Lecturer and activist Robertus Robert Become a Suspect After Delivered His criticism of Government's Plan to Involve the Active Military in a Number of Ministries and Institutions - Photo: Special

JAKARTA (TheInsiderStories) – This question is worth asking in the midst of President Joko Widodo’ political efforts ahead of 2019 Presidential Election. The arrest of several government critics, the use of legal instruments to suppress political opponents, and military re-involvement in politics, showed he had begun violating fundamental democratic norms.

The latest case is the arrest of lecturer and activist Robertus Robert for his criticism of government’ plan to involve the active military in a number of state ministries and institutions. The threat of the return dual-function army of  New Order era was the substance of Robert’s criticism.

A similar case, although with a number of differences in lawsuits, has befallen political observer Rocky Gerung, opposition politician Ahmad Dhani, general chair of movement 212 Slamet Ma’arif, activist Ratna Sarumpaet who has been keen to criticize the government, dissolution of various movements in action #2019GantiPresiden, and a number of cases of silencing freedom of association and opinion in the public sphere.

All of this are evidence that Widodo’ government took authoritarian steps that contributed to the acceleration of Indonesia’s status quo democracy. Most of this process is a consistent effort to obtain narrow partisan benefits from the political instrumentalization of the main institutions of the country.

Advocacy Team for Freedom of Expression (KontraS, YLBHI, LBH Jakarta, Imparsial, Indonesian Legal Roundtable, Lokataru Kantor Hukum dan HAM, AJAR, Amnesty Internasional Indonesia, Protection Internasional, hakasasi.id, Perludem, Elsam, sorgemagz.com, Solidaritas Perempuan, JATAM, Jurnal Perempuan), assessing President Widodo has turned anti-democratic and authoritarian.

“The arrest of Robertus Robet is a threat to civil liberties and human rights today, after we passed almost a quarter of a century of reformation in 1998,” the group wrote on Chance.org, Thursday (03/7).

In addition to violating the norms of fundamental democracy, we also see the government’ efforts to politicize legal institutions and law enforcement to be far more open and systematic under Widodo.

The signs were clear when Widodo appointed Nasional Demokrat politician Muhammad Prasetyo as attorney general. This position is traditionally provided for a non-partisan.

The Attorney Generals Office under Prasetyo moved to destroy the opposition faction which at that time controlled the parliament. They arrested a number of opposition party members on charges of corruption.

The weakening of the opposition coalition was successfully achieved in 2015-2016, the Ministry of Law and Human Rights occupied by Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan party’ cadres Jasonna Laoly used its control over verification of party legality to manipulate the split of factions within Golongan Karya party and Persatuan Pembangunan party, and finally forced them into the ruling coalition.

Maestro media and Chair of Perindo party Hary Tanoesoedibjo suddenly changed his loyalty to Widodo in 2017 after police accused him of trying to intimidate the public prosecutor. The case was then stopped. He was previously known as the main supporter of the opposition camp.

Towards the 2019 Presidential Election, the government has changed this repressive strategy to fight the opposition forces. By changing security institutions and law enforcement to oppose opposition, Widodo’ government has made a boundary between the interests of the state and government.

Since the middle of this year, a number of regional leaders affiliated with opposition have announced their support for Widodo. The widespread view among elites is that government actors have threatened these people with legal charges – especially those related to corruption – unless they join incumbents.

The most prominent are Tuan Guru Bajang Zainul Majdi, former Governor of West Nusa Tenggara and an influential moslem leader and member of the Demokrat party. In 2014, TGB led Prabowo Subianto’ campaign team in his province and was named one of the opposition presidential nominees.

Widodo’ campaign team claimed to have support of 31 of the 34 governors and 359 of 514 regents. The capacity of the regional heads in mobilizing, and the results of previous elections, shows the degree of correlation between the affiliates of the governor, regents and mayors, giving local voting shares to presidential candidates.

The Corruption Eradication Commission also seems increasingly able to be compromised under Widodo. Golkar Chairperson Setya Novanto was arrested in the case of electronic Identity Card. But the agency relented and expelled the PDIP politicians from the charges. Even though from Novanto’s recognition a number of PDIP politicians were involved in the case.

Towards the end of the first period Widodo was also marked by a plan to return the dual-function Army philosophy. Including changes in the organizational structure of the army and their involvement in government social-economic programs. In 2018, after appointing his loyalist Hadi Tjahjono as Commander of the Indonesian Army, Widodo went even further in pushing the military back into politics.

Widodo seems ready to use this tool to serve partisan goals, in the context of election campaigns. Since the fall of the New Order, the military and police have no longer been systematically deployed to provide political benefits to the ruling government.

The trend in military and police use in the 2019 presidential election will mark another step in the severe imbalance of the playing field between the government and the opposition. The military and police are features that are not related to democracy. It is a form of authoritarianism regime.

One reasons for the use of law enforcement and security institutions for Widodo’ victory, may be due to his lack of trust in the reliability and effectiveness of political parties, social organizations, and support groups of volunteers. Interaction with political parties, elites and civil society organizations seems to have made Widodo learn that state instruments are much easier to use and far more effective in overcoming opposition political resistance. So authoritarianism was indeed being glimpsed and used by Widodo to secure his second period tickets.

Written by Lexy Nantu, Email: lexy@theinsiderstories.com