Indonesian anti-riot police secure an area from protesters during a demonstration against Indonesia's President Joko Widodo's victory in the recent election in Jakarta on May 22, 2019. Photo: AFP/Bay Ismoyo

Despite the apparent shooting deaths of seven demonstrators under still unexplained circumstances, Indonesia’s much-maligned national police is receiving well-deserved praise for its disciplined handling of last week’s election-related riots in Jakarta.

While that will do little to change the overall image of the 440,000-strong force as corrupt and inept, in specific areas such as crowd control and counterterrorism it has made significant strides as guardians of the country’s internal security.

Improved crowd-control techniques, including the use of policewomen in frontline positions, have been taught at Indonesia’s police academy since the early 2000s when the United States began focusing part of its aid program on that area of law enforcement.

The police, which unlike the military report directly to President Joko Widodo, have also benefited from new riot-control equipment, their own home-made pepper spray and an increased budget, which last year amounted to US$6.6 billion, compared with the military’s $8.1 billion.

For some, the spectacle of two New Order-era generals, losing presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto and Widodo’s chief political minister Wiranto, facing off against each other looked like a depressing rerun of the chaotic events that preceded president Suharto’s fall from power.

A protester shows sharp bullets found in police cars after clashes over presidential election results turned into riots in Jakarta on May 22. Photo: AFP / Nurphoto/ Aditya Irawan

Certainly, the mysterious deaths of six rioters the night before the May 22 protest was a disturbing reminder of the sniper shooting of students at Trisakti University, which triggered the anti-Suharto riots that devastated Jakarta in May 1998.

Ominously, police reportedly recovered two M4 rifles fitted with silencers from the scene, weapons only carried by Indonesian special forces units, adding to concerns about a possible conspiracy.

But there were distinct differences from 20 years ago, even if Indonesia continues to be haunted by the authoritarian shadow of Suharto and dogged by many of the same figures from that era who have populated the political stage since his demise.

Wiranto’s role this time was nominal, with government sources confirming that most of the security planning was left to police chief Tito Karnavian, a Western-educated officer well versed in modern policing methods and in counterterrorism operations.

It was Information Minister Rudiantara, however, who made the decision to shut down WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook at a crucial juncture on May 22, apparently worried about the volume of fake news and messages exploding across social media.

Inadvertently, the censorship order may also have succeeded in preventing unidentified provocateurs in the crowd from communicating with one another or outside masterminds in efforts to escalate the violence.

Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto speaks to supporters after the presidential election in Jakarta on April 19. Photo: AFP Forum via NurPhoto/Andrew Gal

After months of threatening a “people’s power” uprising if the presidential election results didn’t go his way, Prabowo sought to play peacemaker when the inevitable riots broke out and fears grew the situation could get out of hand.

If anything, the long-contrived crisis allowed security forces plenty of time to prepare, starting with the establishment of roadblocks to turn around busloads of pro-Prabowo supporters on the toll roads leading into the capital.

Paramilitary police and troops flew in from Sumatra and other parts of the country, including a full marine battalion airlifted aboard a fleet of seven C-130 transport aircraft from their base in the East Java port city of Surabaya.

Some took up positions out of sight in the basements of buildings along Jalan Thamrin, a main thoroughfare and the site of the General Election Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu), the main focus of the demonstrators, whose numbers didn’t come remotely close to the promised hundreds of thousands.

Police have still to come up with an explanation of the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the six demonstrators after the fire-bombing of a police dormitory sparked street battles in the market district of Tanah Abang.

Police announced days beforehand that their men would not be carrying live rounds, but the rubber bullets they did have can still be lethal at short range. Only two of the victims have been identified and it is not clear what the autopsies have revealed.

Police say that among the 257 people detained were two alleged militants linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), bringing to 31 the number of terrorist suspects arrested in Jakarta and other parts of Java in the days beforehand.

Police in front of the Indonesia Election Supervisory Agency, the target of pro-Prabowo riots on May 22, 2019 in Jakarta. Photo: AFP / NurPhoto / Donal Husni

According to investigators, precursor explosive materials discovered during the raids were to be used in a bombing campaign against targets in other parts of the city, using the demonstrations as a convenient cover.

The day after the riots, Widodo dispatched Vice-President Jusuf Kalla to meet with Prabowo, who has now changed his mind and taken his election-fraud complaint to the Constitutional Court – as he did after his failed election bid five years ago.

The president’s 11-percentage-point margin of victory this time, much wider than in 2014, gives the retired general’s legal challenge little chance of succeeding, particularly if he is unable to provide a lot more compelling evidence that he has mustered so far.

Officials say the meeting was aimed at clearing the air, but Prabowo is looking increasingly like a sore loser, with his political allies in the National Mandate (PAN) and Justice and Prosperity (PKS) parties seemingly uninterested in taking things further.

Even the conservative 212 Movement and its hardline Islamic allies have been strangely quiet since the country’s two mass Muslim organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, in effect banned their members from participating in the May 22 demonstrations.

But its campaign of creeping Islamization, aimed at turning secular Indonesia into an Islamic state, will almost certainly continue as security officials sweep up the ashes of the Jakarta riots and Widodo gears up for his second elected term.

Join the Conversation

82 Comments

  1. Heya i am for the primary time here. I came across this board and
    I in finding It really useful & it helped me out a lot.
    I hope to provide one thing back and aid others like you helped me.

  2. What’s up everybody, here every person is sharing these kinds of know-how,
    therefore it’s fastidious to read this web site,
    and I used to go to see this webpage daily.

  3. You can definitely see your expertise in the work you write.
    The arena hopes for more passionate writers such as
    you who are not afraid to mention how they believe. All the time go after your heart.

  4. Does your site have a contact page? I’m having trouble
    locating it but, I’d like to shoot you an email.
    I’ve got some ideas for your blog you might be interested in hearing.

    Either way, great website and I look forward to seeing it expand over
    time.

  5. This is the perfect blog for anyone who really wants to understand this
    topic. You realize so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I really will need to…HaHa).
    You definitely put a fresh spin on a subject that’s been written about for a long time.
    Excellent stuff, just great!

  6. We would like to thank you once more for the
    gorgeous ideas you offered Jesse when preparing a post-graduate research in addition to, most importantly, for providing many of the ideas in a single blog post.
    Provided we had been aware of your site a year ago, we will have been saved the useless measures we were choosing.

    Thanks to you.

  7. hey there and thank you for your information ? I have definitely picked up anything new from right
    here. I did however expertise several technical issues using this
    web site, as I experienced to reload the site many times previous to I could get it to load properly.
    I had been wondering if your hosting is OK? Not
    that I am complaining, but sluggish loading instances times will sometimes
    affect your placement in google and could damage your high-quality score if advertising and marketing with Adwords.
    Well I?m adding this RSS to my email and can look out for much more of your respective exciting content.
    Ensure that you update this again soon..

  8. hello there and thank you for your information ?
    I?ve certainly picked up anything new from right here. I did however expertise some
    technical issues using this site, since I experienced to reload the site
    lots of times previous to I could get it to load correctly.

    I had been wondering if your web hosting is OK? Not that I am complaining,
    but slow loading instances times will very frequently affect your placement
    in google and could damage your high quality score if advertising and marketing with Adwords.
    Well I?m adding this RSS to my email and could look out for much more of your respective
    interesting content. Ensure that you update this again soon..

  9. Thank you for any other fantastic article. Where else may just anyone get that type of
    info in such an ideal method of writing? I’ve a presentation subsequent week,
    and I’m on the search for such information.

  10. Thanks for the good writeup. It in truth used to be a
    enjoyment account it. Look complex to more brought agreeable from you!
    However, how can we be in contact?

  11. Hello! Do you know if they make any plugins to assist with Search Engine Optimization? I’m trying to
    get my blog to rank for some targeted keywords but I’m not seeing very good
    results. If you know of any please share. Appreciate it!

  12. Thanks for another excellent article. The place else
    may anybody get that kind of info in such an ideal manner of writing?

    I’ve a presentation next week, and I’m on the look for such info.

  13. Heya i am for the primary time here. I found this board and I in finding It really helpful & it helped me out
    a lot. I am hoping to give something again and help others like you helped me.

  14. hey there and thank you for your info ? I have
    definitely picked up anything new from right here.
    I did however expertise several technical points using this web site,
    as I experienced to reload the web site many times previous to I could get it to load correctly.
    I had been wondering if your hosting is OK? Not that I’m complaining, but
    sluggish loading instances times will sometimes affect your placement in google and can damage your
    high-quality score if advertising and marketing with
    Adwords. Well I?m adding this RSS to my e-mail and could look out for a lot more
    of your respective fascinating content. Make sure you update this again soon..

  15. Hi there, just became aware of your blog through Google, and found that it
    is truly informative. I am gonna watch out for brussels.
    I will be grateful if you continue this in future. Many people will be benefited from your
    writing. Cheers!

  16. Does your website have a contact page? I’m having trouble locating it but, I’d like to shoot you an email.
    I’ve got some creative ideas for your blog you might be interested in hearing.
    Either way, great blog and I look forward to seeing it
    develop over time.

  17. hello there and thank you for your information ?

    I have certainly picked up anything new
    from right here. I did however expertise several technical points using this website, since
    I experienced to reload the web site lots of times
    previous to I could get it to load properly.
    I had been wondering if your hosting is OK? Not that
    I am complaining, but slow loading instances times will sometimes
    affect your placement in google and could damage your high-quality score
    if ads and marketing with Adwords. Well I?m adding this RSS to my email and can look out
    for a lot more of your respective intriguing content.
    Ensure that you update this again very soon..

  18. Does your blog have a contact page? I’m having trouble locating it but,
    I’d like to send you an e-mail. I’ve got some ideas for your blog you might be interested in hearing.
    Either way, great blog and I look forward to seeing it
    improve over time.

  19. Heya i’m for the first time here. I came across this board and
    I in finding It truly helpful & it helped me out a lot.

    I hope to present one thing back and aid others like you
    aided me.

  20. Does your site have a contact page? I’m having problems locating
    it but, I’d like to shoot you an email. I’ve got some creative ideas
    for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great blog and I look forward to seeing it expand over time.

  21. Hi there, just became aware of your blog through Google, and found that
    it’s really informative. I am gonna watch out for brussels.
    I will appreciate if you continue this in future.
    Lots of people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

  22. Howdy! Do you know if they make any plugins to help with Search Engine Optimization? I’m trying to get my blog to rank for some targeted keywords
    but I’m not seeing very good gains. If you know of any please share.

    Thanks!

  23. Thanks for some other wonderful post. The place else
    may anybody get that kind of info in such a perfect approach
    of writing? I have a presentation subsequent week, and
    I am at the look for such info.

  24. Heya i am for the primary time here. I came across this board
    and I to find It really useful & it helped me out a lot.
    I hope to give one thing again and aid others such as you helped
    me.

  25. Hi there, just became aware of your blog through Google, and found
    that it’s truly informative. I?m gonna watch
    out for brussels. I?ll appreciate if you continue this in future.

    Many people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

  26. Hello there! Do you know if they make any plugins to assist with Search
    Engine Optimization? I’m trying to get my blog to rank for some targeted keywords but I’m not seeing very good gains.
    If you know of any please share. Appreciate it!

  27. Hi, Neat post. There is an issue together with your web site in internet explorer, would test this?
    IE nonetheless is the marketplace chief and a large part of other people will pass over your
    fantastic writing due to this problem.

  28. It’s the best time to make some plans for the future
    and it is time to be happy. I’ve read this post and if I could
    I want to suggest you few interesting things or suggestions.
    Perhaps you could write next articles referring to this article.
    I want to read even more things about it!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *