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Jan '03

Protesters vow more rallies consider radical measures

Unable to force the government to cancel utility price increases despite mass protests across the country, protesters vowed to continue demonstrating and consider “radical means” to put pressure on the government.

Thursday’s rally in Jakarta failed to attract the expected crowd of around 25,000, with just a few thousand turning out before the Merdeka Palace to demand that the government cancel increases in fuel prices and electricity and telephone charges.

“SPSI decided to withdraw their participation after Jacob Nuwa Wea ordered them not to join us,” said labor activist Dita Indah Sari who chairs the National Front for the Struggle of Indonesian Workers (FNPBI).

She was referring to the country’s largest labor union the All Indonesia Workers Union (SPSI), led by Minister of Manpower Jacob Nuwa Wea. Dita added that many SPSI members defied the order and joined the protests in Jakarta though they were far from enough.

The nationwide demonstrations were nonetheless the biggest so far held against President Megawati’s administration.

Protests have been held over the past four days since the government announced the triple price hikes. Although the same move sparked few protests last year, analysts said the timing was bad.

A string of unpopular government decisions had preceded the announcement. Suspicion over corruption behind the sale of state-owned international call operator PT Indosat and plans to drop possible criminal charges against business tycoons had soured the government’s image long before it disclosed the utility price hikes.

Protests against the three policies now have a sharp anti-Megawati undertone in them. But analysts said such pressure was ineffective.

The government stood its ground on Thursday, agreeing only to cosmetic compromises like tax incentives and a speedier disbursement of aid to the poor to compensate for the price hikes.

“We will gradually see the results, not today, but gradually,” chairman of the Indonesian Prosperity Trade Union (SBSI), Muchtar Pakpahan told Trans TV.

There is a risk that protesters may run out of steam and require a break after four days of relentless protests, SBSI executive Rekson Silaban said earlier.

He said that Thursday’s protest was not the final one and more would follow until the government agreed to negotiate with them.

“We’re still looking for a common voice in negotiating with the government,” he said, explaining that some labor unions are calling for radical actions like the refusal to pay taxes while others are for a nationwide strike as leverage during talks.

FNPBI’s Dita said the next demonstrations were scheduled for Monday and Wednesday next week. “We’re also considering tougher actions, like boycotting gasoline stations or fuel trucks,” she said.

President Megawati may be ignoring the widespread protests for now, but she faces a risk in the long run with the general election in 2004, analysts have said.

Megawati’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-Perjuangan), draws much of its support from grassroots voters whose interests have been ignored by her recent policies.

This situation did not pass unnoticed by the opposition with some political parties also attacking her unpopular decisions.

“Even without the price hike protest, the political climate will heat up by itself because of the general election nearing,” said former minister of manpower Bomer Pasaribu of the Center for Labor and Development Studies (CLDS).

Sharing a narrow yet common goal, businessmen and workers joined forces for the first time to protest against a government policy. But this unlikely alliance has yet to transpire into effective pressure.

Meanwhile another pressure group, students, have been largely protesting against the same policies alone.

“We’ll see how far we can go doing it alone, we haven’t shut out the possibility of joining other (protesting) elements,” said Imam Mustafa of the polytechnic student body of the University of Indonesia.

Sumber :  (Berni K. Moestafa) The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

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