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Rising Islamisation a big challenge for Jokowi in 2018 and beyond

President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo expressed his frustration with the Indonesian business community on December 12, complaining that since his election in 2014, business operators had been adopting a “wait-and-see” position in case the political situation changed. “In 2018, we will have more regional elections, and businesses will be in wait-and-see mode again,” he was quoted as saying by local media.

Rising Islamisation a big challenge for Jokowi in 2018 and beyond

Mr Widodo has marshalled the forces of tolerant Islam to defend the country’s moderate Pancasila ideology, with Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s largest Islamic organisation, steadfastly rejecting hard-line ideologies. Photo: AP

President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo expressed his frustration with the Indonesian business community on December 12, complaining that since his election in 2014, business operators had been adopting a “wait-and-see” position in case the political situation changed.

“In 2018, we will have more regional elections, and businesses will be in wait-and-see mode again,” he was quoted as saying by local media.

“In 2019, there will be the presidential election, and they will wait and see yet again. The question is, how long will they be in this wait-and-see mode?”

It was a valid question.

As the country heads into what’s been tagged “the year of politics” – in fact, 18 months of politics – it seems unlikely that any dramatic political earthquakes are going to occur.

Elections in 171 provincial and local administrations in June 2018 provide interest, but only in a few isolated areas, mainly in far-flung Papua, is there a significant risk of threats to security.

Alliances between parties in the regions don’t always translate to the national level, so it’s not possible to draw direct parallels, but the governor races in three large Java provinces – East, Central and West Java – will provide some clues to the way the nation is feeling.

A year later, the country will go to the polls again to select a president and members of the national parliament.

Most interest lies in who will rule the country after 2019. President Jokowi has a lot going for him. The country is stable, economic growth is ticking along at 5 per cent, he has tamed unruly politicians and his infrastructure drive is starting to create benefits for local economies.

Therein lies what could be the biggest mid-term threat to Singapore: that improvement in ports, airports and road systems could remove the need for transhipment of goods and people via the city-state. Mr Widodo has made it clear he wants Indonesia to take back a lot of the trade that currently transits via Singapore.

THE WILD CARD

Islamic consciousness remains the biggest long-term challenge to Indonesia’s stability. Some analysts suggest that the new Jakarta governor, Anies Baswedan, could present a challenge to Mr Widodo using appeals to conservative Muslim voters and support from a black propaganda campaign that helped him win control of the capital in 2017.

That theory, however, means he would have to stab his current political patron, Prabowo Subianto, in the back and grab the nomination.

It would also depend on Mr Baswedan demonstrating sound performance in running Jakarta. His record so far is less than impressive and it is generally assumed that Mr Subianto wants another shot at running the country.

If the 2019 elections result in a two-way stand-off between Mr Widodo and Mr Subianto, the polls suggest the result would be a repeat of 2014, probably with an even larger majority for the incumbent. And if Mr Subianto were to win, it is unlikely that his policies would be vastly different. Both politicians are pragmatists whose main interest is in advancing the economy and improving people’s lives.

The question of vice-presidential candidates has yet to be addressed. There has been speculation that Mr Widodo could choose his former Armed Forces (TNI) commander, General Gatot Nurmantyo, not least to isolate him as an independent political force. The president’s removal of the contentious commander and replacement with his ally Air Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto on December 8 was, however, preceded by a wide-ranging command rotation, in which Nurmantyo was presumably placing his cohorts in positions of influence. Marshal Tjahjanto on December 19 cancelled 16 of those appointments in a clear sign that his predecessor’s hold on power is over.

The former TNI chief is highly unlikely to be chosen as Mr Widodo’s candidate for the nation’s number two spot and the president will be hoping that Marshal Tjahjanto can avoid dissension in the ranks.

At the same time there’s no doubt that Islamic consciousness is creating a different Indonesia, in a process that has been underway now for at least two decades. Gen. Nurmantyo has attempted to utilize this trend by portraying himself both as a devout Muslim and a nationalist. Society has become more conservative, and minority groups such as leftists and LGBT groups continue to have a hard time.

But while radicals such as the Islamic Defenders Front’s (FPI) Muchsin Alatas can call for attacks on the United States embassy and consulates over the Jerusalem move by President Donald Trump, and welcome “World War III” as an opportunity for a holy war between Muslims and the rest, it will be a long time before Indonesia becomes a syariah state.

For a start, the military will not let that happen, especially now with Gen Nurmantyo no longer in charge. Mr Widodo has also marshalled the forces of tolerant Islam to defend the country’s moderate Pancasila ideology, with Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s largest Islamic organisation, steadfastly rejecting hard-line ideologies.

At the sharp end of the Islamist agenda, the terrorist movement can be expected to continue to try to make trouble, but a combination of the solid work of Police counter-terrorism unit Detachment 88 and an apparent lack of capabilities on the part of the terrorists continues to contain that threat.

TACKLING CRIME AND INEQUALITY

Another argument against a dramatic lean toward the rigours of syariah law is the reality, as the late Mochtar Lubis noted many years ago, that one of the most prominent characteristics of Indonesians is hypocrisy.

While civic leaders may call for a more moral society, at the same time they are happy to take official and non-official payments from raunchy nightlife establishments to ply their trade.

Radicals who would like to place Indonesia in a moral straight-jacket have to confront the reality that an awful lot of their countrymen – and women – just like to have fun.

It is a concern that many do so with the help of banned substances. Attempts to smuggle narcotics into the country are regularly turned up by the authorities, some in enormous quantities, but much more gets in to fuel the ‘fun’ weekends of party-goers.

The recent realisation that prescription and other pills are being misused in epic proportions has alarmed many, pointing to a collective malaise among a portion of the population that has very little to do with its leisure time except get high.

Narcotics abuse is only one side of the crime scene in this bustling nation of 260 million people. Yet despite the continuing difficulty of making a living for many, crime figures remain relatively low by international standards, and especially when compared with Central American hellholes such as Nicaragua.

There does appear to be a rise in violent crime, and one of the reasons for that is that criminals know that they have to commit their deeds as quickly as possible if they want to escape alive. Resistance is often met with a slash of a machete, often with fatal results. Thieves know that if they linger over a crime and are caught by a mob, there’s a strong chance that they will be beaten to death.

Cyber-crime is a problem along with identity theft as the country embraces the internet. A remarkable number of Indonesians are also extremely gullible, believing the word of pseudo-shamans that they can multiply cash.

While Indonesians are traditionally accepting of their fate, the main concern looking further ahead is inequity. The Credit Suisse Research Institute’s 2016 Global Wealth Report noted that the top 1 per cent of wealthiest Indonesians owned 49.3 per cent of national wealth. Once the portion owned by the middle class is taken into account, only 27 per cent of wealth is left for the bottom 50 per cent of the population.

That makes Indonesia the world’s fourth most unequal society, according to the Institute, after Russia, China and Thailand. Tolerance clearly has its limits, and while the post-Suharto reform movement has dramatically changed Indonesia, it has not done much to help lower-income groups.

They have had to stand by the roadside in their informal sector jobs while the beneficiaries of the economic advances of the past two decades sail past in their glossy cars.

The government is well aware that this is a problem. It has done what it can, creating the basics of a social welfare system. But creating a more equitable society will be an uphill battle, especially given the continuing rapacity of officials and crony business players who corrupt the system. That, over the longer term, is the issue that Indonesia needs to get right if it is to move forward to create a prosperous and just society.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Keith Loveard is senior analyst at Jakarta-based risk assessment company Concord Consulting. This is part of a series of commentaries looking at key issues in Singapore and in the region in the coming year. On Wednesday (Dec 27), look out for our commentary on what challenges Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will face in 2018.

 

 

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