Who was behind the Jakarta riots?

Protesters clashing with police in Sarinah, central Jakarta, on May 22, 2019, following the release of the April 17 presidential election results. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The riots that gripped parts of Central and West Jakarta from late May 21 to the early hours of May 23 have left behind many questions, including who masterminded the apparently "pre-planned" violence that resulted in at least eight deaths and hundreds of injuries.

The police said that initially peaceful protests by supporters of Gerindra Party chairman Prabowo Subianto following the announcement of the official election results by the General Elections Commission (KPU) had been "infiltrated" by those who had more nefarious motives.

Who exactly was behind the riots and what was their goal?


The idea of staging a rally to protest against the presidential election results had been mooted since before election day.

In early April, National Mandate Party (PAN) patron and Prabowo campaign adviser Amien Rais said he would lead massive protests if he found systematic election fraud.

"If we find any evidence of election fraud after voting day, I will gather a massive number of people at Monas (National Monument), (I will) use people power," Mr Amien said at the time.

After election day, with preliminary results and quick counts indicating that President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo had won re-election, a group of Prabowo-Sandiaga Uno supporters attempted to hold a rally on May 9 to demand that the Jokowi-Ma'ruf Amin ticket be disqualified from the race.

The police dispersed the rally participants, saying no permit had been granted, and have since declared two of the rally's initiators - PAN politician Eggi Sudjana and General (Retired) Kivlan Zen - treason suspects.

A few days before the riots, the conservative Muslim 212 Movement announced that it would stage a mass protest in front of the KPU's headquarters on May 22, the day the KPU was expected to announce the official election results.

Political parties in Mr Prabowo's coalition denied active involvement in the planned rally, with Gerindra spokesman Andre Rosiade calling it "a movement of the people".


In the days leading up to the KPU's announcement, the police arrested several people who allegedly had violent plans for the planned May 22 rally.

The police arrested about 30 people allegedly connected with Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), a terrorist group linked with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.

Police spokesman Inspector General M. Iqbal said the suspected terrorists had planned to set off a bomb during the rally.

General (Retd) Soenarko was also arrested for allegedly smuggling sniper rifles and other assault weapons to be used in the May 22 rally.

"The motive must be to create chaos... They could fire at the crowds to make it seem the gunshots came from security personnel, be it police or military, which could lead to chaos," Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko said in reference to the weapon smuggling plot.


The KPU unexpectedly made its official announcement at about 2am on May 21, in an apparent attempt to pre-empt the planned rally.

Thousands of protesters nevertheless began to assemble in front of the Elections Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) headquarters in Central Jakarta on the afternoon of May 21, in what began as a peaceful rally.

Inspector General Iqbal said the initial protesters in front of the Bawaslu headquarters cooperated with the police.

"The protest coordinator asked for permission to break the fast together and perform tarawih (evening Ramadan prayer), which we allowed even though the law states that protests should end by 6.30pm," he said.

He said that at 9pm, the police asked the crowd to disperse, which it did without incident.

At 11pm, however, an apparently different group attacked the security barriers in front of the Bawaslu building.

Police then drove the crowd, which had started to throw projectiles such as rocks and Molotov cocktails at the security forces, back towards Tanah Abang.

After the crowd had been reasonably subdued, a separate group of people in Petamburan, Central Jakarta, started attacking the National Police's Mobile Brigade (Brimob) dormitory, setting cars in its carpark on fire.

The violence continued sporadically around Petamburan, Tanah Abang and Slipi until the afternoon of May 22.

Protesters once again began to assemble in front of the Bawaslu building on the afternoon of May 22 in an initially peaceful demonstration.

But when the police attempted to disperse the crowd at 6.30pm, some protesters started throwing lit fireworks at the security forces.

The police again drove the protesters back towards Tanah Abang, and clashes continued until the early hours of May 23.


Hundreds of suspected rioters were arrested between May 21 and 23, and the police said they were in possession of envelopes full of money, indicating that the rioters had been paid to instigate violence.

"There are indications that the rioters were mostly from outside Jakarta and that they were paid (to riot)," Inspector General Iqbal said.

He added that the police found an ambulance filled with rocks and other weapons and projectiles.

Inspector General Iqbal also said two of those detained were found to be affiliated with ISIS and had intended to launch a terror attack amid the protests.

The police, he said, had also identified another three suspected rioters in possession of firearms, including short and long rifles, who they suspect had intended to cause rioting by shooting into the crowd and making it seem as though the shots had been fired by security personnel to turn the public against the authorities.

"These are (two) different groups," Inspector General Iqbal said, "Many groups intended to take advantage of the demonstration, that's why we made calls since the very start for people not to participate (in the rallies)."

Mr Prabowo and his campaign team have denied any involvement or responsibility in the street protests and riots, calling them "the actions of provocateurs".


Most recently, the police declared six people suspects for alleged illegal arms possession related to an assassination plot against four state officials and the head of a polling agency during the riots.

The four officials have been identified as Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto, State Intelligence Agency (BIN) head Budi Gunawan and General (Retd) Gories Mere, the creator of the National Police's Densus 88 anti-terror squad.

Three of the suspects, identified only as HK - thought to be the leader of the operation - AZ and IR, were arrested on May 21, before the first riot broke out, while the other three suspects, identified only as TJ, AD and AF, were arrested on May 24.

Police spokesman Brigadier General Dedi Prasetyo said the person behind the plot had supplied 150 million rupiah (S$14,000) in the form of Singaporean dollars to purchase weapons.


In total, the police have identified four groups with violent intent involved in the rioting: ISIS-linked hard-line Islamic Reformist Movement (Garis), a group linked to former Army Special Forces (Kopassus) commander Soenarko, members of the Gerindra Party linked to the party-owned ambulance that was filled with stones, and the group behind the assassination plots.

Mr Wiranto has said that security forces know who was behind the groups, but the police have declined to name the masterminds behind the violent groups or state whether any of the groups are connected.

Gerindra lawmaker Sodik Mudjahid, meanwhile, called on the House of Representatives to urge the government to form an independent fact-finding team to investigate the riots at a House plenary meeting on Tuesday.

NasDem politician Aries Saputra has also called for the "intellectual actors" behind the riots to be brought to light.

"The House should pressure the police to untangle this so that everything is crystal clear," he said.

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