Current Affairs

Indonesia’s Shrinking Civic Space for Protests and Digital Activism

Carnegie Endowment – USMAN HAMID, ARY HERMAWAN

For many Indonesians, the specter of authoritarianism lingers even after its demise more than two decades ago. But the political manifestations of this specter are more vivid and visible than ever. Not only has the current regime revived the conventional tools of past repression, but the country’s leaders have also successfully adapted them for use in cyberspace, the new locus of civic activism.

The country has witnessed political rallies led by students and labor groups against a recently passed law on job creation that was rushed through the parliamentary process without due public consultation. Scenes of the rallies are reminiscent of the political upheaval in the last days of the regime led by former president Suharto, the military general who ruled Indonesia with an iron fist between 1966 and 1998. While activists were demanding electoral democracy in May 1998, today they are protesting against what they believe is an illegal legislative process undertaken by democratically elected representatives to produce a law that could hurt large sections of Indonesia’s working class.

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