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Indonesian Opposition Movement Accuses President of Being ‘Authoritarian’


Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, center, holds the Asian Games torch as he runs during an independence day ceremony at Merdeka Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, Aug. 17, 2018. Critics say the president is growing increasingly authoritarian.
Indonesian Opposition Movement Accuses President of Being 'Authoritarian'
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Indonesian President Joko Widodo is facing a social media campaign as he prepares to seek re-election next year.

The campaign has criticized him for failing to show enough sympathy to Islamic interests and the rising prices of household goods.

The movement is calling itself #2019GantiPresiden, which means ‘change the president in 2019’ in the Indonesian language.

Police officials have rejected several requests by the group to organize protests. In the past, its members have clashed with supporters of the president, who is known as Jokowi.

The police decision has led the movement’s organizers to accuse Jokowi of using authoritarian methods like those of former President Suharto.

Mardani Ali Sera of the Prosperous Justice Party launched the social media campaign. He told VOA that he got the idea while appearing on a television program in which all the panelists appeared to praise the president. Mardani said he decided that was not good for democracy and that he wanted to change the government.

Freedom of speech and keeping the peace

Indonesia is the world’s third largest democracy. However, the country has struggled to balance the ideas of freedom of speech with keeping the peace between ethnic and religious groups.

Many comments linked to the #2019GantiPresiden movement seem aimed at inciting disputes. For example, some accuse Jokowi of secretly being a Christian, not a Muslim. They also accuse him of supporting the Chinese Communist Party.

The president denies these things. Earlier this month, he told the Indonesian publication Tempo: “This country is a democracy. Yes, you are free to gather, to argue. But remember there are limits, there are rules.”

Neno Warisman is an activist who opposes the president. Neno said she went to the Sumatran city of Pekanbaru in August to attend a #2019GantiPresiden event. But she said she was met by supporters of the president who threw things at her car. Police sent her back to Jakarta on an airplane, she said.

The deputy speaker of the Indonesia’s House of Representatives said the incident showed an “authoritarian mentality” in Jokowi.

Political disagreement

In 2014, the year he was elected president, Joko Widodo appeared on the cover of TIME magazine, in which he was called “the new face of Indonesian democracy.” He was unlike Indonesian leaders who came before him. He was not from a political family or a general. Instead he had served as a mayor in Solo, a city on the island of Java.

But observers say democracy has suffered during his years as president. They point to the jailing of Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnam in May of 2017 on blasphemy charges.

The government also has been criticized for outlawing the Islamic group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, which seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate in the country.

Until 2017, only one organization, the Indonesian Communist Party was banned by the government. Critics of Jokowi say this shows that he is acting like a dictator.

Tom Pepinsky is an associate professor at Cornell University in the United States. He said that the Indonesian political system still has laws that permit “the regulation of political speech should the president choose to do so.”

Officials say that activists in the campaign have been denied requests to demonstrate for several reasons. The activists reportedly spread hate speech, misinformation and are a threat to public order.

But Rahayu Saraswati of Gerindra compares the #2019GantiPresiden group to Americans who oppose U.S. President Donald Trump. He said in Indonesia, the campaign “is a rally call to all those who feel the same.”

I’m Mario Ritter.

Max Walden wrote this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted this story for Learning English from VOA News and Associated Press stories. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

household – adj. related to all the people in a family or group

authoritarian – adj. expecting or requiring people to obey rules or laws; not permitting personal freedom

panelist – n. a person who is part of a group that answers questions, gives advice or opinions

blasphemy – n. something said or done that is disrespectful to God or to something holy

caliphate – n. the state under the leadership of an Islamic leader

rally – n. a public meeting to support or oppose someone or something

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