Projek Dialog

Bahasa Pasca-Reformasi

by Yvonne Tan

When the #Lawan black flags were raised from July 3 onwards along with the hashtags #BenderaHitam and #KerajaanGagal, I couldn’t help but see similarities the 2019 Indonesian Protests which also featured the black flag with the hashtag #ReformasiDiKorupsi which became the slogan of the movement along with #DewanPenghkianatRakyat, #SemuaBisaKena, and #MosiTidakPercaya. Plenty of comparisons have been made between Indonesia and Malaysia’s Reformasi movement in 1998 which saw the resignation of Suharto and challenged Mahathir’s administration. Without a doubt, the slogan and idea of Reformasi continue to remain salient in the protest language of both our nations, but this time around the protests hold a deep sense of distrust against the state’s ability to carry out meaningful reforms.  

1998 protests were some of the biggest student-led demonstrations the two countries have seen which primarily went against the corruption of the New Order and Mahathir regimes, encapsulated by the term “KKN” which stands for korupsi, kolusi and nepotisme. The 2019 Indonesian protests were the largest student movement since that of 1998 followed by larger nationwide 2020 Omnibus Bill Protests. One of the early petitions which garnered thousands of signatures was titled “Indonesia Bersih, Presiden Tolak Revisi UU KPK!” echoing Bersih’s yearly electoral reform movement.

Ariel Heryanto argued that “pembangunan/development” has deeply shaped the social history of modern Indonesia beginning with Suharto’s New Order. There same can be said with Mahathir officially dubbed as “Bapa Kemodenan” and despite debates about what “Mahathirism” means, at the heart of it, lied some weird sense of “Malay economic backwardness” and the concept of “Bangsa Malaysia” of which its nationalism would be rooted in heavy industrialization and privatization.  

On the other hand of preoccupation with socio-economic prosperity which took a turn with the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, Heryanto states that the Center for Development and Advancement of Language assisted the New Order government in ‘purifying society’s vocabulary and memory of political elements” where “demonstrasi” or “demo” has been officially replaced by the term “unjuk rasa”. In 1985, “buruh” and “Serikat Buruh” was officially replaced with “pekerja” and “Serikat Pekerja” citing its left-wing connotations which was later replaced by “karyawan” [1]. The same attempts at de-politicization happened in Malaysia with phasing out the student movement in higher education via the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 while typically dismissing political mobilisations as ethnic strife dividing the nation. 

With heavy state interventions, the recent social movements under the black flag and accompanying hashtags have built their own vocabularies to capture their struggle and demands and utilize social media channels. #ReformasidiKorupsi was marked by the involvement of many musicians as well such as Ananda Badudu (one half of folk duo Banda Neira) who was arrested for funding the protest movement and Efek Rumah Kaca’s 2008 song “Mosi Tidak Percaya” resurfaced to form the one of the protests’ anthems: “Ini mosi tidak percaya, jangan anggap kami tak berdaya / Ini mosi tidak percaya, kami tak mau lagi diperdaya”. While singing another band formed by political science students from Universiti Indonesia called .Feast released the song “Peradaban” which could land you in jail whenever it was sung in front of DPR. The ending of the song prompted people to “Lawan, Kawan” while other lines of the song went:

Beberapa orang menghakimi lagi
Walaupun diludahi jaman seribu kali
Beberapa orang memaafkan lagi
Walau sudah ditindas habis berkali-kali

The protest anthems echoed the cyclical oppression their country continues to be embroiled in despite the masses having offered repeated chances, and an eventual call for people to reclaim power. It was part of the “air of optimism clouded the students who were once again labeling themselves as the agents for change. Labour unions sang the songs of revolutions […] The nation was hopeful that the massive protests could finally end the unjust state-citizens social contract deeply rooted in Indonesia’s political practices.” [2]

Badan Eksekutif Mahasiswa Universitas Indonesia initially gathered under a much more forgiving title “Gerak Kolaboratif Kamisan: Tolak Capim KPK Bermasalah” on 5 September hosting consecutive events. They eventually called for protests ranging in titles from “Aksi #NyalakanTandaBahaya” and “Aksi Menolak Upaya Pelemahan Pemberantasan Korupsi” before culminating into the title “Aksi #Reformasi diKorupsi” and “Aksi Tuntaskan Reformsi” on 19 September 2019. What began as holding Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK) accountable via their leader election process as an independent state agency tasked with eradicating corruption quickly developed in the span of weeks. Mass protests throughout the nation under the 7 demands were carried out with the passing of a bill to weaken the role of KPK on 17 September. Corruption remains at the heart of the 2019 protests like in 1998, the tagline of “Reformasi” is invoked and the continuation of the struggle and rejection of New Order with the tagline “Aksi atau Orba” or “Orba paling baru”:

“Reformasi merupakan hal yang telah diperjuangkan oleh seluruh elemen masyarakat, termasuk mahasiswa. Sejatinya, reformasi merupakan cerminan bahwa mahasiswa memiliki kekuatan besar sebagai penyambung lidah rakyat. Hal tersebut ditunjukkan melalui rangkaian perjuangan dan aksi mahasiswa.

Namun, hari ini reformasi justru dicederai melalui undang-undang yang berbanding terbalik dengan cita-cita reformasi. Korupsi yang menjadi faktor kunci terciptanya reformasi justru dihidupkan kembali. Demokrasi diberangus dengan pasal-pasal di RKUHP, rakyat kecil ditindas melalui RUU Pertanahan, dan masih banyak lagi produk hukum yang bermasalah.

Inilah saatnya seluruh elemen masyarakat terutama mahasiswa menyatakan sikap untuk mendesak pemerintah untuk segera menuntaskan reformasi, bukan justru memangkasnya! Mari, bersama kita lanjutkan perjuangan pada hari, tanggal: Selasa, 24 September 2019” 

On the other hand, the #Lawan movement began very differently with online protests, where netizens were encouraged to express dissent and their 3 demands via posting a picture of the black flag raised in their homes on social media. It eventually culminated in calls to protest physically via car drive-bys under the banner #KonvoiLawan and eventually a call to #KeluardanLawan gathering at Dataran Merdeka. With more police intimidation tactics used, “#LawanTetapLawan” would be used to signify doubling down on one’s beliefs, typically with a picture in front of IDP Dang Wangi. It was also adopted by Syed Saddiq after being charged with two counts of money laundering in a politically motivated move. The protest songs emphasized the government’s mishandling of the Covid-19 situation and also the importance of their voice:


gagal bodoh bangsat
antara dua darjat
rakyat makin tenant
pembunuh dah melarat

suara bergema
minta jatuh segera
rasakanlah gempa
turun ke jalan raya

Rather than a larger system that has allowed corruption to thrive, Muhyiddin and his government are targeted as the “Koruptor” echoing the surge of the use of “Kleptocracy” and “Kleptokrat” for Najib and his administration’s role in 1MDB. With figureheads targeted as the problem, #KerajaanDerhaka was also adopted by the #Lawan movement after the Royal Palace issued a statement of disappointment that emergency ordinances had been revoked with His Majesty’s consent. With 3 demands, the #Lawan movement emphasizes the problem to be in in the government’s leadership unlike Indonesia’s demand for alternative political practices at large:

“Sekretariat Solidariti Rakyat menegaskan bahawa Kerajaan Perikatan Nasional tidak ada kemampuan untuk menyelamatkan negara ini keluar daripada pandemik Covid-19 serta kesannya terhadap ekonomi, kehidupan dan nyawa rakyat. 

Sudah tiba masanya rakyat mempunyai pemimpin yang sedar diri, bertanggunawab dan rendah hati dalam memahami denyut nadi rakyat. Kita tidak perlukan pemimpin yang sentiasa memperlekeh derita rakyat dan membuat keputusan yang menyusahkan rakyat jelata.

Kini rakyat perlu menunjukkan di mana letak duduk martabat kita dalam negara ini. Kita tidak ingin bermusuh dengan sesiapa melainkan politikus yang gila kuasa dan mengendahkan kesusahan yang dialami oleh rakyat.”

The Indonesian protests recognize that Reformasi was never a short-term struggle but one that would take decades and consistently hold the government accountable for, a struggle that anyone could take up. However, Reformasi in Malaysia continues to be tied closely to the political figure of Anwar Ibrahim. The freeing of Anwar Ibrahim and his party PKR garnering electoral victory in 2018 stirred people to utilize the Reformasi slogan rather than during the #Lawan movement. This continuation of a larger struggle under this banner of “Reformasi” is not necessarily felt in Malaysia having to deal with the conundrums of voting Mahathir back into power and having witnessed political careerism during the pandemic from all camps. 

Although there are plenty of differences between both very dynamic and decentralized social movements that are impossible to capture in this short article, they are both mobilized primarily by youths without political party affiliations and a deep critique against the failures of the government to make any politically meaningful changes. Unlike 1998, where particular politicians have been attributed with contributing to the movement in a big way, this time there is no such optimism in that the people in power have any interest to do so. From scathing protest slogans surrounding DPR such as #DewanPenghkianatRakyat and “Dewan Tikus Berdasi” and while Malaysia dubs opposition politicians that switched parties to no end to form the ruling party called the “11 Pengkhianat” and “Penipu Nasional”. As we struggle to carve out the countries we would like to see and create new vocabularies, solidarities, and ways to resist, let them know they messed with the wrong generation, let the black flag fly across the region!


[1] Ariel Heryanto, “Ideological Baggage and Orientations of the Social Sciences in Indonesia” in Vedi R. Hadiz and Daniel Dhakidae (eds.) Social Science and Power in Indonesia, (Jakarta and Singapore: Equinox Publishing and Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2005).  

[2] Aldo Marchiano Kaligis, A Year After Reformasi Dikorupsi Movement, The Whiteboard Journal, 10 September 2020,

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