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Indonesia Fuel Price Hike Ignites Protests

It has been a tough week for Indonesia which finally decided to raise fuel prices. The controversial new energy policy sparked a lot of debates and arguments especially since the presidential election is only a few months away.

The government insists the price hike is necessary to save the economy. This was argued by Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Jero Wacik:

To save the economy, higher fuel prices will take effect as of tomorrow ( Saturday, June 22)

He later detailed that the new price for Premium fuel is 6,500 rupiah (66 US cents) per liter, up from 4,500 rupiah; and Solar diesel will cost 5,500 rupiah per liter, also up from 4,500 rupiah per liter.

For many years, the government has been attempting to raise fuel prices. Last April 2012, several protests in key Indonesian cities succeeded in blocking the planned fuel price hike.

Indonesians at last learned the bitter fact of the price hike after weeks haunted by predictions, uncertainty and anxiety caused by media reporting.

The fateful decision was announced after Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (Indonesian House of Representatives) passed the draft bill of 2013. The draft involved the revising of the state budget into law during the plenary session in the capital on Monday (June 17), which included the Indonesian government's proposal for a higher fuel price scheme.

As expected, various groups staged protest actions in response to the fuel price hike. Students and workers trooped to the streets to denounce the approval of the new fuel price scheme.

Students held a rally in front of the parliament building in Jakarta. Photo by Ngarto Februana, Copyright @Demotix (6/17/2013)

Students held a rally in front of the parliament building in Jakarta. Photo by Ngarto Februana, Copyright @Demotix (6/17/2013)

Thousands of workers from the Federation of Indonesian Metal Workers Union following a demonstration in front of the parliament building.. Photo by Ngarto Februana, Copyright @Demotix (6/17/2013)

Thousands of workers from the Federation of Indonesian Metal Workers Union following a demonstration in front of the parliament building.. Photo by Ngarto Februana, Copyright @Demotix (6/17/2013)

To help the poor cope with the higher fuel prices, the government has pledged to provide direct cash assistance to low income families. Only those which have Social Protection Card (KPS-Kartu Perlindungan Sosial) in 14 cities and regencies are entitled to receive the short-term aid. These 14 cities are Jakarta, Palembang, Bogor, Semarang, Yogyakarta, Surabaya, Denpasar, Banjarmasin, Solo, Makasar dan Ambon.

This is not the first time that the government has imposed higher fuel prices. According to Merdeka.com, the highest price increase was approved on March 2005. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono raised the price as much as 2,100 rupiah per liter. Prior to the increase, the fuel price was only 2,400 rupiah.

Some Indonesians rejected the cash assistance since according to them it is not exactly what the people need to cope with the fuel price hikes. Citizen reporter Ibnu Dawam Aziz wrote:

The direct cash assistance would only fool the grassroots once again.

Others think this is what the ruling party had plotted to gain and retain public favor. One of them is Jeffry Hidayat, who believes this is how the ruling Democrat party planned to recover its degrading image before the voters.

Not all Indonesians responded seriously to the hikes though. In the popular online forum Kaskus, for instance, they made and posted jokes and anecdotes of the fuel price, like Cittapallo who wrote a comic poetry.

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