At the inauguration of the People's Conscience Party (Hanura)'s new central leadership board on Wednesday (22/02), Indonesian President Joko Widodo said "Indonesian democracy has recently gone over the top". He referred to the various controversial cases and demonstrations that have emerged in recent months involving hate speech related to race, religion, ethnicity and class.
Although sensitive issues like religion and race have occasionally led to major (violent) incidents in the modern history of Indonesia (particularly in times of political or economic crisis), recently there have been various groups within Indonesian society that report certain individuals to police for blasphemy, hate speech or anti-Pancasila speech. These cases require a lot of attention from politicians, police, and judges and therefore do more harm than good, especially as these cases only seem to stoke fire on issues related to race and religion (issues that are very sensitive in Indonesia) thus polarizing Indonesian society.
It all seems to have started with the blasphemy case of Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok). Ahok was reported to police (and he is currently on trial) late last year based on the surfacing of a manipulated video in which he allegedly insults Islam. It is assumed that Indonesian authorities did not dare to dismiss this blasphemy case because there was major pressure originating from hardline Muslim groups - including the Islamic Defenders Front (in Indonesian: Front Pembela Islam, or FPI) - who staged various massive demonstrations in Jakarta over the past couple of months.
Thereafter, the person who uploaded the manipulated video of Ahok, Buni Yani, was reported to police and became a suspect of inciting religious and ethnic hatred. Also Rizieq Shihab, leader of the FPI, as well as Munarman, former spokesman for the FPI, were reported to police and became suspects of various matters, including blasphemy, hate speech, plotting against the government, and claiming that Balinese security guards were obstructing locals from praying in a mosque on Bali.
Various sides are reporting each other to police amid the significantly heightened religious and ethnic tensions across the country that started ever since Ahok's blasphemy case. According to Widodo, these developments are caused by "over the top democracy" where everybody who feels short done goes to file a report at the police and thus actually stoking fire on sensitive issues such as religion and race. One report triggers another report from the opposing side.
The answer, according to Widodo, is to improve law enforcement and crack down on anti-Pancasila groups. Indonesia’s Pancasila (the state ideology) promotes the five principles that unite the big pluralist nation: (1) belief in God, (2) justice and civility among peoples, (3) unity of Indonesia, (4) democracy through deliberation and consensus among representatives, and (5) social justice for all the people of Indonesia. The Pancasila was revealed by former president Sukarno in 1945 and have become the foundation of the Indonesian state.
The actors in these cases "hide behind the veil of democracy to go over the top with their social commentary and end up sprouting hate speeches, slanders and hoaxes", Widodo said. Besides raising people's emotions, these cases also drain the energy of Indonesian authorities and turns their attention away from more important issues such as the economy.
Indonesia is a young democracy. After about three decades of authoritarian rule under Suharto's New Order regime, the country made a sudden turn to democracy in 1998. Although most analysts praise the strength of Indonesian democracy, the country does experience growing pains along this process. Considering Indonesia is a huge country with an enormous amount of cultural and religious diversity, the democracy process is particularly challenging.
Read more: Politics of Indonesia