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Politics

Hard-line Islamic groups lead protest over Indonesia omnibus law

President Joko Widodo backs legislation despite demonstrations

Members of Indonesian Islamist groups take part in a protest against the omnibus law near the National Monument in Jakarta on October 13.   © Reuters

JAKARTA -- Hard-line Islamic organizations led demonstrations against Indonesia's controversial "job creation" omnibus law on Tuesday, calling on those gathered to continue protesting until President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo is ousted.

Around 1,000 people from the 212 Alumni -- a union of radical Islamic groups -- gathered in central Jakarta, according to police.

"Workers and students asked for the omnibus law to be repealed, but the one who was blamed was the parliament, even though the key lies in the executive [branch]," said one faction leader speaking on top of a truck. "Then we ask Jokowi to revoke the omnibus law [but nothing has happened]. We want to defend our brothers... Until the president's 'down,' ready?"

The 212 Alumni consists of organizations that took part in the protest against then Jakarta governor and Widodo confidant Basuki Tjahaja "Ahok" Purnama on Dec. 2, 2016, when they accused the ethnic Chinese Christian of blasphemy against the Quran. They are also staunchly against the president, and backed now-Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto in the presidential election last year.

While workers held small scale demonstrations on Monday, labor groups canceled their plans to rally on Tuesday according to local media, because there are "other elements" that are taking part in the Tuesday protests.

After the 212 Alumni disbanded, around 100 teenagers gathered and clashed with the police. Some turned violent, setting fire to tires on the streets and hurling stones.

The "Job Creation" law -- passed in parliament on Oct. 5. -- is Widodo's cornerstone policy in his second term. The legislation makes sweeping changes to more than 70 laws, and is aimed at cutting red tapes and improving Indonesia's attractiveness to international investors.

Despite the protests, the government and the president have stood firm.

In a national address on Friday, Widodo tried to assure the public that the law was for the good of Indonesia, especially as the country's economy is reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.

"There are 2.9 million people of new working age who enter the workforce [every year]," the president said in his Friday address. "New jobs are urgent, especially during the [COVID-19] pandemic. ... This law is to provide as many jobs as possible for job seekers and unemployed people."

"The government believes that through this law, millions of workers can improve their and their families' lives."

The law will be sent to the president on Wednesday for him to sign off, Aziz Syamsuddin, deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, said on Tuesday. In Indonesia, when a new law is passed, it is enacted once the president signs it within 30 days. Even without the president's signature, laws automatically take effect after the 30-day period.

Both the Confederation of Indonesian Worker Unions, and Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia's largest Muslim group, are planning to challenge the law in the constitutional court.

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