Indonesia: Left confronts fuel price hike

By Data Brainanta

June 13, 2008 -- Fuel price hikes have always sparked widespread mass protests in Indonesia since the overthrow of the dictator Suharto in a popular uprising in 1998. However, the timing this year was special. The hike occurred near the time of the 10-year anniversary Suharto’s fall on May 21 and the National Awakening Day on the 20th, which commemorates the birth of Indonesia’s first nationalist organisation. Three leftist fronts, each representing different tactics, took to the streets to reject the policy.

Three fronts

At one end of the left spectrum is the People Demands Front (FRM) that includes the National Liberation Party of Unity (Papernas) — a coalition party initiated by the People’s Democratic Party (PRD) — and other organisations like the National Students’ League for Democracy (LMND) and the Indonesian Poor Union (SRMI).

The front also includes other students and political groups affiliated with larger opposition parties, as well as several well known figures who occupied positions during president Abdurrahman Wahid’s administration — such as ex-finance minister Rizal Ramli who was imprisoned by Suharto for criticising his economic policy and ex-presidential spokesperson, Adhi Massardi.

The front chose May 20 as the major day of protest, although some smaller demonstrations had been carried out for more than a week before. Papernas’ leader Dita Sari gave a speech during the big rally, but the mainstream media positioned Rizal Ramli as the protest leader. More than 8000 people joined the protest.

The other two coalitions, People’s Struggle Front (FPR) and National Liberation Front (FPN), consisted mainly of students, leftists, grassroots organisations and NGOs.

The main constituents of FPN are labour coalitions like Workers Demands Alliance (ABM) and Congress of Indonesian Trade Union Alliances (KASBI), some leftist groups such as the Working People Association (PRP) and Poor Peoples Political Union (PPRM), and a militant student group — the Indonesian Students’ League (SMI). It was formed after May Day this year to confront the planned fuel price hike.

FPR was initially formed as a coalition for May Day actions and was dominated by the big peasant organisation, the Agrarian Reform Movements Alliance (AGRA). Ideologically-related organisations, such as the student group National Students’ Front (FMN), and the Indonesia Independent Labour Union (GSBI) are also involved. FPR also includes some more moderate student and religious groups.

Both FPR and FPN chose the 10th anniversary of Suharto’s fall as their day of action to reject the fuel price hike. Thousands of protesters staged their protests separately, with various visits to the state palace. More than 500 people from FPN and 300 from FPR marched side by side. About 150 people from FRM’s student organisations also took to the street along with other student groups.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the city, about 3000 students from All-Indonesia Student Executives Bodies demonstrated against the hike in front of the parliament building. The protest in front of the state palace and some in other parts of the country ended with clashes and arrests.

Tactical differences

While FRM concentrated their attack against pro-neoliberal ministers in the government, FPN outrightly rejected any non-leftist “elite” politicians inside and outside of the government. In an interview with Metro TV, an FPN activist declared that theirs is a “pure movement” and not “a movement steered by politicians”.

Both FPR and FPN believe that politicians who support anti-fuel price rise protests do so to delegitimise the president and to gain popularity needed for their electoral goals. Consequently, both groups are moving towards a boycott of the 2009 elections.

The demand that differentiates the FPR from the rest of the leftist coalitions is for agrarian reform, which reflects the peasant base of their biggest organisation, AGRA. The absence of any public demands for the nationalisation the oil and mining industries (raised by both the FRM and FPN) also sets the FPR apart.

The FPN advocate nationalisation and add the clause “under workers’ control”. This is a departure from its earlier focus on cutting the price of basic goods and rejecting workers’ outsourcing. The FRM has also not mentioned nationalisation in its statement, although Papernas has been strongly campaigning for it. According a Papernas leader has explained that there is an internal discussion in the FRM on nationalisation demands.

Indeed, the issue of nationalisation has risen to the surface as a fraction of the parliament, affiliated to Wahid’s party, suggested: “If necessary, following the courage of Latin American leaders, the government should consider the nationalisation of strategic national industries in energy and mining sectors.”

The government, on the other hand, seems unmoved. On May 23, two days after the initial protests, a 30% fuel price increase was announced, sparking another round of protests across the country. Student demonstrations, involving the burning of tires on university campuses, were dealt with harshly by security forces. The most well known incident occurred at the National University, Jakarta, when police stormed the campus and hunted down students.

As waves of protests continued, the LMND with a newly formed students coalition held hunger strikes in several cities in Indonesia. Meanwhile, the FPN and FPR strove to maintain the momentum with mass mobilisations. On May 29, about 500 people from FPN protested in front of the state palace.

A member of parliament came to the protest to express solidarity with the demonstrators, but FPN protesters told him to go away. On June 1, about 200 people from FPN and 500 from FPR took to the street separately.

On the same day, an unrelated incident unfolded and temporarily overshadowed the fuel price issue. A Muslim fundamentalist right-wing group, Defenders of Islam Front (FPI), whose foundation was initiated by elements in the military, attacked and beat protesters from a broad civil society coalition — the National Alliance for Freedom of Religion and Faith (AKKBB).

The latter had defended the rights of a Muslim sect, Ahmadiyah, that is currently under attack by the fundamentalists. In the days following the attack, the mainstream media magnified the incident, thus drawing attention away from the already declining fuel price protests.

In response to this, FPR and PRP issued statements denouncing the violence as the government’s deliberate attempt to distract public attention from fuel price demands. This pattern is not new; previous protests were also dampened when public discontent wwas diverted by terrorist bomb attacks or other sensational incidents.

Leftist rivalry

Clearly, there exists a fierce rivalry between the three fronts. Three organisations from the island of Ternate in North Mollucas who were related or in cooperation with PPRM and FPN issued a statement condemning LMND for mistakenly claiming that all 14 protesters arrested there were LMND members. Apparently one of the detained was a PPRM member, while two were from LMND.

Furthermore, they accused LMND of being one of a number of “people-deceiving organisations”, which, they said, must be supervised and rejected by all pro-democracy movements.

In Yogyakarta, the People United Committee (KRB), an FPN affiliate coalition, experienced a dispute with one of its own member organisations that was accused of sabotaging the protest and collaborating with state intelligence. The accused activists responded by attacking the other coalition members.

Many activists have expressed concern at this development, as can be seen from comments in some internet mailing lists. An Indonesian leftist website,, for example, carried the heading “Leftists, stop fighting each other, end sectarianism!”

[Data Brainanta is a supporter of Papernas who is currently in Canada.]

From Green Left Weekly issue #755 18 June 2008.


Indonesia: Clashes over student death after fuel protest arrest

JAKARTA, June 24: Thousands of Indonesian protesters angered by a student demonstrator's death after his arrest burned cars and hurled stones at police guarding the Parliament after police attacked them with water cannon.
Participants in the demonstration in Jakarta also demanded that the government revoke a 30 percent fuel price increase imposed last month.
The dead student had been protesting the price hike. The protesters carried a fake coffin and pictures of Maftuh Fauzi, a 27-year-old student at the National University who had been among 100 fuel price protesters arrested May 24. He died in hospital last Friday, but there were conflicting reports about the cause of his death.
The Indonesian Doctors' Association was seeking clarification from Pertamina Hospital, which said Fauzi died of HIV/AIDS. Students say he was beaten by police and died of his injuries.
A National Human Rights Commission investigation concluded Tuesday that the police raid on Fauzi's university campus violated the students' rights and called for an independent autopsy for Fauzi, said commissioner Nur Kholis.
The protest started at Parliament. According to the student group LMND, hundreds of members mobilised by the Peoples Demand Front (FRM) began the action in the morning. They burnt rubber tyres outside of main entrance gates of House of Representative building and demanded government to immediately cancel fuel price rise and investigate the death of the student Maftuh Fauzi. At 2pm, thousands more from the Cross Generation Activist (Tali Geni) group joined the protest.
Police repeatedly used water canon against the protesters. Students set fire to rubber tyresActivists from FRM and Tali Geni rattled the gate of parliament. A side gate was brought down by the protesters. As the protesters tried to come into the House of Representative building, a violent clash between police and action took place. Many action participants were hit on their head, arm, and shoulders.
"We just want to enter the House building to persuade lawmakers to vote to question the government over its fuel price policy. We hope by using their right to inquiry, they can annul the government's fuel price hike policy," one of the leaders of the student protesters, Lalu Hilman Afriandi, told the Jakarta Post. A total traffic jam occurred along the Gatot Subroto Road during the clashes. An activist from IAIN Jambi, Arpi, was hit by a police patrol car. Police chased and arrested several student protesters.
Police later attacked students in two locations. One group had headed to Slipi-Grogol, West Jakarta, while another went to Jalan Sudirman, central Jakarta. Students at Sudirman tried to blockade main road in front of Atmajaya University. Jakarta Post reported that students and activists also protested at the Jalan Rasuna Said office of copper and gold mining company Freeport, demanding the government nationalize the company. The protesters halted the operation of TransJakarta buses serving the Kuningan-Ragunan route.
Later, a car was also set alight outside the Catholic Atmajaya University on one of the city's busiest commuter routes, snarling traffic for miles.
Indonesia's government raised gasoline pump prices by nearly 30 percent on May 23 because of the surging cost of oil and gas on the global market. The move triggered generally peaceful protests throughout the vast Indonesian archipelago, a nation of 235 million people. While the protests were taking place outside parliament, 233 of 360 parliamentarians inside the building voted for an inquiry into the government's fuel price policy.

Please send messages of solidarity to LMND c/-PAPERNAS
Jln. Tebet Dalam IIG No. 1, Jakarta Selatan, 12820.Indonesia.
Phone/Fax: +62-21-8354513. Email:

Sources: International Herald Tribune, Jakarta Post, LMND


FNPBI protest outside ExxonMoble Jakarta June 30, 2008Statement by National Front of Indonesian Labour Struggle (FNPBI): The SBY-JK government's latest fuel price increase has led to a rise in transportation cost and prices of basic goods - even while indicators of people's welfare, such as income levels and purchasing power, are declining. According to some economic analysts, the 30% fuel price rise will increase inflation rate from 8.33% to 10.6%. The Institute of Study for Mining and Energy Reform predicted that the 30% fuel price increase will probably throw 15.68 million Indonesians into poverty.

The Indonesian Entrepreneurs Association, APINDO, has stated that it can no longer adjust wages to face fuel price rise. Entrepreneurs have only agreed to add transportation and meal support. However, economic burden is not only about transport and meal, more than those!
Indonesian labour is currently facing several challenges: First, the current wage policy is not keeping up with price increases. Second, the national industries, which both entrepreneurs and labours depend on, have suffred a tremendous hit from the fuel price increase decision. Under these conditions, there is no choice but to fight to cancel fuel price increase and to rescue our national industries.
On June 24, the Parliament decided to exercise its right to launch an inquiry into the national oil and gas industries. However, two political parties, Golkar and Demokrat, rejected the inquiry, thus revealing their true character as puppets of foreign corporations. Political and financial institutions such as USAID and World Bank are behind this government. In 2001, these institutions used large amount of aid to change our oil and gas legislation. Golkar and Democrat Party are complicit in liberalizing our economy policy!
In relation to the parliamentary inquiry, labour should assert that; first, the legislature should push the government for the immediate cancellation of fuel price rise. This measure needs to be accompanied by the passing of a decree to nationalize foreign-controlled mining and energy industry in order to supply domestic energy demand. The government could also increase royalty tax up to 40% for foreign contractors so that windfall profit can be used to maximise national income and overcome state budget deficit.
Second, legislature should commit to solving the enduring problem of satisfying our nation's oil and gas industry needs by instituting a system to control our nation's entire natural resources. The management and marketing of these sectors must prioritize our nation's needs. Therefore, the legislature should withdraw Law 22/2001 on Oil and Gas and Law 25/2007 on Foreign Investment.
Third, the state's endeavours to extract maximum profit from oil and gas sector needs to be followed by the transfer of that profit to education, health care, subsidy for basic needs, and national minimum wage standard.
Up to now, the Indonesian government has shown no resolution to protect regarding energy and mineral (mining rights) against foreign companies. Using the lack of capital and technology as pretext, the government has handed over the right to manage energy and mineral resources into the hands of foreign companies, without considering such concepts as transfer of technology and autonomous economic system.
Labour has a strong interest in the state-management system of oil and gas industry for the development of national industries. High productivity of national industry would also strengthen the position of national labour. But this is only if our economy has been released from the grip of neo-liberal economics.
Therefore, FNPBI makess the following demands:
1. Cancel fuel price increase.
2. Nationalize mining and energy industries and abolish foreign debt.
3. Cancel or rewrite all contracts with foreign energy and mining companies in such a way as to benefit the people and domestic industries by attaching clauses that maximize benefit, technology transfer, and royalties and making the prioritisation of national needs an obligation.
4. Develop national industries, especially the oil and gas industry, petrochemical industry, natural resources management, etc.
5. Release the detained student activists and civilians! Investigate the death of Maftuh Fauzi.
6. Break with the political elites that take side with foreign interests, parties that support fuel increase and reject inquiry right against SBY-JK government (Golkar and Demokrat)!
7. To improve labour welfare. implement national minimum wage standard based on aproper living standard.
8. Build a National Front that involves all people and political parties that are against the political elites who support foreign interests.

For new economic system!
Jakarta, June 28, 2008
National Front of Indonesian Labour Struggle

Source: Papernas

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Saturday, July 12, 2008 

Poor Protests Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and ExxonMobil

(Jakarta, 10/07) On Thursday afternoon, hundreds of poor from the Indonesian Poor Union (SRMI), mostly mothers and their children, came to ExxonMobil HQ located on the capital's main street, Sudirman street. SRMI Jakarta Chairperson, Hendri, said that Indonesia is actually a rich country endowed with all kinds of natural resources enough to prosper its people. "However, these resources do not reach the hands of people," he added, "but instead were handed over by Yudhoyono and Kalla to foreign capital owners, like ExxonMobil. Because they and some political elites, like those in Golkar and Demokrat Party, are more willing to be 'lackeys' to foreign interests, the people must themselves move to demand the nationalisation of foreign-controlled extractive sector."

Bilal Muhammad, LMND Jakarta Chairperson, supported the protest by saying that nationalisation has received wide support from various groups in the movement and has become common demand in student actions. Similarly, Desi Arisanti, Central FNPBI General Secretary spoke of the need for the people to monitor the inquiry into fuel price, because it can open the door to solve the 'intricacy' of current pro-foreign-interest energy policy.

The protest then moved to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) office in one of Jakarta's business district, Kuningan. In front of KPK office, protesters sang revolutionary songs and yelled their demands. Rudi Hartono, one of LMND National Executives spoke: "If KPK previously succeeded in breaking through the parliament wall to snatch some Members of Parliament involved in cases of corruptions and bribes; now KPK has to prove itself capable of fighting corruption by monitoring and supervising all members sitting in the Fuel Inquiry Special Committee, which can easily be bought off." Roads to inquiry have often stopped halfway due to the betrayals of parties and political lobbies involving 'bribes' for the special committees. "Considering the inquiry is a matter of utmost importance, it is very regretful if it has to stop due to bribery. The inquiry must be carried out to the end and national sovereignty over natural resource must be upholded as stated on Article 33 of 1945 Constitution" he added.

KPK eventually received five representatives from SRMI and People Accuse Front (FRM) for a dialogue. However, using old excuses and cliches, KPK refused to sign an MoU to monitor and control Fuel Price Special Committee. According to Lalu Hilman Afriandi, FRM coordinator, KPK's refusal is evidence that KPK favors certain cases. "KPK has the courage to inquire into cases with small political consequences, but avoid big cases, especially those that will shake Yudhoyono-Kalla" he explained. The refusal made protesters yelled that KPK is "coward", "discriminate cases", "not for the people, and "Yudhoyono-Kalla's tool".