Indonesians protesting against the government’s decision to hike the price of subsidized fuel, the first such increase since 2014, on Tuesday stormed the gates of the People’s Representative Council in the capital Jakarta as countrywide demonstrations continued for the fourth straight day.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has said that increasing fuel prices was his “last option” in view of the energy subsidy bill rising to $34 billion this year, which is three times more than originally planned. The government has also announced increasing social assistance for vulnerable groups to offset the rising living costs.
The People’s Representative Council is one of the two chambers of elected representatives in Indonesia’s bicameral parliament, which is also known as the People’s Consultative Assembly.
As per Reuters, the price of petrol has been increased from about 51 cents to 67 cents per liter and that of diesel from 35 cents to 46 cents. The fuel prices are almost 32 percent higher than a year ago.
Major demonstrations led by students and labor unions have rocked Indonesian cities — Jakarta, Surabaya, Makassar, Kendari, Aceh, and Yogyakarta — since the weekend, when the fuel prices were hiked.
In Jakarta, protesters sported red or orange bandanas as thousands of them marched on the streets demanding a rollback of the move and an increase in the minimum wage.
Protest leaders have said that the fuel price hike could further burden the vulnerable communities, who are already reeling from high food prices caused by supply shortages created by Western sanctions against Russia in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.
The government has said that the rising fuel and food prices have hampered the post-COVID economic recovery and added to the rising subsidy bills.
The protests have remained largely peaceful until now, with the demonstrators resorting only to blocking roads at certain places and burning tires to vent their anger.
However, local media reported the stationing of thousands of security personnel across major cities as authorities fear the protests may draw in more people. In particular, the police fear the protesters could target petrol pumps to express their anger over the rising fuel costs.
Fuel price hikes have historically been a sensitive issue in Indonesia, where the government has subsidized fuel for most part of its post-independence history. In 1998, a long-time Indonesian leader was toppled after a fuel price hike by his government led to popular protests.
Sitting President Joko Widodo also faced protests over a decision to increase fuel prices back in 2014, which were eventually brought under control.
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