KOMPAS.com - Thousands of students in major cities across Indonesia on Monday, April 11 protested a rise in food prices and a possible elongation of President Joko Widodo’s term in office.
Wearing neon jackets and raising megaphones, the students rallied in South Sulawesi, West Java, and the capital Jakarta, following rumors that President Widodo could shift 2024 general elections in an attempt to forcefully hold onto power.
That would be against the country’s two-term limit. Widodo is currently in the final years of a second term, before the next election in 2024.
Chants about protecting Indonesia’s democracy and limiting soaring fuel and food prices rented the air from the demonstrators.
“We demand that the lawmakers do not betray the country’s constitution by amending it,” one protest coordinator identified as Kaharuddin, told the Associated Press. “We want them to listen to people’s aspirations.”
Police fired tear gas and water canon against the protesters.
Jakarta police said a university lecturer who was participating in the protest sustained “grave” injuries after a “non-student” group battered and stomped on him. Six police officers who tried to help the lecturer were also injured, he added.
Avoiding a repeat of strongman rule
Monday’s protests echoed those from almost two decades ago when similar student-led demonstrations toppled the regime of former President Suharto, who led for decades with an iron fist. He was ousted in 1998.
Unlike Suharto, Widodo has maintained some popularity, according to recent polls.
But “Jokowi,” as the president is also known, has been heavily criticized for not speaking out strongly against rumors of a possible postponement of elections set for February 2024.
Powerful political figures, including two ministers, who publicly backed a delayed election have fueled rising tensions.
President Widodo himself has publicly spoken out against the idea. He told his cabinet last week to focus on addressing the country’s economic woes, stressing that “nobody should bring up a (presidential) term extension or election delay anymore.”
But there is still strong skepticism regarding the President’s intentions.
Crowds of demonstrators storming the parliament building at Monday’s protests said halting elections would threaten the country’s democracy.
Indonesian police fired tear gas and deployed water cannons on the protestors forcing them to scuttle away. Local reporters say rocks were thrown into the complex after non-student protestors joined the rally.
Lawmakers addressed the students, vowing to keep election dates intact.
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