College students as street opposition

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Annysa Sovia Nurani Post-graduate student of Political Science, University of IndonesiaFRIDAY

IO – The track record of college students’ struggles for the sake of the Indonesian people is nothing short of impressive. Historically, college students have followed their spirit and idealism by participating in politics from the days of the Old Order, through the New Order and during the Reform Era. Having observed the recent struggles of the masses (college students) in various regions, I am reminded of the time that college students’ protests were a representation of public opinion in various regions: they sought, for instance, to overturn the corrupt and authoritarian New Order regime. This effort then brought into existence the 1998 Political Reforms. This historic fact is evidence that our college students actively participate in national struggles and in the development of the nation.

Recently, the Government’s policies have tended not to support the will of the people. Most of the public found that the Revision to the Corruption (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi – “KPK”) Law has compromised KPK’s power as an effective anti-corruption law enforcement tool. Furthermore, civil right liberties are being restricted and the government has the potential of turning authoritarian with the enactment of certain articles in the Criminal Code Draft Law. Any policy that the Government fails to formulate properly will naturally trigger a strong reaction from the people, rousing the people’s wrath against what they view as the bad behavior of a legislative elite.

Soon after these protests, the appointment of legislative members (i.e. members of the People’s Consultative Assembly ((Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat – “MPR”), the House of Representatives (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat – “DPR”), and the Regional Representative Council (Dewan Perwakilan Daerah – “DPD”) and the Cabinet further strengthened the suspicion that President Jokowi’s power is now getting monolithic.

It is a surprise that Jokowi should ally himself with his erstwhile political rival Prabowo by appointing him as the Minister of Defense. Even more surprisingly, he stated that Indonesia no longer knows an opposition because democracy in Indonesia is “demokrasi gotong-royong” or “mutual assistance democracy”. These moves have narrowed the space for controlling power through strategic monitoring. This tendency to mimic the New Order is very dangerous – it is a threat to democratic life in Indonesia.

Alternative Opposition
In order to maintain the health and strength of our democracy, it is necessary for authoritarianism to be buried and for opposing powers to be preserved. We must make sure that the opposition does not get cut down, let alone eliminated. It is necessary as a means of balancing control of the State’s power.

In view of the current situation, wherein the opposition is vastly reduced (only National Mandate Party (“PAN”), Democrat Party, and the Prosperous Justice Party (“PKS”) remain as opposition, while they are vastly outnumbered by the coalition parties), an alternative opposition must be established and developed. College students are a hope in this direction. As young intellectuals, they would be able to serve as constructive alternative opposition. College students must be effective in their struggle for the people’s aspirations. They must serve as liaison between the Government and the people. Even further: they must dare to stand as a political controlling force of State Power.

Difference between Indonesia and Hong Kong
The recent wave of protests hit not just Indonesia, but also in not-too-distant Hong Kong. The protests in both countries are closely observed by the international community. Both are about the people’s rejection of legislative products in each country. Indonesia’s protests were triggered by a series of laws (KPK Law, Natural Resource Law, Civil Code Law, Agrarian Law, etc.), Hong Kong’s protests were triggered by Extradition Draft Law.

The Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amended) Bill 2019 or the Extradition Draft Law in Hong Kong caused a polemic by stipulating that lawbreakers are to be sent to Mainland China to undergo trials. Unfortunately, the people believe that Mainland Chinese law is corrupt and untrustworthy. Therefore, they rejected this Law because they fear that lawbreakers would not be punished properly.

These similar phenomena are interesting to compare. First, we note that the protests executed by college students in Hongkong and in Indonesia were both caused by the rejection of bad policies by the Government. Second, the movements both involve college students and high school students. Third, both series of protests ended up with an altercation between the protesters and law-enforcement officers.

On the other hand, there are a few differences of style shown by the protesters. First, Indonesia’s college students crowded to the same spots dressed in the different uniforms of their respective alma maters. On the contrary, protester college students in Hongkong had a unified look of all blacks and the same symbols. Second, time-wise, protests in Indonesia ended up being short and were curtailed. On the contrary, protests in Hongkong continued. This long duration shows that street opposition in Hongkong has strong endurance, which shows the maturity of the protesters’ basis in a social movement manifested through street opposition.

However, both stories ended up badly, because of the riots that broke between the college students and law enforcement officers. Either the college students’ protests were real, or they were infiltrated or provoked, but the protests ended in riots. Despite what happened, we must still maintain our civil conscience as a priority. We don’t want this lack of awareness to add to our problems and worsen the quality of democracy. The maturity of the mass base and the strength of civil conscience are requisites for the people’s opposition or street opposition.