October 9, 2020

Asia

INDONESIA: The Worst Is Over in the Streets

BY Bob Herrera-Lim

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The worst appears to have passed after three days of protests throughout Indonesia against the omnibus law on job creation, but the uncertainty about its fate will continue with a legal challenge likely to follow.
Although labor unions were unable to mobilize as many participants as they had predicted, the anti-government demonstrations nonetheless garnered substantial attention because of the rioting that took place in several cities. In Jakarta alone, around 18 bus stops were torched, several government offices damaged, and hundreds of protesters arrested. Aside from the capital, demonstrations also took place in the cities of Ambon, Bekasi, Bandung, Bogor, Surabaya, Aceh, Padang, Jambi, Palembang, Lampung, Semarang, Solo, Denpasar, Banjarmasin, Palangkaraya and Pontianak. The sentiments against the law seem to be exacerbated by the participants’ grievances on broader governance issues and the economic hardship caused by the pandemic.
The bill has not yet been signed into law by President Joko Widodo, and there is some speculation that parliament could still amend it after the events of the last three days — as long as it is within the 30-day period before it automatically becomes law in the absence of a presidential signature. But the real challenge may be in court. At least two organizations, the Indonesian Trade Confederation Union (KSPI) and the Muslim social organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) now plan to challenge it in the Constitutional Court, and other organizations are likely to file similar suits. This may be the more unpredictable venue for President Joko Widodo’s main reform initiative. Several governors have already issued statements rejecting the bill, and Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan pledged to protesters that he would convey their grievances to Widodo. Together with the specter of more protests around a decision, the sentiments of the governors and NU may generate pressure that causes politics to intrude in the Court’s decision.