ASEAN Beat | Politics | Southeast Asia

Indonesia: Street Protests Resume Over New Law

Indonesian students resumed protests against a new law they say has crippled the country’s anti-corruption agency

By Niniek Karmini for
Indonesia: Street Protests Resume Over New Law
Credit: Flickr/JasonParis

Thousands of Indonesian students resumed protests on Monday against a new law they say has crippled the country’s anti-corruption agency, with some clashing with police.

Authorities blocked streets leading to the Parliament building in Jakarta, where 560 members of the House of Representatives whose terms ended Monday held their last session.

Clashes between rock-throwing students and riot police broke out in the evening when police tried to disperse the protesters, ranging from high school to university students, who attempted to reach Parliament after calm had largely returned to the country’s capital over the past four days.

Protesters set fires to tires and pelted police with rocks, gasoline bombs and firecrackers near blocked streets. Riot police responded by firing tear gas and water cannons.

Similar clashes also occurred in other Indonesian cities, including in West Java’s Bandung city and in Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi province, where a student was badly injured on Friday after being accidentally hit by anti-riot armor.

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The demonstrators are enraged that Parliament passed the law reducing the authority of the corruption commission, a key body fighting endemic graft in the country.

Activists say the revision weakens the powers of one of the most credible public institutions in a country where the police and Parliament are perceived as being widely corrupt.

The protests have grown since last week and turned violent in some cities, with the burning of police posts and public facilities such as a toll gate and bus stops.

At least three people, including two students in Kendari city on Sulawesi island, have died and several hundred were injured.

The death of the students sparked a national outcry, prompting President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to express his deep condolences and order the National Police chief to conduct a thorough investigation.

The protests, which underline Indonesia’s challenge in changing its graft-ridden image, have threatened the credibility of Jokowi, who recently was reelected after campaigning for clean governance.

He faced down riots in May by supporters of the losing candidate, former Gen. Prabowo Subianto, but those events were seen as partisan politics with limited support.

The new protests are not associated with any particular party or group, and instead are led by students, who historically have been a driving force of political change. Their demonstrations in 1998 triggered events that led the country’s longtime strongman leader, Suharto, to step down.

The students are demanding that Jokowi issue a government regulation replacing the new law on the corruption commission, known by its Indonesian abbreviation, KPK.

The anti-graft commission is frequently under attack by lawmakers who want to reduce its powers.

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Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, ranked 89th out of 175 countries in the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index compiled by Transparency International.

By Niniek Karmini of The Associated Press.