By Ahmad Syamsudin
Newly re-elected Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo promised firm action against rioters on Wednesday after six people died and 200 were injured in overnight clashes in the nation’s capital between police and supporters of defeated challenger Prabowo Subianto.
Authorities arrested dozens after anti-riot police lobbed tear gas and fired water cannons to disperse demonstrators outside the Election Supervisory Agency in central Jakarta, officials said. Later in the day, the government imposed restrictions on social media to prevent the spread of fake news, security minister Wiranto told reporters.
“I’m open to cooperating with anyone for the sake of our nation’s progress, but I will not tolerate those who seek to undermine the security, democratic process and unity of our beloved nation,” Jokowi told a news conference.
“There’s no place for rioters who damage our country. The military and police will take firm action in accordance with the law,” he said, adding that authorities had placed the volatile situation under control.
Prabowo, a retired army general, on Wednesday urged his supporters to protest peacefully, reiterating his message from a day earlier to those demonstrating against the official results of the April 17 election that were announced Tuesday.
“I call on all parties, citizens who are protesting, the police and the military to refrain from engaging in physical violence and religious leaders and netizens from engaging in verbal provocation,” he told reporters.
More than two dozen vehicles were burned in several neighborhoods in central Jakarta as protesters, who alleged that widespread fraud occurred in the election, threw incendiary firebombs known as Molotov cocktails at responding police officers.
“The violence overnight has tarnished our country’s reputation and must not happen again,” Prabowo said.
As of late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning (local time), there were no reports of fresh outbreaks of poll-related violence, according to local media.
The country’s election commission on Tuesday said Jokowi had garnered 55.5 percent of ballots cast in the presidential polls, beating his challenger, Prabowo, for the second time in a row. In the 2014 elections, Jokowi received 53.1 percent of the votes and Prabowo took 46.8 percent.
The official results of last month’s balloting, which were announced a day earlier than scheduled amid concerns about mass protests, nearly matched the numbers from “quick count” exit polls from independent pollsters.
Prabowo has refused to concede defeat, telling reporters on Tuesday that he would challenge the results which, he alleged, resulted from massive and systematic fraud.
On Wednesday, protesters outside the Election Supervisory Agency threw water bottles and other light objects at anti-riot police, but officers stood their ground, witnesses said.
The crowd dispersed peacefully before dusk.
Shots were fired
Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan said six people were killed and another 200 suffered injuries in the clashes around midnight on Tuesday.
“As of 9 a.m., six people have died,” Anies told reporters outside Tarakan Hospital, adding that the bodies were being kept in several hospitals in the city. He did not provide details on cause of death or whether the fatalities were civilians or police.
Anies urged Jakartans to go about their normal business on Wednesday, saying the violence had been confined to a few streets in the center of the sprawling city.
National police chief Tito Karnavian said the six people died from wounds caused by bullets and blunt weapons.
“People died and we are trying to find out what happened,” he said. “In the past week, we have arrested a number of people with weapons intended to create unrest.”
Tito said the rioters were a different crowd from those who rallied earlier on Tuesday.
“They deliberately attacked security personnel to provoke rioting,” he said, describing the rioters as “thugs.”
“We arrested some people and they admitted to being paid,” he told a news conference.
Rioters also burned several cars in front of a police dormitory, he said.
Police arrested at least 257 demonstrators after the clashes, Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono said.
“They were arrested because they attacked officers, committed destruction and tried to force their way to Bawaslu (the election supervisory agency),” Argo said.
Police seized firecrackers, bladed weapons, arrows and Molotov cocktails from the protesters, he said.
Police were not using live rounds to deal with the protest, national police spokesman Muhammad Iqbal said.
“It should be known that police are not equipped with live bullets,” Iqbal told a news conference. “If anyone used live bullets, they are not police security personnel.”
Meanwhile, security affairs minister Wiranto said the government was limiting access to social media, including the popular WhatsApp messaging service, to prevent the spread of what he called “hoaxes.”
“There’s a scenario to create chaos, spread antipathy and hatred against the government,” he said.
Some Indonesian users of WhatsApp said they could send text messages and make calls but were unable to post photos or videos.
Facebook, Instagram and WhatApp are among social media and messaging services affected, said Rudiantara, the communication and information technology minister.
“At this time, people will share a lot of videos and photos. This is harmful,” he said.
“We prioritize blocking video and photo features because, even without text, videos can incite emotions. Some people will not be able to download videos or photos,” he said.
Analysts: One of worst riots since 1998
Wednesday’s unrest was one of the worst in Jakarta since a crippling economic crisis in May 1998 triggered widespread unrest that forced longtime president Suharto to resign, said Medi Kosandi, a political analyst at the University of Indonesia.
“In terms of casualties and the magnitude today was far from 1998. The police are well-prepared to deal with such an event and they have enough personnel to prevent the unrest from spreading,” he told BenarNews.
Authorities deployed 40,000 police and soldiers to provide security in the capital during the announcement of election results on Tuesday.
More than 1,000 people died in the riots that occurred 21 years ago throughout Indonesia, mainly in Medan in the province of North Sumatra, in the capital Jakarta and in Central Java province, according to news reports.
Economic issues, including food shortages and mass unemployment, spawned mass protests that spiraled into violence, officials said.
Tia Asmara in Jakarta contributed to this report.