Although Indonesian national police say people were paid to deliberately riot in the violence that convulsed Jakarta on May 22 in the wake of the official announcement of President Joko Widodo’s election victory, they have stopped short of saying who was behind the unrest.
However, the signs point to former military allies and supporters of losing candidate Prabowo Subianto, a onetime Special Forces general, over the results of the April 17 presidential election. The protesters are said to have shot demonstrators and spread fake news of police brutality on social media platforms and chat applications in a deliberate attempt to trigger public action to reverse the poll results. At least eight people were killed and more than 700 were injured as protesters hurled fireworks and set buildings ablaze.
The police arrested a Prabowo supporter and retired general, Soenarko, on charges of smuggling illegal weapons into Jakarta that were used to shoot at demonstrators in an attempt to convince them the shootings were being carried out by police. In addition police confiscated a car tied to Prabowo’s Gerindra Party that contained stones that could be thrown at officers.
Soenarko was arrested following the airing of video that went viral in which he instructed his men to besiege the KPU building and the Presidential Palace. In addition to Soenarko, hundreds of other former soldiers and police expressed their support for Prabowo to carry out what was dubbed the ‘people power’ movement on May 22.
The soldiers, who served under Prabowo’s father-in-law, the late strongman Suharto, joined a group called Sovereignty Front to demand rejection of the election results.
Prabowo’s ex-wife, Titiek Suharto, the daughter of the strongman, was also at the forefront of defending the ‘people power’ movement with Prabowo supporters including Amien Rais, Kivlan Zein and Eggy Sudjana. Titiek was seen attending a rally on May 21 afternoon.
National Police spokesman Brigadier General (Pol) Dedi Prasetyo said the police had arrested at least 441 people involved in the riots and were investigating their respective roles. Riot police were not provided with live ammunition but rather used only shields, tear gas and water cannons.
False news or hoaxes, the government said, caused them to temporarily block certain features across social media platforms to contain the spread of misinformation. At least four individuals spreading such hoaxes were captured in various regions in after the riot.
“Who is the actor in the field, the coordinator, the provocateurs? This is to reveal the intellectual actors,” said Prasetyo
This is not the first time Prabowo has sought to overturn poll results. In the 2014 presidential election, Prabowo sued in the Constitutional Court but lost after being at the lower end of a 53.15 percent-46.85 percent loss to Jokowi.
The mercurial former special forces general has been tied to violence in the past, in particular in 1997 and 1998 as Indonesia descended into chaos in the wake of the Asian Financial Crisis. Human rights groups accused Prabowo of being behind the abduction and torture of pro-democracy advocates and of orchestrating riots in an attempt to save the Suharto presidency.
More than 1,000 deaths resulted, most of them ethnic Chinese, and nearly 170 women were raped. Wiranto, then commander of the Indonesian National Armed Forces from February 1998 to October 1999, was also believed to be behind some of violence. He is now coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs.
Prabowo’s attorney delegation, led by his brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo, officially lodged their election result challenge with the Constitutional Court (MK) on May 24, which included 51 allegations of electoral fraud. The lawsuit was filed two hours before the court closed the three-day period for election participants to register their lawsuits. A crowd gathered in front of the Constitutional Court’s office to express support for Prabowo’s team but there were few in number.
But observers are pessimistic Prabowo could change the results of the election because of the significant difference in votes between the two, at almost 17 million votes or 11 percent of the total.
The Director of the Center for Constitutional Studies (PUSaKO) of Andalas University Feri Amsari said that the Prabowo camp must be able to prove that almost 17 million votes that were stolen by Jokowi. That is tantamount to allegations of fraud in 100,000 to 200,000 polling stations from a total of 800,000.
“One by one, it must be proven. For me this is rather difficult if (evidence) is not prepared carefully from the beginning,” Amsari said.
Prabowo and his camp were said to be initially reluctant to submit a dispute, but instead called for their supporters to take to the streets to reject the results of the general election, which they called the ‘people power’ movement. That appeal led to demonstrations on May 21 and 22, which were marred by riots in a number of places in Jakarta.
Some videos spread on May 22 May showed content designed to inflame the sentiments of tribes, religions, and minority groups (SARA) such as accusations of police shooting at mosques and ethic police from China being among the Brimob (Mobile Police Brigade) officers securing the post-election protests.
Prabowo and his team since 2014 have sought to use ethnic and religious sentiment, including anti-Chinese racism, in mobilizing people to attempt to claim power. Indonesia has centuries of racism, discrimination against ethnic Chinese, which culminated in 1998 when they became a target of mob violence. They were also a target of bloodletting in the mass killings and civil unrest of 1965–66 and civil unrest that targeted Indonesian Communist Party members. sympathizers, ethnic Abangan Javanese and alleged leftists, often at the instigation of the armed forces and government.
This sentiment is now easily raised because many Indonesians are becoming anxious about the growing number of Chinese investors. The local Chinese community, who make up under 2 percent of the national population, are among the biggest players in the country’s economy.