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Analysis: Protests over fuel price hike continue but unlikely to be effective

Jakarta Post - September 19, 2022

Tenggara Strategics, Jakarta - September has been marked by massive waves of street rallies, protesting against the government's decision to increase subsidized fuel prices. With the Labor Party making a name for itself by spearheading the demonstrations, the protests are likely to carry on, but unlikely to force the government to bow down to their demands.

In response, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo said the public was welcome to express their views because Indonesia is a democratic country. While it is true that the right to protest is an essential part of a democracy, more often than not, it has made little, if any, impact on government decisions and policies.

Although fuel prices have been hiked by about 30 percent, the first such increase since 2014 and something that Jokowi's predecessors avoided, political analysts say that the President is well placed to absorb the shocks of the protests. This is due to his relatively high approval rating well into his second term as well as a broad coalition at his beck and call.

Security authorities allowed the protests to take place across the country as long as they adhere to the regulations and do not turn ugly. Confederation of Indonesian Trade Unions (KSPI) president Said Iqbal stated that the protests would be focused around the House of Representatives in Central Jakarta, while rallies also happened in Bandung, West Java; Semarang, Central Java; Surabaya, East Java; Yogyakarta; Banda Aceh, Special Region of Aceh; Medan, North Sumatra; Batam, Riau Islands; Padang, West Sumatra; Pekanbaru, Riau; Bengkulu; Lampung; Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan; Samarinda, East Kalimantan; and Pontianak, West Kalimantan.

With the protests dragging on, there are concerns that the fuel price hike is being politicized by the only two opposition parties, namely the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the Democratic Party. Garuda Party spokesman Teddy Gusnaidi, for one, has called out political parties for trying to win the public's hearts by siding with those against the government policy, especially as the 2024 elections are drawing closer.

Because the KSPI is also leading protests across the country, it is also possible that the Labor Party, which is also chaired by Said Iqbal, is taking this as an opportunity to gain relevance. Last August, the party just registered with the General Elections Commission (KPU) to take part in the general elections in 2024.

What's more

Observers differ in opinion regarding the political consequences of the protests.

Indo Strategic executive director Akhmad Khoirul Umam says the fuel price hikes will directly impact national politics. According to him, public satisfaction with the government – and, by extension, the political parties in the government coalition – can decline. Umam explained that the protests would disrupt business stability for businesses and workers and that, to an extent, could also affect the electability of parties supporting the government.

But Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) politics and social change head Arya Fernandes disagreed. According to him, the backlash will barely be effective considering that the rejection comes from the opposition parties. Moreover, Jokowi's administration has had ample experience in navigating reactions toward unpopular policies, as was seen with the revision of the KPK Law and the Omnibus Law on job creation.

Separately, main expert staff to the Presidential Staff Office (KSP) deputy IV Joanes Joko claimed that President Jokowi has acknowledged the public's opinions conveyed through the rallies and said social cushions have also been prepared to accompany the policy.

What we've heard

Two executives of a labor union said that the police invited their organization to listen to an explanation about the government's reasons for increasing the fuel prices. During the meeting, the police also conveyed that the government will provide compensation. "During the meeting, they asked us not to take to the streets, but we will continue to hold protests," said the source.

Other than lobbying labor unions, the police also approached groups of the Student Executive Board (BEM). For one, a police representative visited the University of Indonesia BEM last week. The students were invited to the Jakarta Police headquarters to hear the police's explanation of the increase in fuel prices. A similar invitation was also extended to Trisakti University BEM. However, the two BEM administrators decided not to attend the meeting.

The police also met with several school principals and education agency officials. In Tangerang, for example, the police communicated with school principals to anticipate students taking part in protests. The police asked schools to discourage their students from participating in the rallies. "They asked us to monitor and discourage the children from taking part in protests alongside workers and university students," said a source.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2022/09/19/analysis-protests-over-fuel-price-hike-continue-but-unlikely-to-be-effective.htm