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Damning report blasts Widodo’s second-term record

Activists, groups accuse Indonesia's president of eroding democracy and civil liberties

Ryan Dagur, Jakarta

Ryan Dagur, Jakarta

Updated: October 21, 2020 09:03 AM GMT
Damning report blasts Widodo’s second-term record

President Joko Widodo is increasingly coming under fire from rights and pro-democracy activists. (Photo: Cabinet Secretariat)

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has failed to safeguard democracy and civil liberties during the first year of his second term, according to rights groups.

In a report released on Oct. 20, a year after Widodo began his second term, the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) said Indonesia was facing a "democratic recession."

"Apart from an economic recession on the horizon due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Indonesia is also threatened by a democratic recession that endangers democratic principles and has the potential to foster more human rights violations," Kontras researcher Rivanlee Anandar said during the launch of the report.
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He pointed to the appointment of military figures and suspected rights violators to senior civilian posts, the alleged failure by the government to address gross human rights violations, involving security and defense forces in civilian affairs, and a lack of public participation in the implementation of the democratic processes, namely lawmaking.

"In the past year there were 158 incidents of violations, restrictions or attacks against civilian freedom," he said.

He said in terms of attacks on human rights defenders, there was no transparency in the legal process against the perpetrators, while no almost no progress had been made in addressing longstanding rights abuses.

Kontras also pointed to a lack of public participation in the drawing up of the recently passed Omnibus Law on Job Creation.

"Democracy has been reduced to voting every five years,” the report said. “There is no effort to involve the public more substantially in governance to ensure accountability and guarantee the public interest,” it added.

The report accused the government of becoming increasingly more authoritarian.

According to a survey by Kompas, the country’s biggest newspaper, more than 52 percent of respondents were unhappy with the government's performance with the economy, in political affairs, law enforcement, and public welfare.

Lucius Karus, a researcher at Indonesian Parliamentary Watch, agreed with Kontras' findings.

He said this situation was exacerbated by parliament being dominated by pro-government parties, weakening its ability to hold the government accountable.

"It’s become a toothless tiger who cannot stand against the government. It approves everything the government wants,” he told UCA News.

With 450 MPs supporting the government and only 104 in opposition, "the function of checks and balances has stopped running,” he said.

Ray Rangkuti, a pro-democracy activist, said Widodo's government bears similarities to that of former dictator Suharto.

"Several indicators show this, such as controlling parliament, the amount of centralized power and prioritizing investment over human rights issues. These are certainly not in line with democratic principles,” he said.

Natalius Pigai, a Catholic activist and former Commissioner of the National Commission on Human Rights, also pointed to alleged rights abuses in the restive region of Papua.

"A heavy-handed approach involving rights violations is still dominant despite promises of change, while violence continues to increase," he said.

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