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Fears grow over the Islamization of Indonesian democracy

Jakarta governor poll shows religion taking precedence over social issues, observers say

Fears grow over the Islamization of Indonesian democracy

Anies' supporters celebrate his poll victory over Basuki Tjahaja Purnama at his election HQ in Menteng, Jakarta on April 19. (ucanews.com photo)

Ryan Dagur and Konradus Epa, Jakarta
Indonesia

April 21, 2017

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Sofie Kartini, chose to vote for Muslim candidate Anies Rasyid Baswedan in Jakarta's highly-charged governor election on April 19. 

Baswedan's rival, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama — commonly known as Ahok — is Christian and of Chinese descent, so it was easy for her to decide.

"The Quran obligates me to choose a Muslim," she told ucanews.com at a Jakarta polling station. 

"Ahok has hurt us by insulting the Quran," the 53-years old said, referring to Ahok's ongoing blasphemy case.

"He has treated us as like animals," Kartini added.

"As a member of the Chinese minority, he must respect us as a majority."

Though satisfied with Ahok's performance, Aryana, another Muslim voter, said she opted for Anies and hoped the former education minister continues Ahok's social programs and keeps his promises.

The reason was simple. "He is Muslim," the 22-year-old said.

Sobur, a member of the hardline group, Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), said by supporting Anies, they wanted "to make Jakarta more religious."

"Ahok was clean and wanted to work for the people. But we don't like Jakarta being led by a non Muslim because Muslims are the majority in this city," he said.

 

Sofie Kartini says she was obliged to choose a Muslim candidate in the Jakarta election by the Quran. (ucanews.com photo)

 

Religious sentiment

Most voters were influenced by religious and anti-Chinese sentiment in the election campaign.

As a result crucial issues such as education, health care, transport, infrastructure development and chronic flooding were overlooked during the campaign.

Ahok's blasphemy case — for saying politicians were using verses from the Quran to incite voters not to vote for non-Muslim politicians — took center stage and was used by Islamic hardliners to try and oust him. 

The FPI led several mass protests in Jakarta demanding Ahok be jailed.

Political supporters of Anies also participated in the rallies, including Amies Rais, founder of the National Mandate Party who openly attacked Ahok, labeling him as "very arrogant."

Local mosques also posted banners saying it was forbidden for Muslims to vote for a non-Muslim candidate in a country long dominated by a moderate form of Islam. More than 80 percent of Indonesia's population is Muslim.

The election result, based on an unofficial "quick count" by Indikator Politik showed that Anies won 58 percent of the vote versus 42 percent for Ahok. Other pollsters showed similar results.

Members of hardline groups celebrated the result at a mosque in central Jakarta, praying and cheering for the governor-elect.  Anies's main backer, Prabowo Subianto, who Joko Widodo defeated in the 2014 presidential election also attended the celebrations.

Prabowo said Anies owed his victory largely to Muslim clerics, with them having played a greater role in the campaign than politicians.

He also called on his rivals to stop branding conservative clerics such as FPI leader Rizieq Shihab and Muslim People's Forum (FUI) leader Bachtiar Nasir as radicals who want to commit treason.

Prabowo had many reasons to cheer Anies' victory. The Jakarta poll is often seen as a prelude to the 2019 presidential election, when President Widodo will likely face off again against Prabowo.

 

Lesson for democracy

Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy chairman of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace said the election result clearly showed Ahok fell victim to Islamic groups using religion as a political weapon.

"This is an important lesson for democracy in Indonesia, which is immature, where people make choices based on primordial sentiments that are not based on a candidate's capabilities," he said.

"There is the big irony — according to various surveys 70 percent of Jakarta residents were satisfied with Ahok's performance in office, but they then did not vote for him."

The election, he said, also shows that Islamization is deepening in society, especially in urban areas. 

"People were so quick to obey the demands of religion, even though this goes against rationality, especially when choosing leaders. Other interpretations of religious views are not accepted, but they followed only what certain religious leaders said which were for political purposes," he said.

Ahok's defeat would embolden hardline Islamic groups to further pressure the city and national governments into putting in place an ultraconservative agenda, including introducing Islamic law and banning the sale of alcohol.

"This also gives them a stage in Indonesia's politics. This election case will surely be used by other Islamic candidates in other regional elections and national polls," Naipospos said.

Father Benny Susetyo, former executive secretary of the bishops' conference's commission on inter-faith relations, said the Jakarta election result is a dangerous sign for minority groups.

"Minorities will face intolerance in the future," he said.

"Religious sentiment will be used time and again to gain votes," he warned.

 

Muslims deny

However, Amidhan Shaberah, the chairman of the Indonesia Ulema Council took a different view, saying although there was immense pressure on Ahok before the election, "there was no politicization of religion."

"What happened in the Jakarta election was that people did not like Ahok," he said, adding that perceived injustices gave Anies victory.

"This is Ahok's own fault, even though he's a clean person, not corrupt," he said. 

"Indonesian Muslims deeply respect other religions and diversity," he claimed.

Novel Bamukmin, a FPI official called Anies' victory a gift from God.

Bamukmid said his organization, with 7 million members nationwide, would strive to ensure Muslim candidates win future elections, both local and national. 

"This is a religious demand."

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