Indonesia's Jokowi to 'clobber' intolerant groups

Indonesian President Joko Widodo and wife Iriana Joko Widodo applaud during a performance to welcome their arrival in Hong Kong.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo and wife Iriana Joko Widodo applaud during a performance to welcome their arrival in Hong Kong.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (Jakarta Post/Asia News Network) - In September 1989, then-president Suharto told top editors during a return flight from the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia that his government would defend the state ideology of Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution.

Suharto, who was forced to quit after a bloody riot in 1998, said anything was allowed, including replacing him, as long as it was in line with the Constitution.

"If they want to replace me in an unconstitutional way, I'll clobber them, whether they are politicians or generals," he said.

It was the first time Suharto, who ruled the country for 32 years, used the word gebuk (clobber), which analysts said reflected his anger at alleged plots to oust him at the time.

On Wednesday, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo brought the word back into the country's political discourse when he told chief editors at the State Palace that he would take firm action against any group that sought to replace Pancasila and the Constitution.

Two years into his presidency, Jokowi has found himself struggling to launch his reform agenda, with rising sectarianism allegedly being used by his political opponents to undermine him.

The issue of sectarianism emerged after Jokowi's ally, nonactive Jakarta governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian of Chinese descent, decided to seek reelection in the Jakarta gubernatorial election.

His candidacy, his allegedly blasphemous speech in September and his eventual conviction divided the nation and triggered major rallies by his detractors and supporters.

With hard-line groups such as the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) leading the political rallies against Ahok, his election defeat and conviction are largely seen as a setback for Indonesian democracy and pluralism.

In his strongest statement on the current political situation, Jokowi said, "We do not prohibit people from demonstrating to express their opinions or to assemble. All must be done within the legal corridor. If it is outside the legal corridor, then we should clobber [the perpetrators]."

For Jokowi, words matter. When mentioned by the editors that the word gebuk brought back the memories of authoritarianism under Soeharto, Jokowi said there was no other term that could describe his stance.

"If I say that I will twist [THEIR EARS]then I will be considered lenient," Jokowi said and smiled, adding that any crackdown must be carried out according to prevailing regulations, customs and moral values of the country.

The President said as a democracy, Indonesia guaranteed the right of people to express their opinions, but the government would move against anyone who violated the law when exercising their constitutional rights.

Jokowi said as president, he would do anything to defend the country's Constitution, adding there was one organisation in particular promoting an ideology that contravened Pancasila and the Constitution and threatened the unity of the country.

He was possibly referring to Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), members of which took part in all anti-Ahok rallies. The group has been promoting the establishment of a global caliphate with Indonesia being one of its provinces.

"No, I cannot let them grow [BIGGER]. I am the president and will comply with the Constitution," the President said.

During the meeting with the editors, Jokowi also dismissed rumors about a revival of the defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), which Jokowi's family had been accused of being a part of.

"What PKI? If it is revived then let's clobber it! The TAP MPR [the Provisional People's Consultative Assembly] has already banned it."

Jokowi slammed rumors that he was connected to the PKI. "The PKI was dissolved when I was four years old. How could I be a member of the PKI? It is clear where I was born and who my parents are."

Political communications expert Effendi Ghazali said the word gebuk had only been used twice in the history of Indonesian politics, first by Soeharto and now by Jokowi, to express anger over something.

"It means that [JOKOWI]is very angry [about the situation in Indonesia]. When someone uses the word, they are aware of the consequences and risks they might face," he told The Jakarta Post.

Effendi said Jokowi's move to invite chief editors was aimed at gaining support from media outlets with regard to the government's plan to crack down on any mass organisation deemed anti-Pancasila by the government.

However, Effendi said media outlets should be fair in interpreting Jokowi's stance on anti-Pancasila organisations and that the government must go through the court system before banning any organisation.

"If the government wants to clobber any organisation, then it must go through the courts. We should not let the government do so without a judicial process," Effendi said.