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Published On: Thu, Apr 20th, 2017

Will the new Jakarta governor be firm against hardline religious groups?

FNU Testriono (TC) : Voters in Indonesia’s capital have chosen a former cabinet minister who sought the support of hardline Muslims opposing his contender, the incumbent Jakarta governor embroiled in a blasphemy case, as their new governor.

An independent, Anies Baswedan was backed by Gerindra party of Prabowo Subianto and Perindo, the party of Donald Trump’s business partner in Indonesia Harry Tanoesudibyo. Reuters/Beawiharta

An independent, Anies Baswedan was backed by Gerindra party of Prabowo Subianto and Perindo, the party of Donald Trump’s business partner in Indonesia Harry Tanoesudibyo. Reuters/Beawiharta

Anies Baswedan, who ran in the Jakarta gubernatorial race after being dismissed from his position as education minister last July, won yesterday’s second round of Jakarta governor’s race. He gained 58% of votes, according to a quick sample of votes by several polling organisations.

Anies’ candidacy was backed mainly by the Gerindra party of Prabowo Subianto and the Islamist party, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS). In addition, Perindo, the party of Donald Trump’s business partner in Indonesia Harry Tanoesudibyo, supported Anies’ candidacy in the runoff election.

Governor Basuki Tjahaya Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, has conceded defeat.

Anies’ political compromise

Anies won the race after seeking the support of Islamist groups that had mobilised enormous rallies demanding the imprisonment of Ahok for allegedly insulting Islam. This is worrying.

Anies, who was rector of Paramadina University founded by the late preeminent moderate Islamic scholar Nurcholis Madjid, had for a long time represented the face of moderate and tolerant Islam.

However, as a challenger to an incumbent with high approval rating, it is difficult for Anies to exploit policy issues per se. So in his pursuit of the coveted Jakarta governor position, he approached Islamic militia groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), notorious for its hardline stance and violent attacks against minorities.

This raises the questions about whether Anies could keep his distance from the radical Islamic groups as leader of Indonesia’s capital. And whether he would ensure that religious minorities, such as Syiah and Ahmadiyya communities, LGBT people and survivors of the violent 1965 anticommunist purges – groups that are often targets of attacks by hardline Islamic militias – will be protected.

It has been common in Indonesia for the State to fail to act against religious intolerance and violence. Some local governments even support intolerant acts carried out by Islamic hardline groups.

Having received the support from Islamic hardline groups, it may be difficult for Anies to act firmly against them. These groups wished for implementation of Sharia Law in Indonesia. They also often play the role as morality police by carrying out attacks and raids to, among others, night clubs especially during the Islamic fasting month.

Emotion rules voters

The Jakarta election shows that ethno-religious sentiment had been a powerful instrument to mobilise voters in Jakarta. The Islamists, as in some other Muslim countries, are skillful in exploiting the religious sentiments to pursue their agenda.

It seems, though it needs to be further examined by available empirical data, part of Jakarta electorate chose its leader based on emotions rather than rationality.

According to perception polls, more than 70% of Jakarta’s public are satisfied with Ahok’s performance as governor. Rational voters would choose a candidate based on his policies and program oriented campaign promises. Yet, Ahok’s electability one week prior to the election was 46.9%, and had never been beyond 48% since October 2016.

Incumbent Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaya Purnama. It seems more time is needed to see an elected Chinese governor in a Muslim majority province in Indonesia or the country’s president. Reuters/Darren Whiteside

Incumbent Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaya Purnama. It seems more time is needed to see an elected Chinese governor in a Muslim majority province in Indonesia or the country’s president. Reuters/Darren Whiteside

Some 90% of the nearly 7 million voters in Jakarta are Muslim. Ahok’s double minority identities, Christian and Chinese Indonesian, made it difficult for him to secure the majority of votes, especially after massive religious-based mobilisations against him.

Emotion then seemed to influence most voters to choose the winning candidate. Islamic groups that oppose Ahok used his criticism of his opponents for using a verse in the Qur’an to move people who might view Ahok as a successful leader against him.

The Islamic groups stirred voters’ emotions not only through mobilising large rallies against Ahok, but also through repeated religious sermons. This seemed to have succeeded in influencing voters. Voters may have considered Ahok as a successful governor, but through these mobilisation by Islamist religious clerics they became doubtful or even feel averse to Ahok.

Had Indonesian Islam failed a “litmus test”?

Jakarta governor election had been considered as a “litmus test” for Indonesian democracy. Muslim democrats in Jakarta unfortunately failed the litmus test in this election. It seems more time is needed to see an elected Chinese governor in a Muslim majority province in Indonesia or the country’s president.

Jakarta_Indonesia_Apr 2017_Anies BaswedanIslamists_TC_Reuters_Darren Whiteside

Anies Baswedan won the race after seeking the support of Islamist groups that had mobilised enormous rallies demanding the imprisonment of Basuki Tjahaya Purnama. Reuters/Darren Whiteside

While the threat of rising intolerance in Indonesia is disheartening, the cooperation with hardline Islamic groups to win an election is so worrying amid Indonesians’ efforts to build a healthy and mature democracy.

The success of Islamist groups strategy in stirring voters’ emotions, and bringing the candidate that they support to win, will likely be a precedent for elections in other regions in Indonesia.

If this happens, it will be difficult for Indonesia’s democracy to mature. Hardline religious groups would gain ground. Indonesia will be have to deal with more serious problems in managing religious intolerant groups who find political allies in politicians and local authorities pursuing to secure their election.

FNU Testriono, The Conversation    –   FNU Testriono is Researcher at the Center for the Study of Islam and Society (PPIM), Universitas Islam Negeri Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta 

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