Unions in another coalition, called Gebrak, also demonstrated on Sep 13 and are planning more protests. The leading union in this coalition of labour, students and civil society groups is the Congress of Indonesian Trade Union Alliances (KASBI), which is not affiliated with the Labour Party.
The Gebrak alliance, which includes other smaller unions as well as student and human rights groups, has been a significant actor in civil society protests against government policies such as the Jobs Creation (Omnibus) Law, especially in Jakarta.
On Sep 13, they called for, among other things, the cancellation of the fuel price increases, the repeal of the Omnibus Law and rejected the revisions proposed to the new Criminal Code.
MORE UNREST WILL ENSUE
There have been public protests about rising fuel prices almost every time they have been made, including during the Yudhohyono government. This time, however, the opposition arrayed against the government on the issue has more political buckshot. The continuing demonstrations number up to 10 in Jakarta on a single day.
This time actors in the mainstream, such as the Demokrat Party, the PKS and the Labour Party, are also articulating oppositional rhetoric, however opportunistic that may be. There is also the potential for serious disruption of public transportation through demonstrations by ride-hailing drivers, who now number around 3 million.
The government hopes to dampen the unrest. It has promised cash payments of 600,000 rupiah to low-income citizens. More tellingly, the government backtracked almost immediately when on Apr 13, it announced that rationing of Pertalite will be delayed while the government “makes studies”. The Minister for Labour Affairs has also called for wages to be increased.
But it will be a tall order for the government to ride through the current storm, particularly if civil society demonstrations continue while some mainstream actors sustain their opposition rhetoric. With inflation rising, more political unrest will ensue, which will in turn destabilise preparations for the 2024 elections.
Granted, the current unrest remains fragmented and without political leadership. But if left uncontrolled, the government will have its hands full trying to bring the political temperature down.
Max Lane is Visiting Senior Fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. This commentary first appeared on the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute’s blog, Fulcrum.