Dear President Widodo:
Over the past few days, Indonesia has experienced a series of traumatic and saddening events. The police have responded to hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, expressing their right of assembly and to protest against what they believe to be fraudulent elections, with brutal force. Innocent people have been beaten or fired upon, many severely wounded, while others have been tragically killed.
There are no signs the Indonesian peoples, who are simply standing up for their democratic rights, will be intimidated by this brutality. On the contrary, the more the government acts with violence, the more passions will be inflamed and bring us down the path of more civil conflict—this is something nobody wants and serves no interests. And, it must be avoided by all means necessary in order to secure a brighter future for our country and citizenry.
In order to bring peace and order to our country, as well as safeguard our democracy, there are several measures you can take in your office of the presidency.
First, your government should refrain from criminalizing the opposition, especially on charges of treason. As president, you should know better that a true act of treason entails the use of arms in an attempt to overthrow a government. Opposition figures, such as Amien Rais and Kivlan Zen, who have been named as suspects for treason, have never advocated for such actions. And as patriots, neither will they ever do so. Rather, they, as many others, have supported for peoples to exercise their constitutional right of assembly and peacefully protest against what they believe to have been fraudulent elections.
If your government continues to use charges of treason as a tool of intimidation and suppression, you should be mindful of the consequences. It will only harden the opinions of your critics that you and your administration have no intent to resolve this dispute in a fair and impartial manner. It will only strengthen the will of the people to stand up for and protect their democracy. And in the final analysis, it will impair even more damage to your legitimacy as president.
Second, it is an absolute imperative that you order the security apparatus, in particular Brimob, from using deadly force against protestors. Police officials have denied the use of live ammunition, and they have accused third parties of being behind the shootings of innocents. Yet video clips on social media tell an entirely different story.
There is a saying that you can fool the people some of the time, but not all of the time. But in the age of social media, it is now almost impossible to fool the people. Besides shooting at people, we have seen security forces use senseless and brutal force against protestors. We have seen badly injured people lying in the streets and taken to hospitals. In return, we have only heard the government and police officers talk about ‘intellectual actors’ and unseen provocateurs being the ones responsible for fomenting violence. By doing so, your government is once again revealing itself as being dishonest and anti-democratic.
Such violence by the police only begets anger and anarchy in our streets. Hence it behooves you, as president, to take the first step of de-escalating this precarious situation by making sure the senior police command take all necessary measures to ensure they do not use deadly force against protestors.
Third, and most importantly, you must seek a fair an impartial resolution of the dispute over the presidential elections. This dispute is, after all, the root cause of the protests and unfortunate conflict we are facing today and how it is resolved will have an indelible impact on the future course of our democracy. The National Winning Body, or BPN, for the Prabowo Subianto-Sandiaga team has already taken the first step in good faith by agreeing to take its case to the Constitutional Court. At the same time, the BPN, the peoples of Indonesia and yourself are fully aware that our government agencies and court system are not immune to money politics and often act for the interests of the elite, not the people. Hence you should take every precaution necessary to make sure the process of uncovering the truth about fraud not be subject yet to more suspicions of foul play, in this case by the judiciary.
For this, the BPN has proposed a commendable solution in its request the government direct the KPU to open its data for a forensic audit that would be conducted by a team jointly appointed by the government and BPN. It is essential the government agree to BPN’s demand of a forensic audit for, by doing so, they would be proving to the people of Indonesia and the international community that they are acting in good faith and want a peaceful resolution. BPN’s demand is fair and reasonable, and there should be no good reason for the government to reject its demand: after all, if the elections were fair, as the government insists they were, then why should they be afraid of the KPU being subject to an audit?
In closing, as your friend and former minister, I should say I have faith that you will remember that your ascent to the presidency in 2014 was met with jubilation and hopes for a better Indonesia. Now, almost five years later, you sit at a critical juncture, for how you manage this national crisis will determine your legacy as president. It is with my greatest hope, as it is for all Indonesians, that you will act wisely and in the collective interest.