Hundreds of protesters, mostly students, took to the streets in the Indonesian capital on Thursday, expressing concern over rumors that the government is considering postponing the 2024 presidential election to allow President Joko Widodo to remain in power. office beyond the legal two-term limit, calling him a threat to the country’s democracy.
Protesters also denounced soaring food and oil prices, a controversial jobs law and the targeting of activists who oppose government policies.
Trade unions, farmers’ organizations and women’s groups have also joined the protests, which resumed following another protest on April 11 outside the parliament building in Jakarta, where police used tear gas and cannons water to disperse the crowd, and in other cities of the country. Calm had largely returned for 10 days.
Jakarta authorities on Thursday blocked streets leading to the heavily guarded presidential palace and parliament building. Protesters had marched there to demand that lawmakers not delay elections or change the constitution to allow Widodo to run again in 2024.
Widodo denied that his administration was trying to delay the vote after senior politicians, including a close ally, backed the idea, and he ordered the Cabinet to confirm the election was set for Feb. 14, 2024.
Despite the denials, doubts about his intentions persisted.
Thursday’s protest involved around 800 people, according to Jakarta police spokesman Endra Zulpan, who said the crowd dispersed peacefully by nightfall.
Protesters slammed the widely criticized Jobs Creation Act, which was declared unconstitutional in a Constitutional Court ruling last November, and urged the government and legislature to reverse ongoing deliberations to change it. Critics accused it of crippling labor rights and harming the environment.
The protesters also demanded that the government end the alleged violence and oppression of activists who defend the rights of disadvantaged people, including those displaced by government development projects, as well as opponents who criticize the administration. Widodo.
The national police have been criticized for allegedly using excessive force against suspected criminals and abusing the law by criminalizing critics and activists.
Protesters near the blocked streets of the presidential palace sought to meet Widodo. They booed the president for not meeting them. A speaker read their demands, including that the government immediately reduce the price of fuel and basic foodstuffs, including cooking oil, which have soared in recent months, and raise wages to counter inflation.
“We will continue to fight and the wave of demonstrations will continue if the government does not listen to our demands,” a speaker standing on top of a small truck shouted to the crowd.
Powerful political figures, including ministers Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan and Airlangga Hartarto, who is also chairman of the Golkar party in the ruling coalition, have suggested that the elections be postponed.
Supporters have argued that Widodo needs more time to deal with the economy, which has collapsed during the pandemic, and complete its agenda, including a $35 billion project to move the capital to l island of Borneo.
Presidents are limited to two terms under the First Amendment to Indonesia’s Constitution, which was passed in 1999, a year after dictator Suharto was toppled by massive pro-democracy protests.
Suharto ruled Indonesia for more than three decades under an authoritarian, often violent regime. During his rule, corruption and rights abuses became rampant as the elite plundered the economy. His fall ushered in democracy, and the term limit is intended to prevent a repeat of the authoritarian past.