Asia

Ahok’s defeat highlights twin threats facing Jokowi

Ahok’s defeat highlights twin threats facing Jokowi
Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (L) poses beside Indonesia's President Joko Widodo after his swearing-in at the Presidential palace in Jakarta, November 19, 2014. Reuters file photo
Rising Islamism and renewed clout of old political, business elite are concerns for President
Published: 4:00 AM, April 21, 2017
Updated: 12:30 PM, April 21, 2017

JAKARTA — The thumping win by Mr Anies Baswedan in the bitterly fought election for Jakarta governor signals twin threats to Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo: From rising Islamism and the renewed clout of Indonesia’s old political and business elites.

Mr Baswedan thanked supporters after taking a decisive lead in the unofficial count on Wednesday afternoon, but not before his political patron, Mr Prabowo Subianto, claimed victory first — thanking the scions of Indonesia’s establishment by his side.

“Our focus is social justice, ending inequality and our commitment is to safeguard diversity and unity,” said Mr Baswedan.

The conciliatory tone contrasted with the fractious nature of a campaign that challenged Indonesia’s religious and ethnically tolerant traditions, and comments made by Mr Baswedan on the eve of the election. He compared the poll to the Battle of Badr, a pivotal fight in the early days of Islam that consolidated the Prophet Muhammad’s power, a win ascribed to divine intervention.

The Jakarta election was marked by the blasphemy trial of Mr Baswedan’s rival, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who allegedly mocked a verse in the Quran used by his opponents to claim Muslims could not vote for anyone with different religious beliefs.

Purnama — known by his Chinese nickname of “Ahok” — is a Christian and ethnic Chinese in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation. Huge, well-funded anti-Purnama protests in November and December sank his high approval ratings. They were organised by hitherto fringe Islamists drawn from violent vigilante groups and Salafists influenced by Saudi Arabia’s puritanical brand of Islam.

Conservative clerics took the anti-Purnama message to the mosques throughout the campaign, said Ms Eva Kusuma Sundari, a senior official in Mr Widodo’s party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle. “This is a major defeat for us. The landscape is changing and it’s not favourable to us,” she said. “We have to figure out our own understanding of this political Islam without giving up our constitutional and nationalistic approach.”

Professor Tim Lindsey, an Indonesia analyst from the University of Melbourne, said Islamist groups had “emerged from the fringe” to become a force. “This is a rehearsal for (the 2019 presidential election) and it sends a very clear message that if you play the Islam card, it’s going to help you,” he said. “If groups like these can get hundreds of thousands on the streets, you are going to want to use that power.”

Mr Baswedan drew criticism in December after giving a speech to the Islamic Defenders Front, which led street protests against Purnama. The controversy hurt Purnama enough to deny him 50 per cent of the vote in February, forcing this week’s runoff with Mr Baswedan.

Mr Slamet Maarif, a spokesman for the Islamic Defenders Front, one of the main forces behind the push to prevent a Christian from leading Indonesia’s Muslim-majority capital, said the group was already eyeing the 2019 poll.

“We will maintain the existing unity of Muslims. And we will prepare Muslim unity for 2019,” he said.

Mr Widodo defeated Mr Prabowo in the 2014 presidential election to become the first Indonesian from outside the elites to assume the country’s highest office. He was catapulted to national prominence after becoming governor of Jakarta, with Purnama serving as his deputy.

His reform agenda has antagonised some in the business establishment who chafe against his calls for more foreign investment and increased competition in some sectors of the economy.

Among those standing alongside Mr Baswedan and Mr Prabowo as they claimed victory were moguls Mr Aburizal Bakrie, Mr Hashim Djojohadikusumo and Mr Hary Tanoesoedibjo. All were prominent businessmen with links to the three-decade authoritarian regime of Suharto before he was ousted from power in 1998 during the Asian financial crisis.

Mr Baswedan’s running mate is another Indonesian tycoon, Mr Sandiaga Uno, who made his fortune with Saratoga Investama Sedaya Tbk, an investment holding company he co-founded almost 20 years ago in the wake of the Asian financial crisis.

Mr Uno said last week that he spent 80 billion rupiah (S$8.4 million) of his own money on the campaign.

Mr Prabowo, a former general and son-in-law of Suharto, was banned from entering the United States over his alleged human rights abuses as a military commander tasked with disrupting the student protests that eventually toppled Suharto and ushered in Indonesia’s democratic era.

Considered a spent force after his defeat in 2014, Mr Prabowo now has a platform to raise money and increase his profile ahead of another tilt at the presidency in 2019, said Mr Wimar Witoelar, a political analyst and former presidential spokesman.

“(Baswedan) will be indebted,” he said. “The Jakarta government will be a pawn in the political play for 2019.”

With allies running Jakarta, Mr Prabowo will be able to thwart some of Mr Widodo’s policies, according to Mr Tobias Basuki, a researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta. “Prabowo still stands a good chance” in the 2019 election, he said.

Gerinda deputy chairman Ferry Juliantono said yesterday that Mr Prabowo will build on the Jakarta victory in his bid for the 2019 presidential election. “Pak Prabowo still wants to join the 2019 presidency,” he said. AGENCIES