Comment: Indonesia will struggle to stay the course on rising fuel prices

Unions from another coalition, called Gebrak, also demonstrated on September 13 and are planning further demonstrations. The main union in this coalition of workers, students and civil society groups is the Allied Indonesian Trade Union Congress (KASBI), which is not affiliated with the Labor Party.

The Gebrak alliance, which includes other smaller unions as well as student and human rights groups, has been a major player in civil society protests against government policies such as the law on job creation (Omnibus), particularly in Jakarta.

On September 13, they demanded, among other things, the reversal of fuel price increases, the repeal of the omnibus law and rejected proposed revisions to the new Penal Code.

OTHER TROUBLES WILL ARISE

There have been public protests against rising fuel prices almost every time they have been made, including under the Yudhohyono government. This time, however, the opposition deployed against the government on the issue has more political strength. Continuous protests number 10 in Jakarta in a single day.

This time, mainstream players, such as the Demokrat party, the PKS and the Labor party, are also articulating oppositional rhetoric, however opportunistic. There is also a risk of serious disruption to public transport through protests by carpool drivers, who now number around 3 million.

The government hopes to ease the unrest. He promised cash payments of 600,000 rupees to low-income citizens. More tellingly, the government backtracked almost immediately when on April 13 it announced that Pertalite rationing would be delayed while the government “studies”. The Minister of Labor Affairs has also called for a salary increase.

But it will be a tall order for the government to weather the current storm, particularly if civil society protests continue as some mainstream actors maintain their oppositional rhetoric. With rising inflation, further political turmoil will ensue, which in turn will destabilize preparations for the 2024 elections.

To be sure, the current unrest remains fragmented and without political leadership. But if left unchecked, the government will have its hands full in an attempt to lower the political temperature.

Max Lane is a Visiting Senior Researcher at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. This commentary first appeared on the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute blog, Fulcrum.

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