Street protests greet Yudhoyono's inauguration

By James Balowski, in Jakarta

Street protests across Indonesia greeted the inauguration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Budiono on October 20. Yudhoyono was re-elected president on July 8 with 60.8% of the 121 million votes cast. A former army general, he had served as president since winning the 2004 presidential election.

In Jakarta, thousands of protesters demonstrated near the House of Representatives (DPR) compound in Senayan, causing massive traffic jams across the city well into the afternoon. The People’s Struggle Committee (KPR), which comprises trade unions, student groups, women’s organisations and urban poor activists, and is supported by the Committee for the Politics of the Poor-People’s Democratic Party (KPRM-PRD), staged a rally at which its organisers said Yudhoyono’s first term had failed to improve working people’s living standards. KPR spokesperson Akril Prasetya said the government had failed to increase wages, cut subsidies making it more difficult for the poor to make ends meet and made education less affordable.

Protesters from the People’s Struggle Front (FPR) and the Association of Independent Trade Unions (GSBI) greeted Yudhoyono’s convoy as it arrived at the DPR with shouts of “SBY-Budiono are American puppets!”. Around 500 workers from the Indonesian Trade Union Congress Alliance (KASBI) staged a rally in front of the DPR calling the Yudhoyono-Budiono leadership “capitalist lackeys”. Some 500 members of 23 NGOs staged a rally near the assembly compound, as did protesters from West Papua. They called on Yudhoyono to fulfil his promise of bringing welfare to the people, adding they would remain in Jakarta until Yudhoyono realised his promise.

At the State Palace, students from the All-Indonesia Student Executive Council (BEM-SI) urged the new administration to address key problems related to education, corruption and regional development. In the West Java capital of Bandung, hundreds of students staged a rally in front of the provincial administration office, expressing their readiness to monitor Yudhoyono’s administration as an opposition force. In the West Java city of Tasikmalaya, members of the Indonesian Muslim Students Action Group (KAMMI) demanded that the new cabinet be free from corruption and unhampered in the pursuit of graft.

In Medan, capital of the North Sumatra province, several student organisations staged a rally denouncing the existing labour law as failing to benefit workers. The labour law was also the target of protest by hundreds of students in the central Java city of Yogyakarta, who also called for the controversial education legal entity law to be revoked. A demonstration by BEM was marked by the burning of T-shirts with pictures of Yudhoyono and Budiono. Demonstrations by the Yogyakarta Muslim Students Association for Reform (HMI-MPO), the Yogyakarta People’s Solidarity (SRY), the National Student League for Democracy (LMND), the National Alliance and the Muhammadiyah Students Association (IMM) were also held in other parts of the city.

In Palembang, capital of the South Sumatra province, around 100 university students from the Indonesian Nationalist Students’ Movement (GMNI) staged a rally at the governor’s office and the provincial parliament carrying banners reading “Neoliberalism: Oil, gas and coal, sold cheap overseas”.

In Semarang, capital of the Central Java province, some 100 students calling themselves the Semarang Students Organisation and Volunteers for the Country’s Freedom, marched to the provincial parliament calling for democratic and clean government, an “independent” economy and reform of the national police and military. Also in Semarang, around 100 activists from the Volunteers of the People’s Struggle for the Liberation of the Motherland (Spartan) released red-and-white coloured balloons at the parliament as they called on Yudhoyono to reject foreign intervention in his administration. Separate rallies were also held by the Central Java Love the Corruption Eradication Commission Movement (Cicak), the Central Java Indonesian Islamic Students Movement (PMII) and the Semarang Axis.

In the South Sulawesi capital of Makassar, some 500 people calling themselves the Makassar Parliament of the Streets Alliance (APJ) accused Yudhoyono and Budiono of being “neoliberal lackeys” who would again bring suffering to the people.

Despite a heavy security presence at most rallies, protests proceeded peacefully except in Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara, where police arrested four students for burning photographs of the president. In Bali, a planned action in the capital Denpasar by the Anti-Neoliberal Social Union (PMAN) at the provincial parliament was blocked by police on the grounds that they did not have a permit. A demonstration by students in the Central Java city of Solo by some 30 students from the Greater Solo Student Movement (GMS) was also broken up by police and the participants detained.