Solo – Hundreds of students demonstrated in front of the Town Hall in Solo, Central Java, on Thursday February 8, in a counter rally against a "Kiss Gibran's Hand Action" that was held by a group of people two days earlier.
The action was initiated by the Greater Solo People's Resistance Solidarity Alliance (Sodara), which has members from the Islamic student organisation Cipayung Plus and Student Executive Councils (BEM) from a number of tertiary education institutions in greater Solo.
The students unfurled banners with messages such as "Vox populi vox dei" (The voice of the people is the voice of God), "Return democracy to the people", "Reformasi has been castrated" and other messages of protest.
"Where is Samsul now? Yesterday he met with those demonstrating here, why doesn't he meet with us", cried one of the speakers referring to a popular nickname for vice presidential candidate number 2, Solo Mayor Gibran Rakabuming Raka.
Rakabuming Raka was given the nickname Samsul by netizens after he mispronounced the name of a medicine for pregnant women during the second vice presidential debate.
"We earnestly request that Kanjeng Gusti Pangeran Samsul [the Noble Lord Prince Samsul] come out to meet us here", he continued.
Action coordinator Fierdha Abdullah Ali said that today's demonstration was held as a rebuttal against a Greater Solo Student Alliance for Dignified Leadership (AMSR-UKB) action in front of the Rakabuming Raka's office at the Solo City Hall on Tuesday February 6.
Earlier, the AMSR-UKB held an action at the Solo City Hall Plaza demanding Rakabuming Raka sign an integrity pact.
The action was very brief. Speeches that were in the middle of being given stopped when Rakabuming Raka came out of his office to meet them.
The arrival of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's eldest son was greeted with applause and shouts from the demonstrators. "Welcome our vice presidential candidate", said the crowd in unison.
Rakabuming Raka then greeted those in the front ranks. Several even kissed his hand and asked for a swafoto (selfie) while making the two-fingered salute of presidential election ticket number 2, Rakabuming Raka and Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto.
"We commit to what is being called for. In accordance with our vision and mission also", said Rakabuming Raka.
Abdullah Ali said, "We see this as just a gimmick". The chairperson of the Islamic Students Association (HMI) Sukoharjo branch suspects that that AMSR-UKB are a partisan group. Their demands are in line with the vision and mission of one of the presidential tickets contesting the 2024 elections.
"It doesn't make sense when there is a demonstration, there are those who protest, then ask for an integrity pact that is actually the vision and mission taken up by one of the candidate pairs", he said.
Abdullah Ali emphasised that students will always remain neutral in every election and do not support any one of the candidates.
"We took to the streets today to respond, that students in greater Solo are not boxed into one of the candidate pairs. Students in Solo Raya remain independent", he said.
He believes that the AMSR-UKB action could endanger the image of the independent student movement and that there is concern that these kinds of actions could endanger the morals of the younger generation.
"The younger generation are people who tend to be able to be objective. We don't view people based on their gimmicks. Based on what they are framing in the media", he said.
Aside from repudiating the AMSR-UKB action, the Sodara alliance also highlighted the democratic process that they consider to be increasingly worrying, which has been marred by gross ethical violations by former Constitutional Court chief justice Anwar Usman, who is Widodo's brother-in-law and Rakabuming Raka's uncle.
This was followed by a Election Organisers Ethics Council (DKPP) ruling which sanction the General Elections Commission (KPU) chairperson and a number of commissioner for ethical violations because they allowed Rakabuming Raka to become a vice presidential candidate.
Around one hour after the demonstration began, the students also set fire to an old tyre. One of the participants in the middle of the crowd shouted "Burn it!" when it was their turn to speck. The students then set fire to the tyre in the middle of the crowd.
The fire burned for around five minutes until in the end Surakarta (Solo) municipal police chief Senior Commissioner Iwan Saktiadi penetrated the ranks of the demonstrators.
"Dangerous! Dangerous!", Saktiadi said to the protesters. He then pushed the tyres out and away from the crowd. (syd/arh)
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Mahasiswa Solo Gelar Demo Tandingan, Kecam Aksi Cium Tangan Gibran".]