During the New Order regime, Indonesia enjoyed robust economic growth, which many believe came largely at the expense of civil liberties. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo now finds himself under pressure to prove that he is not inspired by that type of order.
Jokowi made it clear on Wednesday that he was irked by a series of large sectarian rallies over the past few months, which he insinuated was the reason behind the country’s slowing economy.
“These four to five months, our energy was wasted [due to the rallies], and we forgot about matters related to economic growth. It is important for me to convey this point. Let’s not jeopardize growth by failing to concentrate [on economic development],” Jokowi said during the inauguration of new members of the Hanura Party’s leadership board in Bogor, West Java.
Some economic indicators have indeed missed their targets.
Tax revenue reached Rp 1.1 quadrillion in 2016, only 81.5 percent of the targeted Rp 1.35 quadrillion. As a result, the economy grew by 5.02 percent in 2016, slower than the 5.2 percent initially expected.
Investors have also expressed concern about political stability following the series of demonstrations.
“Many people asked me whether our democracy had gone too far. I answered ‘yes, it has gone too far’,” said Jokowi.
“Political freedom has opened the door for extreme politics, such as liberalism, fundamentalism, sectarianism, radicalism, terrorism and other ideologies that contradict Pancasila,” he added.
Jokowi also said rampant hate speech and the spread of hoaxes were the result of “deviant practices of democracy,” which should be “immediately stopped,” because they could “divide our nation.”
Human rights activists, meanwhile, expressed concern that Jokowi’s statements were open to interpretation and could be used to put pressure on freedom of expression.
On Dec. 2, the day a large demonstration by conservative Muslim groups hit Jakarta’s streets to demand the prosecution of Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, a Chinese-Indonesian of Christian faith, for alleged blasphemy, police arrested several antigovernment activists for alleged treason and violations of the draconian 2016 Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law. Some were later released due to a lack of evidence.
Hendardi of human rights watchdog Setara Institute echoed Jokowi’s statement with regard to improving law enforcement.
“Jokowi actually has an easy way to handle this situation: Enforce the law against those conducting acts of intolerance or terrorism, but not by restricting the freedom of expression,” he said.
According to him, it is the poor performance of law enforcement authorities that worries Jokowi, not democratic practices per se.
Human rights campaigner Al Araf from Imparsial said democracy should not be blamed for political actors exploiting ethnic or religious sentiment to reach certain political goals.
But Al Araf agreed that anyone spreading sectarian or racial hate should be held accountable. Intolerant actions, if unchecked, could give rise to radicalism and terrorism, he said.
However, he reminded the government to be careful in enforcing the law, because it could instead suppress freedom of speech. “Many cases of hate speech are instead left uninvestigated,” Al Araf said.