Will Occupy Wall Street Take Place in Indonesia?

12/04/2016 13:29

Recently, a massive demonstration took place in Jakarta, organised by a group of taxi and three-wheeler drivers. As reported by several media outlets, the protest was triggered by drivers who feel that their income is being eroded by the increase of online-based transportation services, such as Uber, Grabcar, GrabBike, and Go-Jek.

While this opinion is not wrong, one aspect is largely ignored by many engaged in the demonstration; the widening gap between the rich and the poor in Indonesia. For this reason, it makes sense to predict that Occupy Jakarta (inspired by the Occupy Wall Street staged in New York in 2011) will reoccur with greater scale and influence.

As reported by CNN in October 2011, Occupy Jakarta once happened even though only about 200 people attended. This number is insignificant in relation to the country's total population, which is more than 250 million people.

Nonetheless, by considering the social, economic, and political conditions of Indonesia today, there are several strong indicators of why Occupy Jakarta will take place again.

First, income inequality is increasingly prevalent in the country. Indonesia has always been perceived by local and international observers as enjoying positive economic growth in the worldwide context. The archipelago is also discussed in mainstream media as a country where the middle-class population has increased significantly. Nonetheless, behind these success stories are stories of grief. The impressive performance of the Indonesian economy over the last 15 years has actually paid little attention to the poor, as claimed by the World Bank Country Director for Indonesia, Rodrigo A. Chaves. Consequently, the poor increasingly lose out while the rich become richer.

It is difficult to ignore Chaves' statement, especially if we refer to the data provided by the World Bank and Indonesia's Ministry of Finance. The World Bank reported that the growth of the Indonesian economy is enjoyed only by 20% of its wealthy population. Moreover, it is also reported that within the period of 2003 to 2010, there was a noticeable difference in the percentage of the increase of Indonesia's consumption. 10% of the richest increased its consumption by as much as 6% per year, while 40% of the poorest experienced only a 2% increase each year. The World Bank also noted that only 10% of the population controls 77% of Indonesia's total wealth and financial assets. If pursued, this means that 1% of the country's wealthy population controls more than half of Indonesia's assets.

Secondly, many companies in Indonesia play a role as the production engine of Rupiah. As is widely known, many large companies pour massive amounts of money into the support of legislative and executive candidates. What is interesting is that the flow of funds from companies is sanctioned by the Election Commission, albeit with certain restrictions (500 million Rupiah). The relationship between political candidates and large companies is undeniably mutual. One side needs an injection of funds for their campaigns while the other requires favourable government policies.

The last Presidential election is a prime example. One of the candidates, Prabowo Subianto, received a contribution worth 4.8 billion Rupiah from PT Arsari Mineral. This number certainly exceeded the minimum amount set by the Commission. Another example is the admission made by the incumbent governor of Jakarta, Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama, that he received campaign contributions from a number of companies, amounting to a total of 4.5 billion Rupiah. There are numerous similar cases which would be impossible to be recount given their number and the vast area of Indonesia. However, it should be underlined that not all donations flowing to the political candidates are recorded transparently. For example, the Indonesian Corruption Watch reports that only 17 out of 11,775 companies declared themselves as contributors to the campaign funds of President Joko Widodo. If a Presidential election that is large in scale does not have transparency in its funding, it makes sense to argue that many companies pour funds into political campaigns at a local level.

This phenomenon is the main reason why government policies always stand alongside large companies. Land conflicts that occur between local communities and companies in various part of Indonesia could be cited as an example. In North Sumatra, for instance, there was a dispute between the local community and a gold mining company, PT Sorik Mas Maining. The bloody clash successfully depicted the protestors as the culprits. A similar occurrence took place in Riau province, where the law governing customary land (communal land) sided with the companies. Even the land dispute in Jambi between Dusun Tiga Suku Anak Dalam (SAD 113) and PT Asiatic Persada resulted in the creation of the motto; "Today we occupy the plantation - Tomorrow Jakarta!" As with many other disputes, the people living around the firm, including the Suku Anak Dalam, are positioned as troublemakers. When the clashes occurred, some individuals were injured and 80 houses were set alight by the security forces. Regulations favouring companies are also included in the legislations regulating investments in Indonesia, which mainly benefit foreign companies.

The recent riot in Jakarta should be a reminder of how wide the gap is between the rich and the poor in Indonesia. Wealth continues to be distributed among 1% of the population, while the rest must be satisfied with little. Companies proved to be very powerful in front of the people as they are backed up by the government. These two phenomena are like fire in the husk. Burning but not apparent. But once it appears, it will be there with a far more powerful scale than before.

This piece is co-authored with Muhammad Beni Saputra, a postgraduate student at the University of Manchester.