The National Police will be on high alert on Wednesday as hundreds of thousands of workers take to the streets for May Day protests against planned fuel subsidy cuts, a top police official said on Sunday.
Demonstrations held each year on May 1 are usually peaceful, but police are concerned this year’s celebrations could turn violent ahead of the fuel policy changes under which private vehicles will need to pay Rp 6,500 a liter for subsidized fuel, up from the current Rp 4,500 per liter.
“We will focus on some big cities like Jakarta, especially [the protest] in front of the State Palace,” National Police operational assistant Insp. Gen. Badrodin Haiti said, “and then in Surabaya, Medan, Makassar and smaller cities like Batam.”
Indonesia has struggled to ween motorists off subsidized fuel. A plan to raise the price of fuel sparked days of protests last March as thousands of angry residents shut down parts of Central Jakarta with chaotic, and often violent, protests. The House of Representatives responded by scuttling the plan, setting off a series of fuel shortages across the nation as quotas were exhausted.
Under the latest plan, the price of subsidized fuel will rise by over 40 percent for private car owners. Economists welcomed the move but said it would do little to curb the Rp 194 trillion ($20 billion) in state funds spent on fuel subsidies, representing 15 percent of the state budget.
With the cuts on the horizon, the National Police expect this year’s May Day demonstrations to draw a big crowd and have urged protestors to assemble peacefully and follow regulations.
More than 150,000 workers are expected to demonstrate outside the State Palace, the House of Representatives and six ministries, said Said Iqbal, president of the Confederation of Indonesian Workers Unions (KSPI) and the Indonesian Council of Workers (MPBI).
“Around 150,000 workers from Greater Jakarta will come to the city to protest outside the offices of government institutions,” Said told Jakarta Globe.
Nationwide, more than 1 million KSPI and MPBI members will hold demonstrations in 20 provinces, Said said.
“They will be protesting at each of the gubernatorial offices,” he said.
The protestors will demand the government scrap the fuel price hikes and institute better social welfare programs, Said said. The subsidy cuts, despite leaving exemptions for motorcycles, will impact on many workers, he explained.
“We have predicted the raise may weaken workers’ purchasing power by up to 30 percent,” Said said.
Said promised this year’s May Day demonstrations will conclude without any violence.
“We will ensure the May Day protest will be peaceful and orderly,” he said. “Not only have we coordinated with the police, we have also assigned our own internal guards. Workers will also wear uniforms to make sure there will not be any intruders.”