Empire state of commotion
Widespread protests opposing the planned fuel price hike – from Rp 4500 to Rp 6000 a litre – have plagued a plethora of major cities and towns throughout Indonesia within a few weeks. Almost every hour, quotidian, we could witness on television reports on how these ‘people’s fighters’, day and night, in a perpetual motion involved in endless brawls against policemen. Personally, I pitied the most those policemen – albeit I even never have an acquaintance who’s in this job – who had to resist much pain of being stoned by those mobster-behaving nation’s next labelled ‘intellects’, something which has been the consequence of being the caretakers of national safety. And the civilians, inobliviously, who were not able to proceed their work as a by-product of the demonstrators smashing things into smithereens. And, more miserably, 3 policemen and 3 journalists were badly injured in an acid attack by unknown provocators. Some red-plate vehicles (indicating that these belong to state employees) were prey to their bursting wrath. But, above those all, the bulk of their actions – claiming to be inspired by the 1998 en masse demonstrations which successfully brought Soeharto’s power to the end of his tethers – no longer attracted sympathy from majority of the citizens. Rather than feel ‘represented’, they instead concluded to have been much ‘hampered’ by the manners these university students expressed their opinions.
Our school was even vacanted for 2 days – fearing the students’ safety – on both Tuesday and Saturday last week because of what they did. Many of us – as seen from their tweets – seemed to kill time while monitoring the current situation taking place in major cities across Indonesia. But, often, no matter how wrought-up the commotion was between the protestors and the security forces – such as Flintstone-era stone wars, jostling-turned-wrestling duels, or water-cannon attractions, we were often interrupted with still-water-run-deep interviews between news broadcasters and ‘seemingly-expertise’ economists, happy-talk politicians who seemed to fully support what the ‘intellects’ did, even if it’s wrong in pursuance of most of the society, and little-known leaders of student leagues claiming to be ‘the most staunchful opponents’ of government’s policies they considered to be all neo-liberal and bring no benefits for proletariats, who possess no ‘a-fault-confessed-is-half-redressed’ conventional wisdom, who all the time turned A to Z whenever audiences, through interactive phone calls, frequently denounced their methods. Endlessly waiting for the hourly headline news to know the latest condition, particularly about the lumping protests in our hometown, I instead found myself so time-wasting listening to their dialogues. And more repugnant is, to know the open encouragement by some parliamentarians that ‘university students are always victimized, while the policemen are way too repressive’. They said so as though the citizens were kindergarten students.
Among all the big cities in Indonesia, Medan was the first in terms of having huge numbers of civilians involved in mass rallies as protests against fuel price hike. On 26th March, what the coordinators had warned against authorities in the government days prior that they would bring in more than 15 thousand labors, university students, farmers, fishermen, and cadgers seemed to have come true. Rumors spread up rapidly through Blackberry Messenger that riots, in no time, would possibly be the follow-up after the mass protests. One broadcast message warned that the protesters were actually targeting Chinese-owned businesses, having a 1998 tragedy rehearsed in more horrifying scale than ever. Another one, exaggeratingly as it sounds, claimed that the sender had heard from secret insiders that as many as 800 thousand masses, all around North Sumatera, would turn the entire Medan, until Berastagi, into oceans of fire and maelstrom, with numerous names of streets being mentioned (for even more information, it also included Hillpark in Bandar Baru). 800 thousand? I asked myself, will all these so-called ’800,000’ show up, having themselves grilled under the scalding sun with little-paid wherewithal, while insofar, most of the jobs they hold in are still in very safe condition, far from the threats of being laid-off by their bosses?
But, as far as my Blackberry has ever received such peculiar messages, there was one that seemingly provoked my mind not to worry, but more to gaggle, instead. The mastermind behind the broadcast message must be some sorts of nosy bratz who simply favor in playing truants, warning us that schools in Medan and Jakarta will be occupied by protesters. Only Medan and Jakarta, while all the protesters were actually aiming for legislative offices, traffic roundabouts in city centers, and places of vital interest (Pertamina offices, highways, industrial zones, or airports (airports? What’s the connection?))? If it were so, why wouldn’t the protesters just simply blockade all the schools nationwide? Why only Medan and Jakarta? Isn’t that showing off inequality?
Nevertheless, the school’s staff immediately informed us to go back home as far as 12.40 pm, with the exception that teachers, particularly those having schedules until 3 pm or more, would have to stay. That message was delivered almost in tandem with the beginning of the obtestation, situated exactly in front of the office of North Sumatera’s representative body, as broadcast in my Twitter feed (I opened my Blackberry under-the-table at that time, violation of a school rule). Supposed to end at 2.50 pm, all of the students were instead told to leave after the school bell rang at the destined time. Hundreds of parents rushed in to classes to find their children and take them back. Furthermore, the first and second junior high school students even called it a day, knowing that their schedule usually starts at 12.50 pm.
Public relations division of our city’s metropolitan police force had previously advised that businesses, schools, and all daily activities in Medan go on as usual, and be not affected by any broadcast messages or SMS they referred to as ‘unclear’. But what actually happened was a total reversal. Thousands of businesses were closed, roads and streets were mostly vacant, and some schools caught on to the same way. Meanwhile, most of the red-plate vehicles, and oil-tanks dared not to circle around the city, fearing of disfiguration efforts by some of the anarchists. So were some of the gas tanks here.
The climax was when all the masses took a walk from the representative body’s offices into Polonia airport. Trying to blockade the entire territories, what happened next was stone war: protesters dismantled one by one all the barbed fences both the police and army had set up as anticipation. Police fired tear gas and enormous streams of water against the protesters. Worse, a Petronas gas station only a stone’s throw away from Polonia almost became prey to the angry masses. And that’s what the TV stations reported. However, on the next day, whether it’s true or false, as written in newspapers, it was said that the crowds had successfully looted away countless stuff from the minimarket and KFC restaurant inside the gas station. It remained blurred which report was correct and which was falsified, but for sure, this had highlighted the ultimately rough-and-tumble side of our ‘next leaders’. The next day, the airport was heavily guarded by 1500 troops within the radius of 150 meters, with not even a single protester allowed to get in.
ANDRI GINTING/SUMUT POS-
Source: Sumut Pos
27th March was another one of the last days in March we really feared of. Some leaders of little-known student bodies threatened to bring 2.5 million citizens into the streets, to boycott the entire economic activities over the country, and even to occupy Presidential Palace and House of Representatives, and to force SBY-Boediono to step down. Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan (PDIP), the most outspoken opposition party, bandwagoned exactly what they did, by threatening the government to dispatch 1 million of its cadres across all the main roads in all the country’s main cities. In total, it’s 3.5 million.
But a few days later, it was found out that ‘only’ no more than 80 thousand people – nationwide –did really take to the streets. Yet, no matter how ‘underachieved’ the demonstrations were, still they looked terrifying to the civilians. There was stone war going on in Jakarta, while another one took place in Makassar, where the students out-Heroded Herod by throwing down the gauntlets not only on police, but also ordinary citizens (and Makassar had the highest frequencies of such occurrences), while some others also came off in cities such as Bandung, Surabaya, Medan (it was a luck that demonstration lasted peacefully here on that day, after governor of North Sumatera ‘promised’ to bring such disputes to the state level), and more than 120 regencies/cities largely overlooked by the mass media.
On the same day, fearing of our safety, most of us decided not to crucify our lives for education’s sake. The school unofficially called it ‘a day’. In our class, only 1 student was present. In our neighboring class, only 2 came. Many of the classes were totally vacant, while Science classes were a bit more thickset than those in the Social stream, with some of the classes still having 10 and 20 students each, in between. But, above those all, given the compensation by the school that our absence would not affect our overall scores, I noticed that some of the students merely considered it a ‘blessing in disguise’. Ah, never mind about that.
Source: Viva News
In the long run, the most determining date was 31st March, in which it was decided in the plenary session whether the government would increase fuel prices or not. There has been intense disputation between government and House of Representatives for more than one week, from day to night and night to day (sometimes the debate went on until more than 2 am), about the scale of subsidies supposedly distributed if the fuel prices are to go up. PDIP, Hanura, and Gerindra remained hard-headedly in their position, totally opposed to government’s policy they believed would make the poor even poorer. Partai Demokrat insisted that more than three-quarters of the total subsidies, reportedly this year costs our national expenditure more than 150 trillion rupiah, instead go to the upper-class elites, those able to obtain cars. Golkar and PKS turned out to be confusing societies. Firstly held to the consensus by Setgab (a multi-party coalition secretariat consisted of Demokrat, Golkar, PAN, PKB, PPP, and PKS) that fuel prices – no matter how the situation is – must be raised by a-third on 1st April, they instead made a surprising U-turn, totally countervailing the government’s proposal, one day before the plenary session took place.
Exactly on the same day House of Representatives held the session, mass demonstrations again took place, but this time, they turned out to be even more brutal than have been previously imagined. Previously on Thursday, there was intense brawl occurring in Jakarta. One police post was set ablaze, some police cars were smashed and set fire, and many policemen were wounded in the incident. However, what really sent us down the shivers was the rumor that as many as 8 university students had been shot with bullets, real bullets, by the riot police. If that were to happen, as my parents and some others worried, another 1998 tragedy would be inevitable to avoid. (note: one day after 4 Trisakti students were shot dead during a demonstration against fuel price hike, mass lootings and murders took place almost everywhere around the country, largely targeting Chinese-Indonesians)
The street fight, in fact, happened to be in Salemba.
Fortunately, the rumor was not true, despite the fact that these 8 students were really shot, but with rubber bullets, instead.
On 1st April, anticipating any further possible riots, all of us were told – through Blackberry Messenger – that we didn’t have to attend the school on the day before the decision was implemented. I myself received more than 10 similar broadcast messages, while some friends of mine received more than 20. While asking for verification from the school whether it’s already proven or not, one of my friends suddenly Ping-ed me, informing that our class’ form teacher had ordered me to send messages to all my classmates, demanding them not to come for their safety. At the same time, having known that areas surrounding my home had also been blocked by the students burning unused car tyres, my mom advised me not to go on tuition anymore.
Everyone was in deep uncertainty what the final decision would be. The plenary session was continuously delayed many times, firstly from 1 to 2 pm, in which the session lasted approximately one hour, from 4 to 5 pm, from 5 to 6 pm, then dinner, then from 6 to 7 pm, again from 7 to 8 pm, again 8 to 10 pm, until most of the representatives began to lose patience, before the session resumed at 10.40 pm. The meeting, as everyone saw and tweeted what they churned out, turned out to be ‘funnier’, in tragicomedy contexts, than the demonstrations themselves. Before the session began, hundreds of students clashed with hundreds of riot police amidst the rain, no more than a few hundred meters from my own home. Some of the civilians threw stones at the police as well. They kept on blocking three main roads of Medan until a further 7 hours, before they were forcefully disbanded at 10 pm. Many of the police posts were smashed to smithereens and burnt to ruins. Some dozens were captured and brought in to the nearby police stations. Another similar thing also occurred in Makassar, and in Jakarta, altogether. The situation in Jakarta, as reported on TV stations, even reminded me of a New Year celebration, as riot police unstoppably launched fireworks, in many colors, around House of Representatives, forcing the protesters to get out of the complex.
Police fired tear gas in front of House of Representatives to disband protesters.
Back to the nation-determining plenary session. Throughout the meeting, from 10.40 pm to almost 1.30 am, I could hear hundreds of ‘Interruption!’ exclamations pronounced very loudly by the parliamentarians against headship of the meeting. Chairman of the House of Representatives, Marzuki Alie, must be the most patient person in the world. No matter how many times (hundreds, as I guess) he’s been yelled at ‘Chief!’ by those unforbearing members aspiring to interrupt his speech to voice out their opinions, his face, though a bit annoyed, seemingly had so much patience to go on with the meeting. (the same thing he had done for the rest by procrastinating the schedule, perhaps to extend their patience limits, but who knows?) Someone sang Mbah Surip’s reggae-style ‘Tak Gendong’, and some others acted as though they were kindergarten kids. Some screamed, and some others almost began fist fights. Some ignored, and some did finger-pointing against each other in a very furious manner. Some later walked-out (as PDIP and Hanura members did), and some students in yellow jackets (known to be from UI, Indonesia’s best university) had pushing against the security guards. Some were hard-headed, and others seemed to be Janus-faced, double-faced hypocrites. That’s how their plenary session be defined, I guess.
After the chairmanship decided to use voting system, here’s the final result that we got: 356 out of 531 House of Representative members (including those from Golkar and PKS) decided to NOT increase fuel prices on 1st April. It was instead resolved by further analysis on 6 months whether oil crude price, pegged at NYMEX standards, will surpass 120.75 US$ a barrel or not. In case that happens, the fuel price hike is automatically implemented. That also means we have 6 months to wait, 6 months in uncertainty. Our fear, indeed, is instead postponed to a further period as already decided.
Personally, I can’t decide which one is the most suitable policy to adjust our national budgets and its steepening deficits. It seems that every side, either the staunchful supporters or the opposition, do seemingly have their own reasons and statistics to prove their alternatives are best implemented. But, as far as I know, our oil industry has long been problematic and overtly corrupt, and given that factor, our government seemed to have no more other ways but to place the most frequently staked political commodity, at stake itself. That’s what I can say.
3 to 4 years ago, I once read through a few blog posts by oil engineers, claiming that a geological fault located west of Simeulue Islands, Aceh, is estimated to have contained Brobdingnagian amounts of oil reserves. The range may be between 100, in minimum, and 350, in maximum, billion barrels. Even if it’s proven that the fault – a by-product of 2004 Aceh disaster – does have oil as much as the former, we would have been in almost similar position with oil-producing gold-laden sultanates like Kuwait. But what if there were 350 billion barrels? It could make us even richer than Saudi Arabia, and we might be the ‘Saudi Arabia of petroleum’ ourselves. But, long after the time has passed, there’s little, or even a no, progress on the hypothesis. Has the news report itself been concealed? I can’t decide.
Even if it were correct, I’m not sure the oil itself will give Indonesia so much prosperity as the extracting companies have promised. The commotion will still be there, instigated by endless rivalries of corporations, political parties, or superpowers, thristy of power and influence. Or worse, possibly, oil may be utilized as a ‘weapon’ to acquire power. It brings a nation wealth, but it also brings a nation curses as well, Midas-style.
And that’s why I titled this article ‘empire state of commotion’.