Law and Order and Drugs in Southeast Asia

The Jokowi administration’s handling of drug offenses in Indonesia has taken a worrying turn in recent days. I am referring to a recent report about Jokowi, the police, and drug traffickers. As we all know and as Jokowi has repeatedly emphasized throughout his presidency, drugs are bad. But Jokowi is now discussing just what the appropriate legal framework ought to be for handling drug traffickers, including whether or not the police may shoot them on sight (a concept that appears in that article as “shot on site” [= tembak di tempat]).

These developments may change my current conclusions about Jokowi’s approach to handling “social ills” such as drugs, conclusions which appear in a new essay on democracy and disorder in Southeast Asia. That essay argues that the Philippines’ new president Rodrigo “The Punisher” Duterte represents just the latest example of a new kind of politics in Southeast Asia that combines democratic legitimation with a focus on “order above the law.” In the Philippines, as in Indonesia and also Thailand, drug traffickers are a common target for extrajudicial killing and a great illustration of this concept of order above the law. The argument is that drugs are such a scourge on Filipino (or Thai, or Indonesian) society that police must take whatever actions necessary to contain them.

In the current version of that essay, I note that unlike Duterte, former politicians like Thaksin Shinawatra, and aspiring national leaders like Prabowo Subianto, Jokowi does not undermine the rule of law in order to clamp down on perceived threats to social order (of which drug traffickers are just one example). However, the language that Jokowi uses is rather menacing; as Dave McRae recently tweeted,

To be clear, Jokowi does continue to hold that the rule of law determines what police can and cannot do. But head of the National Narcotics Board Budi Waseso is quoted as saying that the police are not shy about using lethal force when drug criminals resist arrest. Even raising for discussion whether or not Indonesian law allows the police to shoot drug traffickers on sight is a worrying sign about the current administration’s commitment to the rule of law.