Play­ing the Is­lamic card

The Phnom Penh Post - - WORLD -

THE ma­jor thor­ough­fares in the heart of Jakarta were closed on Sun­day un­til midafter­noon as hun­dreds of thou­sands of Mus­lims ral­lied in a “re­union” of par­tic­i­pants of the mas­sive protest of De­cem­ber 2, 2016.

The “212 Rally Alumni” passed off peace­fully de­spite some se­cu­rity fears. Two years ago fierce protests suc­ceeded in get­ting then Jakarta gover­nor Ba­suki “Ahok” Tja­haja Pur­nama jailed for blasphemy; the de­mands have now ex­panded to di­rec­tives for the up­com­ing April 2019 elec­tions, that is, not to elect pres­i­den­tial or leg­isla­tive can­di­dates who sup­ported Ahok.

The rally was thus part of the cam­paign by the move­ment called #2019Gan­tiPres­i­den (2019ChangePres­i­dent), as in­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Joko “Jokowi” Wi­dodo, like Ahok, is sup­ported by the rul­ing In­done­sian Demo­cratic Party of Strug­gle (PDI-P) and its al­lies. Rally or­gan­is­ers in­cluded cam­paign­ers for pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Prabowo Su­bianto, who briefly ad­dressed Sun­day’s marchers.

There­fore, wor­ries re­main ahead of the na­tional elec­tions that the races will again be more pro­nounced along sec­tar­ian lines, rather than based on can­di­dates’ track records and their pro­pos­als for ad­dress­ing so­ci­ety’s needs.

This is not un­like other coun­tries, but poor law en­force­ment adds to doubts that the na­tion will re­main se­cure, es­pe­cially for mi­nori­ties. There­fore, the gov­ern- ment and all can­di­dates must prove they can rein in cam­paign­ers and sup­port­ers who raise the reli­gious ban­ner as a ral­ly­ing point.

Some an­a­lysts dis­miss the po­ten­tial of Is­lamic pol­i­tics gain­ing the up­per hand with a vic­tory by Prabowo, on the grounds that the move­ment lacks fi­nan­cial clout for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

Fur­ther, sev­eral lead­ing “alumni” of the first 212 have switched to the camp of Pres­i­dent Jokowi for his sec­ond term, most no­tably his vi­cepres­i­den­tial can­di­date Mar’uf Amin.

The rally again pro­vided a plat­form for pop­u­lar ulema seek­ing to strengthen their in­flu­ence be­yond their pe­santren (Is­lamic board­ing schools) and so­cial me­dia fol­low­ers.

Among par­tic­i­pants, or­di­nary res­i­dents re­flected a yearn­ing for a strong ex­pres- sion of Is­lamic sol­i­dar­ity. They will­ingly pro­vided lunch for fel­low rally par­tic­i­pants, many of whom came from out­side town with their fam­i­lies.

How­ever, many Mus­lims are un­com­fort­able with such ral­lies and their lead­ers given the po­lit­i­cal tone of im­pos­ing a con­ser­va­tive brand of Is­lam on both so­ci­ety and on state pol­icy.

The Sun­day rally re­flected well on In­done­sia’s rel­a­tively high stan­dards of free­dom of ex­pres­sion. But cit­i­zens have every right to call on the govern­ment and all can­di­dates to en­sure there is no in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion of iden­tity pol­i­tics, even though this ap­pears to be an easy vote-win­ner.

Can­di­dates must also re­mem­ber that some 80 mil­lion, over 40 per cent of el­i­gi­ble vot­ers, are “mil­len­ni­als” whose vot­ing ten­den­cies – should they de­cide to vote – are less pre­dictable.

Sup­port­ers of both sides are eas­ily drawn into bash­ing op­po­nents through bul­ly­ing and mock­ery, mostly on so­cial me­dia. Oth­ers wish that even these ver­bal ex­changes could be toned down if in­deed we wish to live up to our claim to be a lead­ing democ­racy in the re­gion.


Thou­sands of In­done­sian Is­lamists at­tend a rally in Jakarta on Sun­day.

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