By Tom Allard and Agustinus Beo Da Costa
JAKARTA (Reuters) – As a few hundred protesters held a rally outside his home in an upscale Jakarta neighbourhood this week, Indonesia’s former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono took to twitter to vent his displeasure.
“I ask the president, the police chief, do I not have the right to live in my own country, with the human rights that I am entitled to?,” he wrote. “I’m just asking for justice.”
Critics lampooned the melodramatic tone of Yudhoyono, whose son Agus Yudhoyono is a candidate in the Feb. 15 election for Jakarta governor.
But the former president’s disquiet, in some ways, is understandable. Yudhoyono and his son are being assailed on multiple fronts in the midst of the most divisive, hard-fought election in Indonesia’s short history as a democracy.
Rather than a contest about who will administer Jakarta, the election has emerged as a proxy fight ahead of Indonesia’s presidential elections in 2019. At its heart is a bitter battle between Yudhoyono and his successor Joko Widodo, complete with claims of wiretapping and an alleged treason plot.
The sudden prominence of fringe, hardline Muslim groups during the campaign has also raised questions about whether they are being used as political pawns and destabilising Indonesia, a secular nation with the world’s largest Muslim population, often exemplified as a model of religious pluralism.
And Widodo, say insiders, has been distracted from his reform agenda for an economy that, while rich in resources, has lagged behind its neighbours for decades, hindered by poor infrastructure, low education standards and rampant corruption.
“Frankly, right now, policy making is at a standstill,” said a senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, adding that “the president’s attention is, understandably, overly distracted by local politics.”
The President is backing his political ally and the incumbent governor in the Jakarta election, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (commonly known by his nickname “Ahok”).
Purnama, a Christian, is in the extraordinary situation of campaigning while he is on trial for blasphemy, making weekly court appearances to defend himself against charges he insulted the Koran.