Activists take part in a protest in Surabaya against a government omnibus bill on job creation, on 25 August 2020. (Photo: Juni Kriswanto, AFP)

Indonesian Muslim Groups Oppose Omnibus Law

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President Jokowi’s unpopular job creation law creates a new rift with Indonesia’s leading Islamic groups.

Since the early days of his second term as president, Jokowi has sought the passage of the Omnibus Law on Job Creation (RUU Cipta Kerja), commonly referred to as the “Omnibus Law.” The president argues that Indonesia needs to promote foreign investment to boost its sluggish development. Jokowi has used the economic damage wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic, that has hit Indonesia hard, to argue in favour of the law. This law will shorten administration procedures and create a more favourable business climate.

On 5 October, Indonesia’s House of Representatives (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat RI) passed the draft Omnibus Law, despite significant public criticism. Public opposition to the Omnibus law was expected, yet lawmakers chose to ignore it. As a consequence, several demonstrations against the new law took place in various places on that day, the largest in Jakarta, and continue unabated. These protests are being organised by student associations, labour unions and NGOs.

The mainstream Muslim organisations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, also rejected the Omnibus Law. Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which backed the Jokowi-Ma’ruf Amin ticket in the 2019 presidential election, stated that it will challenge the new law in the Constitutional Court and is demanding a judicial review. In an 8 October statement, NU, Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation, while expressing appreciation of government efforts to improve the economy, criticised the deliberation process of the Omnibus Law for not giving adequate consideration to the concerns of affected workers and the public.

NU contends that the Omnibus Law has a capitalistic orientation, referring to Article 65 of the law that opens up the university sector much wider to foreign providers. It also criticised the adverse implications of the Omnibus Law for labour protection and the environment.

Muhammadiyah, the second largest Muslim organisation in the country, has adopted a similar stance in rejecting the Omnibus Law. Before being passed into law, Muhammadiyah asked parliament to delay or remove the deliberation of the draft Omnibus Law from the National Legislative Program (PROLEGNAS), arguing that the country should focus on dealing with the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak.

Although Muhammadiyah is critical of the Omnibus law, the organisation believes that protests are not an effective way to challenge the law. Muhammadiyah, like Nahdlatul Ulama, supports a judicial review as the means to quash the law.

Both organisations understand the challenges Jokowi faces in leading the country, but they feel that he does not listen enough to their concerns.

Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI, Indonesian Ulama Council) is divided on this issue (and others). The pro-Ma’ruf Amin group in the MUI has remained silent, while the opposing group published a statement of refusal (Taklimat MUI terkait Penetapan UU Cipta Kerja) on 8 October. The MUI Taklimat rejects the Omnibus Law, arguing that it favours big businessmen and foreign investors. This MUI faction suggests, as with Muhammadiyah, that the government should focus on mitigating Covid-19 instead of passing such a controversial law that can worsen social polarisation.

The MUI Taklimat, in this regard, supports both the demonstrations and a judicial review as ways of expressing the people’s disapproval of the new law. Interestingly, the MUI statement is only signed by Muhyiddin Junaidi, a vice chairman who is against Ma’ruf Amin and Anwar Abbas, the secretary general of the MUI. Ma’ruf Amin, Indonesia’s vice-president, remains the MUI’s general chairman.

Overall, NU, Muhammadiyah and MUI have taken similar stances by publicly criticising the Omnibus Law’s undemocratic and untransparent legislative process. They understand that the right of drafting and passing the law belongs to the government and parliament, but as a democratic state, they assert that the legislative process should consider public concerns.

More broadly, NU and Muhammadiyah’s protests against this controversial economic law indicate their growing dissatisfaction with Jokowi. To some extent, the dissatisfaction has been mounting since the early days of Jokowi’s second and final presidential term. Both organisations understand the challenges Jokowi faces in leading the country, but they feel that he does not listen enough to their concerns.

The president seems to trust only his own inner circle – his political allies and some business people. Ignoring the recommendations of NU and Muhammadiyah is likely to cost Jokowi significant support from Indonesian Muslims. Without full support from both, Jokowi will face more difficulties in leading the country going forward.

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