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Indonesian Catholic campuses face heat after criticizing Jokowi

Police asking academicians, student groups to issue statements favoring the president ahead of Feb. 14 general election
Soegijapranata Catholic University in Central Java

Soegijapranata Catholic University in Central Java. (Photo supplied)

Published: February 08, 2024 11:28 AM GMT
Updated: February 09, 2024 04:27 AM GMT

Chancellors and lecturers in Indonesian universities, including a Catholic institution, are being pressured by police to portray President Joko Widodo in a positive light ahead of the Feb. 14 general election.

Ferdinandus Hindarto, rector of Soegijapranata Catholic University in Semarang, Central Java, said police have repeatedly asked him to make video recordings of his statements on the performance of the Widodo government.

However, he did not give in to the pressure. "Because we have an Apostolic Constitution, that requires Catholic universities to seek, discover, and disseminate the truth," Hindarto said in a statement on Feb. 7.

Central Java police spokesman Satake Bayu said the request was part of efforts to ensure a smooth election.

"We are inviting community figures to ensure that the election runs safely and peacefully," he explained.

Widodo is accused of bending rules to perpetuate dynasty rule by promoting his sons.

Christians have urged him to maintain neutrality during polls where his son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, is the vice-presidential candidate.

A statement issued on Feb. 3 by members of the Association of Indonesian Catholic Higher Schools, including Soegijapranata Catholic University, expressed concern for Indonesian democracy.

It urged the president and his staff to carry out their duties in accordance with the principles of good governance and the oath of office.

Similar calls were made by other state universities across the nation stressing the importance of the state’s neutrality and responsibility in ending corruption and nepotism.

Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo of the Jakarta Archdiocese has supported the calls from the campuses and asked authorities to respect them.

"We all know that power is dangerous if it is not exercised properly," he said while comparing academics with prophets of the old days who preached truth and justice.

The Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (LBHI), an advocacy organization said they have received reports from various campuses regarding "alleged mobilization of police officers to visit lecturers and chancellors to get ‘positive responses’ regarding Widodo's track record in office.”

Muhammad Isnur, director of LBHI said there was also pressure on student organizations who are critical of the president.

"The intimidation was being allegedly carried out by police officers and unknown people who are suspected to be thugs," he added.

However, Isnur called on all members of civil society “not to be afraid to speak out against the electoral fraud practices allegedly led directly by Widodo to save democracy and the rule of law.”

Widodo's neutrality was put to test when the Constitutional Court in October last year allowed elected candidates under the required minimum age of 40 to run for the presidency and the vice presidency if they held a regional-level office.

Raka, the president’s son, currently serves as mayor of Surakarta in Central Java.

The nine-member court was headed by Anwar Usman, brother-in-law of Widodo. It added a clause that gives exceptions to those who have already held elected positions.

Widodo’s poll victory in 2014 and again in 2019 against former military general Prabowo Subianto were hailed as a victory for the nation's democracy.

With Raka now running as Subianto's vice-presidential mate, there have been allegations against the president that he was eyeing the type of political dynasty that is all too familiar in Asia's various semi-autocratic nations.

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