Supporters of defeated presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto attempted to invade Indonesia’s Constitutional Court yesterday, as a panel of nine judges finally reaffirmed Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo as the lawful winner of this year’s election.
Reports estimate that between 2,000 to 3,000 people marched on the court building in anticipation of the final verdict, carrying flags and banners to show their allegiance to Prabowo’s Gerindra Party and chanting slogans rejecting the legitimacy of Jokowi’s victory.
Chaos erupted when a group of demonstrators attempted to drive a Unimog truck through a line of barbed wire, which had been erected by police to barricade a road leading to the court’s entrance. Further waves of protestors then tried to break police lines and storm the building on foot.
Heavily armoured riot police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse protestors, whilst reinforcements moved in to secure the court building. Many of the protestors appeared to have come prepared for a skirmish with the police, particularly those wearing colourful paramilitary fatigues complete with matching berets. Eyewitnesses estimate that perhaps as many as 100 demonstrators were able to barrage their way through police lines, forcing the court’s judges to repeatedly postpone proceedings whilst the unrest was brought under control.
According to Jakarta Police spokesman Sr. Commissioner Rikwanto, at least 46 people were injured during clashes between police and demonstrators, and four people were arrested on suspicion of being “provocateurs.” A short story on Kompas.com reported that only six of the day’s official casualties were in a severe enough condition to warrant inpatient status, whilst the remaining 40 left hospital within a few hours after receiving treatment for minor, tear-gas related injuries.
Meanwhile, Prabowo’s supporters accused the authorities of using “repressive” and heavy-handed tactics in their attempts to disperse a “peaceful protest.” Speaking at a regrouping of demonstrators after the initial crackdown, an unnamed orator later claimed that one protestor had been shot dead by police and another two had gone missing. Commissioner Rikwanto denied these allegations unequivocally, however, describing them as “hoax” charges intended to provoke further unrest. “There were no [deaths],” he is quoted as saying on Liputan6.com, “[but there were] casualties earlier and they have already been treated.”
Prabowo’s supporters have also alleged that rubber bullets were used to quell the demonstration, leaving one man seriously injured with a fractured skull. This allegation was, again, immediately denied by Jakarta Police Chief Insp. Gen. Dwi Priyanto, who told reporters that no such weaponry was sanctioned during yesterday’s operation. “This is security level 4,” he is quoted as saying, “So we cannot yet use projectile weapons.”
The man who was allegedly shot at with the rubber bullet was hit in the back of head. He was adamant that it must have been a rubber bullet or else his injuries wouldn’t be so severe. “If it was [just] tear gas then [I’d look] like that,” he told reporters whilst pointing to teary-eyed demonstrator in the hospital where he was interviewed.
It is perhaps more likely that the man was clubbed over the head by a haphazard, baton-wielding police officer, as were many of the more intrepid demonstrators who wandered too close to police lines. Earlier in the day, Kompas.com reported two separate cases of protestors showing fractured skulls after being struck by police batons — with both casualties claiming that their attack was completely unprovoked.
One man explained that he was trying to flee from an encroaching line of police when he was beaten around the back of the head; and the other man claimed that he was trying to alight a wayward Unimog when he was struck in the very same spot. The casualties were interviewed at a nearby hospital after being picked up by Prabowo’s very own private ambulance service, whose vehicles were out in force yesterday. Little white people-carrier vans plastered with Gerindra campaign slogans and flattering portraits of a stern-faced Prabowo could often be seen among the demonstrators. Kompas.com notes that the two casualties suffered head wounds of 10cm and 15cm respectively.
By the end of the day’s drama, Prabowo’s campaign team had finally ‘accepted’ the verdict of the Constitutional Court, yet they remained incredulous as to the legitimacy of Jokowi’s victory. At a press conference organised by Prabowo’s “Red and White Coalition” yesterday evening, campaign spokesman Tantowi Yahya announced that “Even though the Coalition accepts the verdict, we insist that the decision does not reflect substantive justice nor truth in Indonesia.” Neither Prabowo nor his running mate Hatta Rajasa bothered to attend the press conference, as they were reportedly visiting injured cadres in hospital instead.
August 21 was always going to be a tumultuous day in Jakarta, but things seem to have gone relatively smoothly despite the unrest outside the Constitutional Court. We now have a clear winner of this year’s presidential election, and we even have acquiescence from Prabowo’s camp that the court’s word is final, even if it thinks the verdict is wrong. Dare I say it, but the days of “losing is not an option” might just be over. All we need now is for Prabowo’s supporters to put away their Unimogs, ditch the paramilitary fatigues, stop loitering around the Constitutional Court and start participating — peacefully — in the national conversation. This would put the finishing touches to an already pointlessly protracted election, and also salvage some dignity for the ordinary men and women who were unfortunate enough to fall for Prabowo’s talk of “rescuing the Republic of Indonesia” and struggling for “real democracy.” For Prabowo himself, however, there is no surely dignity left to salvage.
Well, at least Prabowo can take away one valuable lesson from this spectacular saga of self-humiliation, and that’s never to say “losing is not an option” if losing is, quite clearly, an option.