Turn­ing to Re­li­gion: In­done­sia’s Wi­dodo Plays the Is­lamic Card

Global Asia - - CONTENTS - By John Mc­beth

the in­creas­ing in­flu­ence of Is­lamist is­sues has pushed the pres­i­dent to ac­com­mo­date con­ser­va­tive Is­lamic par­ties.

Joko Wi­dodo, In­done­sia’s af­fa­ble com­mon-man pres­i­dent, came to of­fice in 2014 amid high ex­pec­ta­tions that he would in­tro­duce a new po­lit­i­cal era in the coun­try — pop­ulist, ca­pa­ble and com­mit­ted to get­ting things done. But the in­creas­ing in­flu­ence of Is­lamist is­sues in na­tional and lo­cal pol­i­tics has pushed him to ac­com­mo­date, in some form or an­other, views held by con­ser­va­tive Is­lamic par­ties ahead of next year’s elec­tions. John Mc­beth ex­plores the com­plex land­scape Wi­dodo must nav­i­gate in his quest for a sec­ond term.

BACK In late 2009, a former military col­league of In­done­sian Pres­i­dent susilo Bam­bang yud­hoy­ono was asked whether In­done­sia would see the emer­gence of a new and more dy­namic leader now that yud­hoy­ono was en­ter­ing a sec­ond and man­dated fi­nal term with noth­ing to lose and the econ­omy rid­ing the crest of an his­toric com­mod­ity boom. re­tired lieu­tenant-gen­eral agus Wi­joyo, cur­rently head of In­done­sia’s na­tional De­fence In­sti­tute, paused for a mo­ment and then rather mourn­fully shook his head. Cau­tious to the core, he ex­plained, it just wasn’t in the pres­i­dent’s Dna to change the way he did busi­ness, much of which in­volved sit­ting on the fence. How right he turned out to be.

Fast for­ward a decade to Joko Wi­dodo, 57, the coun­try’s first com­mon-man pres­i­dent and the fa­vorite to win a sec­ond term him­self in the leg­isla­tive and pres­i­den­tial elec­tions to be held on april 27, 2019. this time, the ques­tion is harder to an­swer, but has even greater rel­e­vance than ever.

the mal­leable yud­hoy­ono was not known to be de­voutly re­li­gious, but dur­ing his decade in power the fun­da­men­tal­ist mus­lim re­vival that be­gan with the down­fall of long-serv­ing Pres­i­dent suharto in may 1998 took a dis­turb­ing turn and led to the world’s big­gest mus­lim-ma­jor­ity democ­racy los­ing much of its well-earned rep­u­ta­tion for tol­er­ance un­der a gath­er­ing wave of Is­lamic or­tho­doxy.

the specter of ahok

Per­haps the big­gest blow to home-bred sec­tar­i­an­ism, how­ever, has come dur­ing Wi­dodo’s first term, in 2017, when a hard­line Is­lamic coali­tion

used a ten­u­ous blas­phemy charge to de­feat and jail the pres­i­dent’s close ally, the eth­nic-chi­nese Chris­tian gov­er­nor of Jakarta, Ba­suki tja­haja Pur­nama, known as ahok, and raise un­founded charges that the pres­i­dent him­self was un-is­lamic.

One of the key in­sti­ga­tors be­hind these de­vel­op­ments, which brought down per­haps the most ef­fec­tive mu­nic­i­pal leader Jakarta had ever seen, was con­ser­va­tive mus­lim cleric ma’ruf amin, 75, who to the sur­prise and dis­may of sec­u­lar­ists and eth­nic and so­cial mi­nori­ties alike is now Wi­dodo’s choice as his 2019 run­ning mate. It po­ten­tially leaves amin a prover­bial heart­beat away from the pres­i­dency and in a po­si­tion to in­flu­ence poli­cies that could dra­mat­i­cally trans­form the char­ac­ter of In­done­sian so­ci­ety.

the late plu­ral­is­tic Pres­i­dent ab­dur­rah­man Wahid may have been the first cleric to head In­done­sia’s ex­ec­u­tive branch, but he was a far cry from amin, the long-serv­ing chair­man of the In­done­sia Ulama Coun­cil (MUI) and pres­i­dent of nahd­latul Ulama (nu), In­done­sia’s largest mus­lim or­ga­ni­za­tion, which Wahid once headed and which is un­der the grow­ing in­flu­ence of doc­tri­naire forces.

While the near-blind, of­ten-er­ratic Wahid may have failed as the coun­try’s third pres­i­dent, his le­git­i­macy and that of his suc­ces­sor, megawati sukarnop­u­tri, daugh­ter of found­ing Pres­i­dent sukarno, stemmed from their lead­er­ship of the po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion against au­thor­i­tar­ian ruler suharto, whose down­fall in 1998 spawned the birth of In­done­sia’s demo­cratic era.

De­spite claims that the de­ci­sion was forced on him by the nu-af­fil­i­ated United De­vel­op­ment Party (PPP) and na­tional awak­en­ing Party (PKB), two of the six par­lia­men­tary part­ners in the cur­rent rul­ing coali­tion, Wi­dodo has cho­sen amin for one rea­son and one rea­son only — to split the con­ser­va­tive mus­lim vote, which has clearly haunted the pres­i­dent since the Pur­nama de­ba­cle.

What wor­ries many In­done­sian plu­ral­ists is that this prece­dent will be re­peated in the fu­ture by would-be pres­i­dents who may feel that their re­li­gious cre­den­tials — in a sprawl­ing ar­chi­pel­ago of 228 mil­lion mus­lims — are more im­por­tant to get­ting elected than any­thing else.

af­ter all, Pur­nama would have won re­elec­tion hand­ily, per­haps even by a land­slide, if he had been judged on his ca­pa­bil­i­ties in a job he had made his own through strength of will. In the end, oth­er­wise well-sat­is­fied mus­lim vot­ers were too-eas­ily per­suaded that his er­ror of judge­ment over the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of a verse in the Ko­ran was more im­por­tant.

Wi­dodo’s first choice was mo­ham­mad mah­fud mah­modin, gen­er­ally known as mah­fud md, 61, the ex-chief jus­tice of the Con­sti­tu­tional Court and a former de­fense and jus­tice min­is­ter in the Wahid ad­min­is­tra­tion. But he changed his mind in the fi­nal hours be­fore the aug. 10 nom­i­na­tion dead­line, stun­ning many with the graphic demon­stra­tion that he could not make his own choice af­ter four years in of­fice.

Both the PPP and the PKB had threat­ened to leave the coali­tion. then amin added his voice, warn­ing the pres­i­dent that if he con­tin­ued with mah­fud, he would lose the sup­port of nu and its claimed 45 mil­lion mem­bers. the sec­ond-ranked Golkar Party also op­posed mah­fud, mind­ful of his role in seek­ing the dis­band­ment of suharto’s po­lit­i­cal ma­chine in the early days of re­for­masi when he served as de­fense and later jus­tice min­is­ter in the em­bat­tled Wahid’s govern­ment.

Golkar Chair­man and In­dus­try min­is­ter air­langga Har­tarto, the son of a re­spected suhar­to­era eco­nomic min­is­ter, had also been on Wi­dodo’s short­list, but he was dropped from con­tention af­ter the pres­i­dent de­cided not to choose any­one from among his six par­lia­men­tary coali­tion part­ners be­cause of fears it would cause in­ter­nal con­flicts.

Golkar re­mains a valu­able if some­what dis­grun­tled ally, puz­zled like ev­ery­one else about why Wi­dodo sud­denly de­vel­oped cold feet when he con­tin­ues to en­joy a com­fort­able lead in the polls over his hard-charg­ing pres­i­den­tial ri­val, re­tired gen­eral and Great In­done­sia move­ment Party (Gerindra) leader Prabowo subianto, whom he de­feated in 2014.

a poll by the In­done­sian sur­vey In­sti­tute (lsi) taken af­ter the nom­i­na­tions were an­nounced had Wi­dodo at 52.2 per­cent, far ahead of Prabowo at 29.5 per­cent, with 18.3 per­cent un­de­cided. With­out amin as his run­ning mate, the pres­i­dent ac­tu­ally polled 1.4 per­cent higher, but not enough to draw any firm con­clu­sions. among non-mus­lim vot­ers, how­ever, sup­port for Wi­dodo plunged from 70.3 per­cent to 51.5 per­cent.

The pres­i­dent now runs the risk of alien­at­ing plu­ral­ists and eth­nic and so­cial mi­nori­ties alike. They might not vote for Prabowo, but there are al­ready grow­ing calls to ab­stain, which could do con­sid­er­able dam­age un­less Wi­dodo is able to demon­strate, by the tone of his cam­paign, that he is in charge and pre­pared to take a firmer line with re­li­gious ex­trem­ists than Yud­hoy­ono man­aged to do.

who is the real Ma’ruf amin?

the pres­i­dent had sought to co-opt amin af­ter the 2016 mass demon­stra­tions that led to Pur­nama’s de­feat, bring­ing him in as an ad­viser as part of ef­forts to curry fa­vor with mus­lim con­ser­va­tives. the cleric re­sponded by declar­ing his sup­port for the Pan­casila state ide­ol­ogy and nu’s Is­lam nu­san­tara phi­los­o­phy, both of which pro­mote plu­ral­ism and in­clu­sive­ness. But an­a­lysts found it dif­fi­cult to equate this with amin’s past record as the ar­chi­tect of 2005 MUI edicts against sec­u­lar­ism, plu­ral­ism and lib­er­al­ism that un­der­mined tol­er­ance, and also an in­flam­ma­tory 2008 fatwa out­law­ing the teach­ings of the mus­lim sect ah­madiyah that en­cour­aged bloody mob at­tacks against the tiny mi­nor­ity.

But what galled most plu­ral­ists was his in­volve­ment with a po­tent coali­tion of hard-line groups, sup­ported by Prabowo and other anti-wi­dodo politi­cians and gath­ered un­der the um­brella of the 212 move­ment, named af­ter a mas­sive rally on Dec. 2, 2016, that brought a mil­lion peo­ple onto Jakarta’s streets. after­ward, amin ap­peared as an ex­pert wit­ness at Pur­nama’s con­tro­ver­sial blas­phemy trial, where the outgoing gov­er­nor was con­victed and sen­tenced to three years’ im­pris­on­ment, a term that ends just af­ter the 2019 elec­tions.

More sud­den switches

If Wi­dodo in­tro­duced an eleventh-hour sur­prise, so did Prabowo. af­ter form­ing a much-pub­li­cized al­liance with yud­hoy­ono’s Demo­crat Party in late July, he then un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously ditched the former pres­i­dent’s son, agus Harimurti, 39, as a run­ning mate in fa­vor of deputy Jakarta gov­er­nor san­di­aga Uno, 49, a wealthy busi­ness­man he once con­sid­ered too soft for the rough and tum­ble of high-level pol­i­tics.

again, there is ev­i­dence to sug­gest he was

swayed by his two other op­po­si­tion part­ners, the sharia-based Jus­tice and Pros­per­ity Party (PKS) and the na­tional man­date Party (Pan), both of which can be re­lied on to play the Is­lamic card against the in­cum­bent in the up­com­ing pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

Prabowo, a mus­lim from a fam­ily of Chris­tians, has not been shy in con­sort­ing with Is­lamic groups when it suits him. He sought their sup­port in his power strug­gle with armed forces chief Wi­ranto in the dy­ing days of suharto’s new Or­der regime, and in his un­suc­cess­ful, but spir­ited bid for the pres­i­dency in 2014, when PKS, PPP and Pan were all al­lies.

He also had no hes­i­ta­tion in re­sort­ing to pri­mor­dial tac­tics in the 2017 Jakarta gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion, where he backed the ul­ti­mately vic­tori- ous anies Baswedan, a former ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter. But on the wider na­tional stage, he now re­al­izes there is more to be gained by at­tack­ing Wi­dodo on eco­nomic is­sues, par­tic­u­larly with the growth rate stuck at 5 per­cent, and the pres­i­dent’s re­liance on China for in­fra­struc­ture fund­ing.

Prabowo’s re­ported change of tac­tics ap­par­ently prompted Wi­dodo to re­move Fi­nance min­is­ter sri mulyani In­drawati from his elec­toral suc­cess team so she can con­cen­trate on man­ag­ing the state bud­get and deal­ing with other re­lated is­sues. an­a­lysts say the econ­omy will re­quire care­ful at­ten­tion in the eight-month lead-up to the na­tional elec­tions, par­tic­u­larly in keep­ing food prices in check.

economists say the govern­ment is vul­ner­a­ble to claims of what one former eco­nomic min­is­ter

calls “hid­den in­fla­tion,” the re­sult of a re­luc­tance so far to pass on higher fuel and elec­tric­ity costs. also loom­ing in the near fu­ture is a de­ci­sion on whether to im­port rice, al­ways a po­lit­i­cally-sen­si­tive is­sue in a coun­try wrongly ed­u­cated in the be­lief that it is self-suf­fi­cient.

the ECON­OMY to the fore

If he is smart, Prabowo will re­frain from crit­i­ciz­ing eth­nic-chi­nese ty­coons for their dis­pro­por­tion­ate hold over the In­done­sian econ­omy, some­thing he has done in the past. those same busi­ness­men have al­ways spread their largesse at elec­tion time, but in this race, Wi­dodo’s choice of amin and Uno’s own cor­po­rate con­nec­tions may per­suade them to spend more freely on the Prabowo cam­paign.

In­deed, the pres­i­dent now runs the risk of alien­at­ing plu­ral­ists and eth­nic and so­cial mi­nori­ties alike. they might not vote for Prabowo, but there are al­ready grow­ing calls to ab­stain, which could do con­sid­er­able dam­age un­less Wi­dodo is able to demon­strate, by the tone of his cam­paign, that he is in charge and pre­pared to take a firmer line with re­li­gious ex­trem­ists than yud­hoy­ono man­aged to do.

at this early stage, not ev­ery­one sees the lat­est turn of events in the same de­press­ing light. “It’s not a bad thing strat­egy-wise,” mused one prom­i­nent In­done­sian-chi­nese busi­ness­man. “If any­one can han­dle ma’ruf, it is this guy [Wi­dodo]. the far right would say this is a vic­tory, but you could also say the pres­i­dent be­lieves in the old adage ‘keep your friends close, and your en­e­mies closer.’”

azyu­mardi azra, head of the post­grad­u­ate school of the Is­lamic na­tional Uni­ver­sity, who has been a critic of amin and the MUI, be­lieves Wi­dodo has stronger re­solve than yud­hoy­ono, point­ing to the in­cum­bent’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der ban­ning the ex­trem­ist Is­lamic or­ga­ni­za­tion Hizbut tahrir and his push for the swift pas­sage of tougher anti-ter­ror­ism laws fol­low­ing the surabaya sui­cide bomb­ings last may.

In both cases, how­ever, the state it­self has been the tar­get. the real worry for many pro­gres­sive In­done­sians cen­ters not so much on se­cu­rity against ex­trem­ism, but on creep­ing Is­lamiza­tion and the in­flu­ence of arab cul­ture, which pro­vides the pre­text for vi­o­lent acts and threat­ens to change the whole fab­ric of so­ci­ety by de­fault.

to his credit, Wi­dodo is al­ready work­ing to wa­ter down the po­ten­tially dis­as­trous Ha­lal law, passed in the fi­nal days of the yud­hoy­ono ad­min­is­tra­tion and still wait­ing to be im­ple­mented nearly four years later. Urged on by amin and the MUI, the law man­dates ha­lal cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for ev­ery­thing from food­stuffs and cos­met­ics to phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, cloth­ing and even car-seat cov­ers.

the pres­i­dent re­fused to sign off on the law, lis­ten­ing to busi­ness­men and bu­reau­crats who say it is un­work­able in prac­tice and an in­vi­ta­tion to ram­pant bribery. In­stead, he as­signed Vice-pres­i­dent Jusuf Kalla and govern­ment le­gal ex­perts to find ways to use the im­ple­ment­ing reg­u­la­tions to di­lute some of the leg­is­la­tion’s more dra­co­nian mea­sures, in­clud­ing au­to­matic sanc­tions for non-com­pli­ance.

will wi­dodo be him­self again?

Wi­dodo’s sup­port­ers are clearly hop­ing that once amin has served his pur­pose, he will be shuf­fled into the sort of a tea-pour­ing role suharto pre­ferred for his vice-pres­i­dents. While he may be an ex­pert in Is­lamic bank­ing and eco­nomics, he has none of Kalla’s ex­pe­ri­ence in ei­ther busi­ness or in­ter­na­tional af­fairs, which also proved valu­able to yud­hoy­ono when he was his first-term vice pres­i­dent.

mean­while, the pres­i­dent has a dif­fi­cult task ahead rein­ing in the trend to­ward re­li­gious in­tol­er­ance in a coun­try where the mus­lim ma­jor­ity of­ten pre­vents mi­nori­ties from build­ing houses

of wor­ship. “It de­pends on the peo­ple them­selves whether the na­tion wants to re­main united or whether [it] is eas­ily di­vided,” Wi­dodo said in this year’s an­nual In­de­pen­dence Day speech to the Peo­ple’s Con­sul­ta­tive assem­bly (mpr) on aug. 16.

the Jakarta-based se­tara In­sti­tute recorded 109 cases of vi­o­la­tions of con­sti­tu­tion­ally-guar­an­teed free­dom of re­li­gion and be­lief across 20 of In­done­sia’s 34 prov­inces be­tween Jan­uary and July this year, a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease over the 80 in­ci­dents in the same pe­riod in 2017. ac­cord­ing to the hu­man rights watch­dog, the num­ber of in­ci­dents ac­tu­ally dropped from 208 cases in 2016 to 155 last year, but a sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion of them were in­sti­gated by re­gional ad­min­is­tra­tions through the im­ple­men­ta­tion of dis­crim­i­na­tory by-laws that run counter to the Con­sti­tu­tion and the spirit of Pan­casila.

sup­ported in the past by main­stream par­ties seek­ing to please vote-get­ting re­li­gious lead­ers, lo­cal gov­ern­ments used their new au­ton­o­mous sta­tus to pass 442 sharia-in­spired or­di­nances be­tween 1999 and 2012, two thirds of them in ru­ral districts and many con­cen­trated in aceh, West and east Java, West su­ma­tra, south Kal­i­man­tan and south su­lawesi.

In an elec­tion cy­cle where par­ties are al­ready jostling to at­tract votes, the House of rep­re­sen­ta­tives is also con­sid­er­ing pro­posed amend­ments to In­done­sia’s colo­nial-era Crim­i­nal Code which, among other things, will ban same-sex relations, pre­mar­i­tal sex, co­hab­i­ta­tion among un­mar­ried cou­ples, sex ed­u­ca­tion and even con­dom dis­tri­bu­tion.

se­nior Wi­dodo ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials seem con­fi­dent the leg­is­la­tion will even­tu­ally be kicked down the road, as it has been since a form of it was first in­tro­duced in 1984. But times have changed and most of the 10 po­lit­i­cal par­ties hold­ing seats in Par­lia­ment have so far been un­will­ing to take a public po­si­tion on the bill.

less room to MOVE

like the Pur­nama case, Wi­dodo also has lit­tle con­trol over the in­creas­ingly ar­bi­trary and re­pres­sive ap­pli­ca­tion of the blas­phemy law, which has fur­ther marginal­ized Chris­tians and other mi­nori­ties. there were only eight cases dur­ing suharto’s 32-year rule, but Hu­man rights Watch recorded 106 con­vic­tions dur­ing the yud­hoy­ono pres­i­dency and as many as 20 since then.

Only re­cently, in what amnesty In­ter­na­tional de­scribed as a “lu­di­crous de­ci­sion,” a dis­trict court in medan, north su­ma­tra, sen­tenced a Chi­nese Bud­dhist woman to 18 months’ im­pris­on­ment for blas­phemy af­ter she com­plained about the loud­speaker vol­ume at a lo­cal mosque — a com­mon com­plaint, even among mus­lims.

the same crit­i­cism has also been re­served for a re­cent MUI fatwa against the rubella-measles vac­cine, claim­ing it con­tains traces of pork and hu­man cells. an­tic­i­pat­ing a public back­lash, it said the use of the vac­cine would be al­lowed for the time be­ing un­til a vi­able al­ter­na­tive was found. But that won’t de­ter de­vout mus­lims from fol­low­ing its dic­tate.

right now, all these con­cerns are for the fu­ture, as Wi­dodo ap­proaches what may now be a much tougher re-elec­tion fight than he bar­gained for. the former town mayor is well-liked by In­done­sians for his down-to-earth man­ner and his gen­uine con­cern for the com­mon man. But as much as he trails in the polls, Prabowo has proved to be a re­silient, com­bat­ive cam­paigner who could make up ground if he and the youth­ful Uno can con­vince vot­ers they can get the econ­omy back on a growth track.

john Mc­beth is a jour­nal­ist and writer based in jakarta, and the au­thor of

The Loner: Pres­i­dent Yud­hoy­ono’s Decade of Trial and In­de­ci­sion and a memoir,

Re­porter: Forty Years Cov­er­ing Asia.

(Photo: Tatan Syu­flana/ap

Un­likely al­liance: In­done­sian Pres­i­dent Joko "Jokowi" Wi­dodo and his run­ning mate, con­ser­va­tive Is­lamic cleric Ma'ruf Amin, greet sup­port­ers prior to for­mal reg­is­tra­tion as can­di­dates for the 2019 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Jakarta in Au­gust.

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