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Indonesian students protest rumored election delay

April 11, 2022

President Joko Widodo had promised not to delay elections in order to hold on to power, but many say his statements don't convince. Monday's protests echoed those that ousted President Suharto in 1998.

Protesting students run as security forces fire tear gas and deploy water cannons on Monday in Jakarta
Protesters stormed the parliament, demanding that the 2024 election dates be kept intactImage: Willy Kurniawan/REUTERS

Thousands of students in major cities across  Indonesia on Monday protested a rise in food prices and a possible extension of President Joko Widodo's term in office.

Wearing neon jackets and raising megaphones, the students rallied in South Sulawesi, West Java and the capital, Jakarta, following rumors that President Widodo could shift 2024 general elections in an attempt to hold on to power.

That would be against the country's two-term limit. Widodo is currently in the final years of a second term, before the next election, in 2024.

Students protesting sit on the streets on Monday in Jakarta
Students in Indonesia have previously led massive protests to ensure a democracyImage: Willy Kurniawan/REUTERS

Demonstrators chanted about protecting Indonesia's democracy and limiting soaring fuel and food prices.

''We demand that the lawmakers do not betray the country's constitution by amending it,'' one protest coordinator, identified as Kaharuddin, told The Associated Press. ''We want them to listen to people's aspirations.''

Police fired tear gas and water cannon at the protesters. 

Jakarta police said a university lecturer who was participating in the protest sustained "grave" injuries after a "nonstudent" group battered
and stomped on him. Six officers who tried to help the lecturer were also injured, according to police.

Avoiding a repeat of strongman rule

Monday's protests echoed those from almost two decades ago, when student-led demonstrations toppled the regime of President Suharto, who led for decades with an iron fist. He was ousted in 1998.

Widodo waves goodbye to a family after distributing food items to their house in Jakarta
Widodo has high approval ratings, but many reject an illegal extension of his tenureImage: Biro Pers Sekretariat Presiden

Unlike Suharto, Widodo has maintained some popularity, according to recent polls.

But "Jokowi," as the president is also known, has been heavily criticized for not speaking out strongly against rumors of a possible postponement of elections set for February 2024.

Powerful political figures, including two ministers, who publicly backed a delayed election have fueled rising tensions.

Widodo himself has publicly spoken out against the idea. He told his cabinet last week to focus on addressing the country's economic woes, stressing that "nobody should bring up a (presidential) term extension or election delay anymore.”

But there is still strong skepticism regarding the president's intentions.

Protesting students sit in front of security forces on Monday in Jakarta
Influential politicians publicly supported a postponement of the 2024 electionsImage: Willy Kurniawan/REUTERS

Crowds of demonstrators storming the parliament building at Monday's protests said halting elections would threaten the country's democracy.

Indonesian police fired tear gas and deployed water cannons on the protesters. Reporters say rocks were thrown into the complex after nonstudent demonstrators joined the rally.

Lawmakers addressed the students, vowing to keep election dates intact.

sl/fb (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

Indonesia - Diversity under Threat