rally at the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.

There is also a rally planned at the office of the representative of North Maluku on Jalan Cempaka Putih, Central Jakarta, and a hunger strike planned at the KPK building.

JG