The “People Power” Protests and Riots From A Millennial’s Perspective

“Fire everywhere! Gun shots all over the place! People screaming for help! Hospitals overfilled with screaming patients!”, those sentences sound like it came from a social disaster that took place in a movie scene, but it’s not. It’s actually Jakarta, literally a week ago. When a supposedly peaceful act of protest turned into all out rioting, the likes of which this country has never seen since the waning moments of the New Order.

May 22nd, 2019. A historically important date for Indonesia. As for the last recent years, the population has been basically split into two factions of political interests: Those who seek to continue Jokowi’s regime and those who are in Prabowo’s side of the sphere. To be honest this informal social classification has left the entire nation in a horrid state. It’s like living in a seemingly never-ending cold war of politics. Entertaining? Sure, but beneficial for society? Not so much.

If seen more in a more detailed fashion, the only benefit these collisions gave is that of new found marketing abilities Indonesians grew within themselves throughout the course of the conflict due to the extensive independent and militant campaigns. And I’ve got to admit tell you the endless jokes and memes thrown out there were more than fun to observe and admire. Other than that, this clash of titans gave nothing more than just utterly unpleasant bitterness.

But then again it all went down to the wire on election day. Hurray! Election day! Indonesians are indoctrinated for election day by the government in a way that I will never fully understand, they have an election day song, they have non-stop election day ads on television and other media, etc. It’s a government program that in my book, is incomprehensible and wasteful of resources. But as that is not the focus of this text, let us proceed.  As planned, the general election went down on April 17th of this year. As always units upon units of government security officials were stationed across the 34 provinces and they were fortunate enough to handle the most minimum of threats. The election went fairly peaceful and was internationally well received, another plus for Jokowi’s administration.

As the sun set on that faithful day, as the quick count numbers sum up in survey joints, the crowd went silent and eerily waited for the results to come out. At dusk, the quick count results came through, showing a significant margin in a win for Jokowi. The internet went wild. Then claims by Prabowo’s side popped out regarding how the survey institutions were faking their data and was biased, however Jokowi’s side decently kept their composure. Suddenly out of nowhere Prabowo jumped up to a podium in front of his house in a press conference proclaiming a whopping 62% win over Jokowi. The crowd went wild, the batter had just scored an ecstatic home run.

What happened after that was a concoction of just brutal accusations and overwhelming controversial conducts. Prabowo’s garrison of supporters started showering claims of “massive” election swindles by Jokowi’s side with “authentic” evidences while moving forth with their 62%-win claim.

On the Jokowi’s side on the other hand tried to stop the cheating claims, yet the belief had spread too far out of their reach. Jokowi claimed victory based on the quick count results, but he himself was still waiting for authentic General Electoral Commission (KPU) results, which was to be formally announced May 22nd. As days gone by, the 62%-win claims started to double down, and cheating claims exerted by Prabowo’s supporters went uphill in drastic fashion. Social media was superbly crowded with uploads concerning that subject in particular, whether it was by Prabowo supporters fuelling the growing sense of injustice, or by Jokowi’s faction trying to maintain a clean look through all the attacks thrown at them. As the Electoral Commission’s count was ending, it looked almost impossible for Prabowo to actually achieve that 62% claim as the numbers looked outstandingly similar to those of the quick counts. Of course, this proved to be the boiling point for Prabowo and his entente of supporters as they tried to bring their justice with their own set of hands.

This culminated on the 21st and 22nd May demonstration acts, which were supposed to be extremely huge. People were supposed to come from all over the country. But of course, government security officials had their own set of concerns regarding this, because words were spreading about some form of coup attempt seeped into the demonstrations.  Suspected terrorists were arrested in the days leading to the act, mass mobilization for the event was held off by regional officials. Precautionary steps were conducted, yet the situation thickened.

At last, D-day had cometh. May 21st, 2019. Jakarta’s residences were generally informed about the upcoming demonstration, rumours of impending danger went from ear to ear as fear of 1998 riots-type incidents grew within the populous. Prabowo’s mass started to gather in front of the street in front of the Electoral Supervisory Body (Bawaslu) office. At first everything was well, but as night fell on the Big Durian, what was feared to happen came to be.

Jakarta on riots again after 21 years, I kept myself updated that night as thousands of Prabowo sympathizers had their way with the police and as it spread to the surrounding areas. It was truly shocking, that. As a legit millennial I wasn’t even alive when Jakarta burned in ’98, but there I was watching the streets of Jakarta went into chaos live on TV. Then the next day came and it somehow got worse. Hundreds were proclaimed injured, numerous, dead. How that came to be is still a question till this very day as controversy spirals over this subject.

The interesting thing about this riot, as I observe my fellow colleague’s responses on this, is that generally speaking, it doesn’t actually open new mindsets, it actually magnifies those which already exists. Jokowi sympathizers taking side with the officials, Prabowo’s side with the demonstrators. I see now even in this day and age; us supposedly modern millennials are still not looking at the bigger picture. Still looking for the perpetrator behind all this, who’s fault this was, who’s to be blame. Yet I see this as signification of how retarded we are as a people.

We’re fighting wars under the dome of those in power, we’re fighting each other, their raging battles inadvertently pitted us against our own. To be fairly said, government security officials and demonstrators present on site were the same, they left their families at home for that they believe is a noble cause, yet to leave bad marks nonetheless. You can’t justify the rioters burning and wasting everything in their path, and you can’t justify government official brutality either. However, this shows how far we are willing pushed ourselves forth in this matter.

It takes a great bit of energy, willingness, and just outright stupidity for the demonstrators and/or rioters to do what they did. Burning cars, looting shops, attacking government officials. These acts appeared to be empowered by means of hatred towards the administration, yet they are fighting for a non-universal cause fuelled with the ambitions of the opposition. And It takes a bigger lot of willpower for the security personnel to did those (allegedly) unprofessional and brutal conducts. Sure, you can say that they are human too, they have their limit. But again, they were selected as Indonesia’s finest, their mental stability is supposed to be above those of average. If they break down and get provoked as easily and quickly as their opposition does, then can we even draw the line between the two?

The lack of respect these people have for the government and the security institution beneath it, more specifically the National Police Force, and the (allegedly) inept savagery the officials did on the demonstrators and/or rioters are both things that should’ve been buried long ago with Soeharto and the New Order. It used to be like this in the Smiling General’s reign, a good lot of vocal and active people clashing against the administration’s enforcers, which back then was more of a military-centred role. Many believed the military, especially the Army, was the backbone of Soeharto’s regime, viewed by more than a few not as defenders of the people, but thugs of the powerful. Yet the situation may have back flipped upon itself these days, the more vocal faction of the two parties clashing, which is Prabowo’s side, seems to be very much supportive and compelled by the military, especially the Army. Allegedly, a good portion of Prabowo’s sympathizers believes that the military is somehow actually backing Prabowo not Jokowi, even though Jokowi’s their commander in chief. How does that work? I do not know.

But again, these improper and immensely unpleasant acts are those of the past. Let’s take a major step back and start thinking with our minds open and our horizons broaden. Not everything is black and white, there are good in each side. Start putting matters into decent contextualization to further clarify the details.

The demonstration itself, unnecessary? Sure. Generally speaking, quick count-wise, and real count-wise, Prabowo’s side lost in all of them and in good margin, almost 16 million votes in total. Frankly, where in God’s good earth are you going to find proof of a 16 million vote fraud? Face it, if it’s under 10 million it would be a decent bit worth fighting for. But waging war for that many vote counts? I just couldn’t understand the logic behind that truthfully. Still though, Prabowo’s faction has every single right to do it, even if it’s a bit out of hand, a bit off balanced, they have ever right for it. Whatever steps and ways they have under their belt to claim justice must be allowed as long as it’s under the corridor of the existing law.

Using a necessary level of force during apprehension is legal, ruthlessly beating a man however, is not. The National Police Force has been somewhat of a main face of Jokowi’s era. It’s been particularly active in recent years handling violations of the Presidential Insults Act, of which most of the perps are Prabowo sympathizers. This is possibly one of the main reasons why the Prabowo supporters perceive the police in such a negative way with Jokowi, his inner circle members (which consists of Wiranto, Luhut, etc), the Chief of Police Tito Karnavian, and others as oligarchs ruling what they proclaim to be an evil regime.

To be fair, the National Police Force itself doesn’t actually have a shining reputation, even before Indonesia was split in two. Commonly known as violent, corrupt, and incompetent, it is so reputably awful that their Wikipedia page says exactly as the above. It is important for us the people to trust our finest men and women on duty, but trust is earned, not given. The controversy surrounding the improper acts they administered during the 21st and 22nd May 2019 Jakarta riots does nothing but lower public’s trust for the institution and its members. To refurbish their image, the National Police Force must first take little, important steps. Starting with this civil rights violation case, they need to sort this out and if proven guilty, sanction harsh punishment to the perpetrators.

The same with Prabowo’s side. Although all this conspiracy regarding intruders infiltrating the masses and instigating the riots, it is undeniable that general public’s sights are set on them as long as the police doesn’t get to the very root of this problem. If the so-called “real perpetrators” aren’t caught, the blame will be on them. The same type of negative perception given by Prabowo’s side to the police are being given to them by a larger, more silent majority. A certain form of stereotype, sooner rather than later, will surely arise amidst this perception. They too must change how they sell themselves; they must show sportsmanship over the entirety of the things to come. If the Constitutional Court (Mahkamah Konstitusi) doesn’t grant Prabowo’s suit over Jokowi, he, his closest colleagues, and those who stand behind him will have to show an act of common decency and respect the decision. Then maybe, the negative perception will asunder. People are already starting to love certain aspects of Prabowo’s side other than the overt nationalism and Islamism he promotes. However, this new found love’s attraction is not the ex-Kopassus General himself, but rather his VP candidate, the Meme Lord. Sandiaga Uno offers a different take on the whole electoral sphere, a fresh air hovering over the old, wrinkly faces of his fellow participants. If Prabowo and his side take this one to bed and change how they market their side, downgrade the level of controversy, trim the excess identity politics, and get rid of some of their unproductive members, they might have a great chance in 2024, that is if Sandi decided to roll with them again (as Presidential candidate this time, of course).

Again, both sides need improvements on their own terms. The government, the National Police Force, to be specific, needs to up their game, start applying strict rules of engagement, educate their personnel on how to handle situations more professionally, and clear their internal affairs. On the other hand, Prabowo with his supporters need to have a more approachable, less provocative ways to market what they are trying to sell. They also need to make peace and start trusting the government more, after all, Jokowi and his administration are not serving the majority, but Indonesia as a whole.

I stand here not as a wannabe expert, but a mere Indonesian concerned over his beloved country. For if the clashes proceed, we will continue to split and stray further apart. The solemn oath in which our forebears recited upon this holy ground many a years ago will be left as nothing but a kindled story on a piece of paper. Let us rejoice for this conflict is now over, Idul Fitri is near, let us shake hands with our friends and families, but more importantly with those we previously perceived as our foe.

“To err is human, to forgive divine”.

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