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Indonesia's Omnibus Law: hardline cleric enters fray as protests continue

South China Morning Post - October 13, 2020

Amy Chew – An exiled Indonesian firebrand Muslim cleric has called on his followers to lay siege on Jakarta's presidential palace on Tuesday afternoon and to topple President Joko Widodo, as large-scale demonstrations against a new law on job creation enter their second week.

The hashtag #UmmahUniteToRejectOmnibusLaw, meaning Muslim community unite to reject the Omnibus Law, trended to the top of Twitter in Indonesia on Tuesday as thousands gathered in Jakarta for a protest.

The controversial legislation, containing reforms in an "Omnibus" bill that amends more than 70 existing laws, is aimed at cutting red tape and boosting investment to create jobs. But protesting workers say it undermines existing labour laws, reduces their income and weakens environmental protections.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets across the country last week amid concerns the rallies could worsen Indonesia's coronavirus outbreak. The country has reported more than 336,000 cases and close to 12,000 deaths.

A senior security source told This Week In Asia that the call by the firebrand cleric Habib Rizieq Shihab, who has lived in exile in Saudi Arabia for several years, was not as big a concern as anonymous "trained elements" infiltrating the protests.

"The demonstrations by students and workers are fine, there is no problem with that... they are already anticipated by the police," said the security source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"The problem is unknown trained elements who infiltrate into the protests and the possibility of triggering violence which may be difficult to control as they do not seem to have leaders who could control them," said the source.

Rizieq is the leader of the Islamic Defender Front (FPI), an extremist group implicated in multiple acts of harassment, intimidation and mob violence against religious minorities, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

On Tuesday, Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto claimed the demonstrations were being masterminded from abroad.

"I want to remind you, these hoaxes are intended to create trouble and I am convinced it originates from outside the country; there is a... certain foreign country which does not like to see an Indonesia that is peaceful and developed," Prabowo was quoted as saying on CNN Indonesia.

Lawmaker Yaqut Cholil Quomas, from the National Awakening Party (PKB) which is part of Widodo's parliamentary coalition, said it would be "difficult" for Rizieq to mobilise huge crowds "unless there are vested interests who wish to ride on these demonstrations".

Charles Honoris, a lawmaker from Widodo's ruling Indonesian Democratic Party Struggle (PDI), said most protesters had genuine concerns about the new law's provisions and it was their right to voice their opinions. Financial markets and the business community have welcomed the law, with analysts describing it as part of Indonesia's badly-needed economic reform, while the Indonesian rupiah rose last week against the dollar.

However, Honoris acknowledged there were "those with other motives who are hijacking the protests against the Omnibus Law". "There have been reports that thugs were offered money to provoke protesters to commit violence and public vandalism," said Honoris.

CNN Indonesia reported there were 95 protests in Indonesia's 34 provinces last week, and police said nearly 6,000 demonstrators had been detained by Monday.

On Friday, the official news agency Antara reported that 145 of the 3,862 people who were detained tested positive for the coronavirus.

Lawmakers and security sources believe Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, will be able to ride out the unrest as he continues to enjoy the support of his coalition partners.

"Jokowi's position is still very safe as a large number of political parties still stand loyally behind him," said Yaqut, who also heads GP Ansor, the youth wing of the country's largest Muslim Organisation, Nahladtul Ulama (NU) which claims over 50 million followers.

"I don't see the current conditions as dangerous, just tense as a result of the Omnibus Law which is perceived as not honest and prioritising businesses over workers and the common people," said Yaqut.

Honoris added that the president "continues to enjoy support from the public and the broad coalition of political parties in parliament".

But lawmakers said the unrest should not be taken lightly and there needed to be a solution to de-escalate the situation, including better communication with the public amid the swirling disinformation and misinformation about the law. Different state bodies should get involved, they said.

Unionists say there has been no transparency over the legislation and that a final copy of the Omnibus Law still has not been made public despite being passed by Parliament on October 5. The first draft had 905 pages. A 1,035-page draft then appeared. The latest draft has 812 pages after revisions, Kompas.com reported on Tuesday.

"The most drastic measure is to cancel the law via a presidential decree," said PKB's Yaqut, adding that the ball is in Widodo's court.

Honoris appealed for calm and called on political and community leaders to "reject all kinds of provocation and fake news circulating in our social media circle".

He said groups who are unhappy with the Omnibus Law may pursue other avenues without endangering public safety and health, such as filing a judicial review at the Constitutional Court.

"Several groups, including labour groups and religious organisations have already stated that they will pursue this option," said Honoris.

But the Congress Alliance of Indonesian Labour Unions (KASBI) vowed to press ahead with its protests, although it would not respond to the FPI's call on Tuesday.

"We will continue with our struggle to urge the Indonesian government to cancel the job creation law," said chairperson Nining Elitos, adding that it eliminated job security and "a decent living for humanity" and "increasingly legitimises the contract work system, unlimited outsourcing, making workers more vulnerable".

"We feel a sense of distrust towards the government and Parliament because right from the start, there were many rejections and criticisms against the law by labour unions, youth, students, farmers, women, indigenous peoples, the urban poor, and academics but the government and lawmakers did not listen at all," Nining said.

In a speech live-streamed on Friday night, Jokowi said the protests against the Omnibus Law were based on "disinformation and hoaxes" spread on social media.

He denied the new law would abolish the minimum wage, saying about 2.9 million young people entered the job market every year, and with about 87 per cent having only secondary school qualifications and below, this meant there needed to be more jobs created for labour-intensive industries.

"There are around 6.9 million unemployed and 3.5 million affected by the Covid-19 pandemic," he said.

"This Law of Job Creation is aimed at creating as many jobs as possible for jobseekers and for the unemployed," said Jokowi, adding that anyone unhappy with the Law could challenge the legislation in the Constitutional Court.

Aribowo Sasmito, who heads the fact-checking team at Mafindo, an Indonesian civil organisation which tracks fake news, said social media and instant messaging services were among the factors that fuelled the demonstrations.

News about the consequences of the protests, like damage to property and human casualties, was also disseminated to provoke both reaction as well as garnering support, said Aribowo.

"The hoaxes are still occurring right now. The standard norm is when the demonstrations start to die off, they [hoaxes] will shift to another theme that is trending," said Aribowo.

Source: https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/politics/article/3105282/indonesias-omnibus-law-hardline-cleric-enters-fray-protests