Author: Ibnu Nadzir (PMB LIPI Researcher)

In the past few weeks, The Indonesian Government made a divisive political move by issuing a government regulation in lieu of law (Perppu) No. 2/2017 on regarding the regulation of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). If this Perppu approved by the People’s Representative Council (DPR), this new regulation would allow the government to dissolve any organization which deemed against Pancasila without any judicial process. How this Perppu may affect our current democracy is occupying public debates in such a polarized manner. For some, this latest move from Jokowi is seen as an effective solution to prevent the worrisome rise of Islamic radicalism.  On the other hand, many people are wary of the possibilities that this Perppu might be used in a repressive manner by the government for any dissenting groups.

This Perppu was issued in light of the rise of Islamic radicalism in Indonesia. While some scholars like Bruinnessen (2013) has spotted this trend in the last couple of years, it never gained a significant government’s attention until recently. To be precise, it was the series of demonstration including 212 rallies that opened Jokowi’s eyes on how the wings of Islamic radicalism still have a strong influence on people. These rallies have demonstrated how the collective imagination to be pious could intertwine with pragmatic political interest and pose a significant political threat.


Those who oppose this Perppu argue that by creating this regulation Jokowi has betrayed the ideals of democratic movements which were one of the most important bases of his victory in 2014 presidential election. Some people even compare this policy with Soeharto’s regime, which was notoriously infamous for its oppressive policies. Ironically, if we are looking into some of Jokowi’s recent political moves, this comparison does not seem to be too out of place. Following the New Order’s narrative, Jokowi conveniently portrayed the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) as the enemy of Pancasila which deserved to be quelled. This stance is similar to the one Soeharto held. Aligned with Soeharto’s policy too, Jokowi established a special unit tasked with formulating the government’s interpretation of Pancasila. In addition, the banning of Telegram website, to some extent, is also comparable with the banning of media during New Order. The aforementioned maneuvers, coupled with the issuance of this Perppu lead to some perception that the history is repeating.  Considering the nature of similarities, it is no wonder that Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI)- an anti-democratic organization- found themselves to be on the same side with human rights activists in that the issuance of this Perppu, the Indonesian government is being undemocratic.

Now that we know the story: despite major controversies, the Indonesian government position remains. It persists that HTI’s license has been revoked and can never be registered again, under the notion that it is a matter of national emergency. The truth of the matter is while HTI has a strong stance against the nation-state, it is much debatable to conclude that it is the biggest threat to Indonesian democracy. Judging by the involvements in illegal activities, one would think that Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) or even The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) on that matter should be considered as more dangerous organizations instead of The Islamic Defenders Front (HTI). However, HTI’s anti-democracy rhetoric made them a perfect example for the Indonesian government to warn other similar groups.


The disbandment of HTI is one action, and perhaps something that could be perceived minor in the current scale. A valid bigger worry lies on how this Perppu may be used by future more authoritarian nature may use it for suppressing any organizations who are against Pancasila/the government.   The HTI ban may become a precedent that could be used as a future reference to disband any organizations that are deemed against Pancasila/government. While it seems like a convenient way to deal with a radical group such as HTI, this solution is problematic because of government, much in the same way as Soeharto, monopolizes the authority to interpret Pancasila.

The use of Pancasila as ideological justification for government’s action is hardly new in Indonesia. Since very early, the rhetoric of Pancasila has been used (or abused) by Indonesian leaders to mobilize support for each of their political cause. Yet, among those leaders, Soeharto still stood out for being the one who managed to institutionalize Pancasila as a political tool to crush many of his political opponents. His regime formalized the concept to label every dissenting groups regardless of their ideology as anti-Pancasila. In this regard, while Jokowi’s latest responses toward radicalism might resemble Soeharto, the policy formulation process is very different from the authoritarian general. Unlike Soeharto’s calculated political moves, Jokowi’s responses with Perppu or Pancasila special unit were developed from panic reaction toward the threat of Islamic radicalism on the rise.  Hence, his policies on the issue of Islamic radicalism are not that different from many other unsystematic policies in this government that Warburton (2016) characterizes as ad hocery.

The problem with this kind of policy formulation is that it tends to neglect the possibilities of unintended consequences in the long run. Jokowi might think that this Perppu is convenient and practical to deal with HTI, but it could seriously threaten Indonesian democracy as we know it. In the hand of an authoritarian leader, the broad authority legitimized by this Perppu will easily be abused to quell critics and opposition groups. While it is unlikely that Jokowi will transform into authoritarian leader anytime soon, the looming threat of authoritarianism in Indonesia should not be underestimated. It still needs to be proven empirically, but demands on stronger leadership and constant nostalgia of New Order implies that an authoritarian leader is still very much idealized in Indonesia. Therefore, while we might agree that there is an urgent action needed to address the issue on religious radicalism, Jokowi needs to scrap this Perppu and come up with better solutions. Otherwise, it may appear that the Indonesian government is burning house down to smoke out a rat. A house named as Indonesian democracy. (Editor: Ranny Rastati)



Ibnu Nadzir is a researcher on cultural and social anthropology at the Research Center for Society and Culture, Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) since 2011. He recently completed his master degree from the Anthropology Department at University of Amsterdam with thesis about the use of Internet among Indonesian exiles in the Netherland.