|Vale traditional Indonesian values
— by Elizabeth Kendal
Posted: 11 Apr 2019 10:25 PM PDT
Indonesians will go to the polls on Wednesday 17 April to elect a president and vice-president, a weak 136-seat Senate, a powerful 575-seat House of Representatives, provincial legislatures and local councils.
“Young voters are far from a homogenous group and many of those who are well connected online also hold deeply conservative views.
“One survey of school and university students by Jakarta’s State Islamic University in late 2017 found that 33 percent of young Muslims believed that acts of intolerance against minorities were ‘not a problem’ and 34 percent even believed that non-believers should be killed.”
Presidential Poll: Close and Profoundly Polarising
Polling indicates that the incumbent President Joko Widodo (57, also known as Jokowi) will be returned as president with the conservative Islamic cleric Ma’ruf Amin (76) as his Vice-President. However, the gap between Jokowi and his perpetual rival, the controversial former Suharto-era military commander Prabowo Subianto (68), has narrowed. Subianto and his running mate, the telegenic billionaire businessman Sandiaga Uno (49), have pitched their message not only to the poor who feel left behind by Jokowi’s pro-development and pro-foreign investment policies, but to the more hard-line and intolerant, Jokowi-hating fundamentalist Islamists. Pundits expect the race to be not only close, but profoundly polarising.
John McBeth reports for Asia Times Online (9 April), “The demarcation line between voters is clear: those who support Widodo, an avowed pluralist, don’t see Islam as the basis of the state. But those who favor deeper Islamisation are behind Prabowo.”
Jakarta-based Amanda Hodge is the South East Asia correspondent for The Australian. She comments (9 April) that the differences between the two presidential candidates were on display in the two political rallies that took place on Sunday 7 April.
“While challenger and former Suharto-era military commander Prabowo Subianto’s 150,000-strong morning rally at a Jakarta stadium was an angry sermon against corruption and foreign plunderers to a sea of Islamic white, Jokowi’s afternoon carnival celebrated a vast diversity of ethnicities, races and religions.
“So stark has Indonesia’s polarisation along identity lines become this election, former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono [SBY] – whose Democrats Party backs Prabowo’s bid – ¬issued a weekend warning of the importance of governing for all. ‘As a former president, I would hate Indonesia to be divided into those who are pro-Pancasila and pro-caliphate,’ he wrote in a letter to party leaders, referring to Indonesia’s founding philosophy of unity in diversity. ‘If such polarisation continues in this campaign, I worry that this nation will indeed be divided into two opposing sides who will forever be in conflict with each other.’
Hodge confirms (8 April), “Prabowo and his 49-year-old billionaire equities-dealer running mate, Sandiaga Uno, are polling higher among urban youth – a significant voter pool in a country where almost 40 per cent of the 192 million voters are under 35.
“Prabowo has also cornered the conservative Islamic vote, which will no doubt welcome exiled cleric Rizieq Shihab’s endorsement by video-link yesterday from Mecca. The Islamic Defenders Front [FPI] leader, who fled the country in 2017 after he was charged with pornography offences and insulting the state ideology, urged voters to stage a ‘constitutional jihad’ at the ballot box and change their president.”
The Prabowo Subianto-Sandiaga Uno ticket has also won support from the now-banned Indonesian Hizbut Tahrir (HTI) which supports the establishment of a caliphate and the adoption of Islamic Sharia law.
In truth, these hardline Islamists have no love for Subianto or Uno, both of whom are nominal Muslims at best. But while their affection for Subianto and Uno is luke-warm and pragmatic, but their hatred for Joko Widodo red-hot and supreme.
Meanwhile, the pro-development Jokowi-Ma’ruf ticket has secured the backing of Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation, the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). This is unsurprising considering Ma’ruf Amin was NU Supreme Leader until he stepped down in September 2018 in order to enter politics. Instead he will serve as a member of NU’s advisory board.
As noted by Tim Mann (University of Melbourne), “voter dissatisfaction has led to a growing movement of people declaring that they would rather sit the election out or ‘donkey vote’ (golput) than vote for either of the candidates on offer”.
Indeed, according to a recent survey by Indikator Politik, at least 20 percent of Indonesia’s roughly 192 million registered voters will abstain from voting in the presidential poll due to the deep dissatisfaction they feel with regards to the candidates.
These are voters who would never vote for Subianto, primarily on account of his penchant for authoritarianism and alleged human rights abuses as a Kopassus general. But they also feel let down by Jokowi, and not only because he has failed to deliver on many of his promises. Many who would have voted for Jokowi will now be non-voters or golongan putih (golput) precisely because Jokowi’s vice-presidential running mate is Ma’ruf Amin, the cleric who, as NU Supreme Leader, testified against the ethnic Chinese Christian Governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) in the controversial blasphemy trial two years ago [See: Ahok’s Blasphemy, Religious Liberty Monitoring (29 Nov 2016)].
“Jokowi’s apparent ideological shift may be more for expediency to ensure victory, but voters from his traditional support base to the left of the political spectrum fear it could have major policy implications for his next administration.
“Many have declared through social media memes that they will not vote, making clear they did not endorse the shift, but that they would not give their vote to the challenger who is even further to the right, embracing hard-line Islamic groups.
“How far to the right of the political spectrum is Jokowi shifting? Will he be able to resist pressures from Muslim conservatives and the military who want to have more say in his next government?
“Almost assured of election victory, Jokowi’s political fate is now very much in the hands of those on the left of the political spectrum. If there are enough of them too angry to vote because of his shift to the right, they could well deliver victory to Prabowo.”
Presidential Poll: “The Islamists Have Already Won”
Renown Indonesian novelist Eka Kurniawan believes that by nominating Ma’ruf as his Vice President, Jokowi “has built a Trojan horse for his opponents outside the walls of his own city”.
In comparing the 2019 election to that of 2014, Mr Kurniawan notes, “This year, it seems, the decisive issue will be the candidates’ professed commitment to Islam.”
According to Mr Kurniawan, “polarisation has deepened since Jakarta’s gubernatorial election two years ago.
“Mr. Prabowo and the rest of the opposition evidently learned a lot from Mr. Basuki’s [Ahok’s] downfall. In 2014, they ran an antiquated campaign based on the supposed resurgence of communism and the Indonesian Communist Party, and failed. The  Jakarta election has taught them that tapping Muslim values is an effective way to galvanize popular support.
“With the Islamization of Indonesian society now evidently being mobilized toward political ends, Mr. Joko must proceed with caution. Yet he may have gone too far.
“To give a good impression to Muslim voters, Mr. Joko has been presenting himself as a pious leader who worships diligently. He has even become a prayer imam and makes frequent visits to Islamic boarding schools. He has also closed his eyes and ears to certain cases brought on religious grounds, knowing that any statement could inflame grass-roots Muslims. . .”
Concerning Ma’ruf Amin, Mr Kurniawan says, “He isn’t just conservative; he is intolerant. He forbids the exchange of Christmas greetings. He rejects the Ahmadiyya, an alternative Islamic sect. He condemns L.G.B.T. activities. He wants to limit houses of worship for non-Muslims.
“Mr. Joko might remain in power, but we don’t have to wait until April to find out the real outcome of this race. No matter who ends up being president, conservative Islamic groups, backed by radical groups, will win — have already won — the election.”
“Shi’a and Ahmadiyah Muslims still face discrimination. Accusations of blasphemy are still used against minorities who demonstrate religious understandings or practices that differ from the majority. Minorities still face extreme difficulty building houses of worship.
“If Jokowi is re-elected, the chances of this trend reversing are slim. Under Ma’ruf, MUI has been unwilling to accept arguments in support of minorities based on their constitutional right to religious freedom, instead relying on conservative religious interpretations that benefit the majority Muslim community. With Ma’ruf as vice president, things could well become a lot worse for minorities than they already are.”
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.
She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).