President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo kept on working during Friday’s massive rally, which saw thousands of people swarmed around the State Palace in a protest against Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, who is being accused of insulting the Quran.
In his business-as-usual manner, the President met with several of his Cabinet ministers such as former Soekarno-Hatta International Airport operator Angkasa Pura II president director, now Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi, Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung and State Secretary Pratikno in the morning. Everyone in the Palace seemed to be going about their duties within the Palace walls, with staffers, gardeners, cleaners and handymen all doing their jobs amid normal security measures.
“One thing for sure I will be in Jakarta,” Jokowi said during a photo-op with Vice President Jusuf Kalla on the Palace veranda on Thursday.
However, the atmosphere changed around 10 a.m. when the presidential security detail (Paspampres) escalated security and parked the vehicles used for the President’s motorcade on standby at the rear of the Palace, apparently in anticipation of untoward events, said Paspampres chief Bambang Suswantono on Friday.
About an hour later, before protesters jam-packed the streets in front of his office, Jokowi left the Palace. Accompanied by Minister Budi, he went to Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Banten, for one of his famous impromptu visits, known as blusukan, to check on a number of airport infrastructure and facilities projects.
Both the Palace and National Police spokesman Insp. Gen. Boy Rafli Amar said Jokowi’s visit “was planned” long before the rally took place.
A Palace van that brought some journalists to cover the events at the airport returned to the Palace at around 4 p.m., but without the President returning to Jakarta.
Growing numbers of protesters, believed to be around 100,000 people, began to surround the State Palace demanding to meet Jokowi to deliver their grievances firsthand to the head of state.
A number of high-ranking state and Palace officials, such as Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto, National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian, Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo, Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifudin, Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung and State Secretary Pratikno, gathered near the Palace front gate, to welcome the protesters on behalf of Jokowi.
A short meeting between Wiranto and some representatives of the protesters failed to produce any results, however, with the protesters refusing to submit their demands to Wiranto as they insisted they wanted to directly meet Jokowi.
Later, Kalla met three representatives of the protesters before 6 p.m. Kalla, along with Tito, who joined the meeting, promised the protesters that the police would work fast and fair in investigating Ahok’s alleged blasphemy and stressed Ahok’s right to defend himself and to present witnesses.
United Development Party (PPP) secretary-general Arsul Sani, one of four lawmakers selected by the protesters to monitor the rally, who also joined the meeting between Kalla and the protesters, said Jokowi’s absence need no longer be an issue as the protesters had met Kalla.
“The representatives of the protesters welcomed [Kalla’s meeting], during which [he was able] to explain the matters wisely,” Arsul said.
Kalla left the Palace at around 7:20 p.m., but the protesters continued staging their rally in front of the Palace. Within minutes the rally then turned ugly with police firing tear gas at the swarming crowds. Several police vehicles were set on fire in front of the Palace, in contrast to the peaceful and disciplined nature of the afternoon rally.
Jokowi himself left the airport at around 7 p.m., according to the Presidential Press Bureau but no confirmation was received as to his whereabouts after leaving the airport. There was no sign of him at the Palace as of 10 p.m. where protesters lingered with their banners, chanting their demands that the frontrunner of the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election be prosecuted. (JP)