Shoot to Kill: Drugs, Disorder, and Dutertism in Indonesia

Phelim Kine from Human Rights Watch has a new piece in New Mandala on the drug war in Indonesia. It observes that the Indonesian police are ramping up the war on drugs in Indonesia, with the killing of suspected drug dealers rising sharply in the past year. Early this month, Jakarta Police chief Idham Azis quipped “sending drug dealers to God is my business.” Last month, President Joko Widodo appears to have instructed Indonesia’s security forces to just go ahead and kill foreign drug trafficking suspects.

Although the parallels between Duterte’s war on drugs and recents efforts in Indonesia are real, and disturbing, a focus on how General X invoked Duterte when saying terrible thing Y risks focusing on the “surface” politics of Indonesia’s drug war at the expense of long term trends around the region. My recent essay in the Journal of Democracy, “Voting Against Disorder,” uses drugs as an example of the type of concern about disorderly masses that has preoccupied regimes in the region since independence. It is meaningful, if not excusable, that Jokowi’s instructions to kill drug dealers invoked foreign drug dealers. An additional piece of information is that Thailand’s Thaksin Shinawatra also encouraged his own police to kill criminals, especially drug dealers, back in the early 2000s.

Indonesia’s reliance on the security forces to eliminate threats to Indonesian society also reflects other visible trends in Indonesian politics today, including most notably the “re-militarization” of Indonesian politics in the past five years or so. I wrote at more length about the re-militarization of Indonesian politics in 2015.