JAKARTA, Indonesia – Outraged Indonesians are now up in arms and finally mobilizing after waking up on Friday, September 26, to find out they had lost their right to directly choose their mayors and governors.
While a survey earlier in September showed more than 80% of Indonesians were against the Regional Elections Bill (RUU Pilkada) – which will have local leaders be chosen by local legislatures – protests against it were limited to sparsely attended rallies and online petitions (the main one got less than 60,000 signatures).
In a forum in Jakarta on September 17, Fadli Zon, the deputy chairman of Prabowo Subianto’s Gerindra party, claimed “Indonesians are sick and tired of direct local elections” judging from low voter turnouts. He didn’t present any data to back up that claim, but the lack of massive protests against RUU Pilkada appeared to at least suggest most Indonesians didn’t care all that much for the issue.
Ahead of the plenary vote on Thursday, Rappler talked to several Indonesians who said they were against the bill to ask if they would go to the streets and protest. Few said they would. Some joked their way out of the question, or said the election outcome would remain the same regardless of the system.
Yuventius Nicky Nurman, an editor for Indonesian political and business insight information portal YosefArdi.com, explained that local voting rights were not a “gut issue” for Indonesians, nor did it have a personality for people to rally around.
On the other hand, Dian-Diku Aditya Ning Lestari, an activist and co-founder of youth NGO Indonesian Future Leaders, said she thinks “most people chose to believe that Yudhoyono won’t fail his own words at least this one time – a wrong choice, maybe. And that no matter how much we protest, I guess they won’t (care).”
She was referring to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party saying they would support direct local elections, in line with the aspirations of the people. (READ: Democrats confirm support for direct regional elections)
The Democratic Party – the largest bloc in the outgoing legislature – had the power to control the outcome of the vote on Thursday, but chose to walk out after not getting their version of the bill on the table. (READ: How Indonesians lost their direct local voting rights)
Not surprisingly, much of the anger on Friday was directed at Yudhoyono. By mid-morning, the hashtag #ShameOnYouSBY was the top trending topic in Indonesia. By mid-day, it even made it to the worldwide trending list.
The initial statements from Yudhoyono, who is currently in New York attending the UN General Assembly, did not help appease people. The president said he was “disappointed” with the result and would seek a judicial review at the Constitutional Court. He also said he ordered Democrat officials to find out who orchestrated the “shameful” political drama that led to the walkout.
But critics argued Yudhoyono could have done so much more if he was really bent on stopping the bill. He could have ordered the bill be withdrawn, or issued a strong directive to the Democrats.
One legislator, Ruhut Sitompul, told Detik.com that before the walkout, he tried to contact Yudhoyono to clarify his directive but got a message saying, “Sorry, I’ll call you later.”
Though there is little recourse other than to seek a judicial review of the new law – a move many are now working on – Indonesians are beginning to mobilize beyond Twitter hashtags.
Phone numbers of officials to lobby have been circulating, a press conference on how to counter the passage of the bill was quickly organized for Friday afternoon, and new online petitions have been launched. The question is whether it’s now all too late.