The Malang Tragedy, And What It Reveals About Indonesia

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James Van Zorge
James Van Zorge, A business consultant in Indonesia who has worked for the Harvard Institute for International Development, Food and Agriculture Organization, McKinsey & Co., and A.T.Kearney’s Global Business Policy Institute. He completed his BA Degree in International Relations, summa cum laude, at the State University of New York at Albany, and he holds a Masters of Public Policy, International Economics, from the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Jakarta, IO – On October 1 the world recoiled in horror when hearing news of the clash between soccer fans and security forces during a soccer match at Malang’s Kanjuruhan Stadium. In a serious breach of FIFA regulations on crowd control, police fired tear gas to disperse a rowdy group of fans fighting on the field and inexplicably started firing towards tens of thousands of spectators in the stands, as well. With the entire stadium in a state of panic, suddenly a stampede towards the exits occurred. Once again, security forces had failed to follow league regulations that all exit doors must be unlocked during matches–with the stampede leading to a crush, over 130 people needlessly died, including 32 children, and scores more were seriously injured. In the end, it turned out to be the second worst disaster in the history of soccer. 

The Indonesian public is understandably upset with the police and its unprofessional handling of the feuding fans. Although investigations have been launched, nobody is expecting the police to be held accountable. Neither is anyone holding high hopes that the president and his cabinet will do what is obviously necessary: to undertake a deep reform of the national police, one that is widely known for its deadly tactics and use of excess force, more often than not with impunity, and which has a long-standing reputation for being corrupt throughout its rank and file. 

In spite of numerous instances of the unwarranted use of deadly force in the past, the police have almost never been held accountable. At the same time, for decades there has been a clear absence of political will for meaningful reform. Rather, the national police have been rewarded with a huge and ever-increasing budget; with this year’s budget standing at $7.2 billion, it is more than is being spent on essential public services such as those provided by the ministries of health and education.