Anti-communist rally in Jakarta a washout

About 3,000 people attended an anti-communist rally in Jakarta yesterday. The organisers had expected 50,000 to show up. Observers said the poor turnout showed the Red scare seems to have little traction.
About 3,000 people attended an anti-communist rally in Jakarta yesterday. The organisers had expected 50,000 to show up. Observers said the poor turnout showed the Red scare seems to have little traction.ST PHOTO: RAISYA MAHARANI

Most people feel fear of communist revival fabricated by anti-govt groups, says survey

An anti-communist demonstration in Jakarta led by hardline Islamic groups attracted about 3,000 people yesterday, the crowd dwarfed by 20,000 police officers deployed in case the group turned unruly.

The turnout was small by Indonesian standards and a far cry from the 50,000 predicted by organisers. Most of the protesters were from the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) or groups affiliated to Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), which wanted Indonesia to become a caliphate and was disbanded by the government in July.

Some protesters from the HTI-affiliated Gema Pembebasan shouted, "khilafah, khilafah, khilafah", the Indonesian word for caliphate, yesterday.

Observers said the poor turnout showed that while certain groups are stoking fears of a revival of the long-defunct Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), the Red scare seems to have little traction.

"When they say there is a communist threat, they never explain which threat they are referring to. People are critical nowadays and such a claim is easily refutable," said Mr Muradi, who heads the centre for political and security studies at Padjadjaran University. He goes by one name, like many Indonesians.

A survey released yesterday by Saiful Mujani research and consulting showed most people feel that fear of a communist ideology revival was fabricated by interest groups which want to undermine the Joko Widodo government.

The President, popularly known as Jokowi, has been accused of being pro-communist.

About 87 per cent of 1,057 respondents surveyed across Indonesia between Sept 3 and 10 said they did not believe there is a revival of communist ideology.

The survey concluded that anti-communist sentiments did not emerge naturally but were propagated by certain political forces.

Yesterday's rally, which lasted about four hours, took place on the 52nd anniversary of the murder of six army generals and a young lieutenant by rebel armed forces personnel during an abortive coup against then President Sukarno.

The 1965 murders led to a purge of possibly up to two million suspected communists by the army under then General Suharto, who later wrested power from Sukarno.

Although the PKI was disbanded in 1966, Islamic nationalists in Indonesia continue to harbour a strong sense of paranoia and suspicion towards communism.

At the rally, protesters voiced concern about a revival of communist ideology.

"Very sad. There are even MPs who are proud that they are the children of PKI parents," one protest leader shouted. "Those who support PKI are enemies of Islam."

A resurgence of anti-communist sentiments in Indonesia has stoked fears that sinister forces behind religion-and race-based attacks in domestic politics recently are moving to play the commie card against their rivals in upcoming elections.

These include the propagation of rumours and fake news that a revival of the PKI is not only imminent but also secretly backed by reformist leaders or groups.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2017, with the headline 'Anti-communist rally in Jakarta a washout'. Print Edition | Subscribe