25 October 2022

People waiting to receive Covid-19 social assistance outside a government building in Bogor, West Java. April 2020. Source: ANTARA/M Fikri Setiawan

[Jakarta, 25 October 2022] Indonesia showed a marked increase in social conflict during the pandemic. Although effective delivery of social assistance by the government and lax enforcement of mobility restrictions cushioned the immediate impact of the crisis, reducing the risk of collective violence and mass protests amid growing economic hardship requires effective resource redistribution policies and a more prudent governance strategy.

Social Conflict in Indonesia During the Covid-19 Pandemic, the latest report from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), tracks the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on social conflict in Indonesia and offers recommendations for mitigating the risk of social unrest in view of a widely anticipated economic downturn.

“Our data show that overall, Indonesia avoided the large-scale social unrest that policymakers had feared at the beginning of the pandemic, but there has been a three-fold increase in localised conflicts due to prolonged economic and social disruptions,” says Sana Jaffrey, IPAC director. “This upward trend is most pronounced in urban areas that were hit hardest by the pandemic.”

IPAC’s data, collected from 103 national and regional online news sources, recorded a total of 3,488 incidents of social conflict across Indonesia, between January 2020 and December 2021. These estimates show that violent disputes over government aid were rare due to timely and efficient distribution of economic assistance to low-income groups. Protests against lockdowns and mobility restrictions were also relatively muted. In contrast to Western countries, where public opposition to mask mandates and vaccines was widespread, only sporadic incidents of resistance to public health measures were recorded in Indonesia.

Despite this success in managing the short-term effects of the pandemic, the data show that growing economic hardship is associated with a surge in vigilantism against rising levels of street crime; clashes between members of mass organizations over control of resources in the informal sector; and deadly youth brawls. The government’s decision to push ahead with a sweeping deregulation drive through the Omnibus Law on Jobs Creation also led to widespread mass agitation during the pandemic.

Increasing violent mobilisation observed in urban areas is a cause for concern, especially in view of the upcoming elections in 2024. Elections in Indonesia are generally peaceful. However, a high stakes race in a time of economic uncertainty can fuel political unrest.

Addressing these risks requires equitable provision of economic relief to low-income households through greater involvement of communities in the design and implementation of social assistance programs. The government also needs to reconsider its plans of charging ahead with deep cutting labour reforms in the middle of a global economic slowdown. Finally, effective policing will be critical for preventing localised conflicts from spiralling into community-wide clashes.

“Law-enforcement in Indonesia urgently needs to end its current focus on supressing political dissent and prioritise management of local conflicts that have surged during the pandemic,” says Jaffrey.


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