Voters in Jakarta have chosen a former cabinet minister who sought the support of hardline Muslims opposing his contender – who is embroiled in a blasphemy case – as their new governor.
Anies Baswedan, who ran in the Jakarta gubernatorial race after being dismissed from his position as education minister last July, won Wednesday’s (19/04) second round of voting. He received 58 percent of votes, according to a quick count of votes by several polling organizations.
Anies’ candidacy was backed mainly by the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) party chairman Prabowo Subianto and an Islamist party, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS). In addition, the Indonesian Unity Party (Perindo), the party of Donald Trump’s business partner in Indonesia, Harry Tanoesudibyo, supported Anies’s candidacy in the runoff election.
Incumbent Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaya Purnama, has conceded defeat.
Anies’s Political Compromise
Anies won the race after seeking the support of Islamist groups that had mobilized enormous rallies demanding Ahok’s imprisonment for allegedly insulting Islam. This is worrying. Anies, who was rector of Paramadina University which was founded by the late pre-eminent moderate Islamic scholar Nurcholis Madjid, had for a long time represented moderate and tolerant Islam.
However, as a challenger to an incumbent with a high approval rating, it was difficult for Anies to exploit policy issues per se. So, in his pursuit of the coveted Jakarta governor position, he approached Islamic militia groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), which is notorious for its hardline stance and violent attacks against minorities.
This raises questions about whether Anies can keep his distance from the radical Islamic groups as leader of Indonesia’s capital – and whether he would ensure that religious minorities, such as Syiah and Ahmadiyya communities and survivors of the violent 1965 anti-communist purges — groups that are often targets of attacks by hardline Islamic militias — will be protected.
It has been common in Indonesia for the state to fail to act against religious intolerance and violence. Some local governments even support intolerant acts carried out by hardline Islamic groups.
Having received the support from these groups, it may be difficult for Anies to act firmly against them. These groups want the implementation of Sharia law in Indonesia. They also often play the role as morality police by carrying out attacks and raids against, among other places, nightclubs – especially during the Islamic fasting month.
Emotion Rules Voters
The Jakarta election shows ethno-religious sentiment is a powerful instrument to mobilize voters in Jakarta. Islamists, as in some other Muslim countries, are skillful in exploiting religious sentiments to pursue their agenda.
It seems, though it needs to be further examined by available empirical data, part of the Jakarta electorate chose its leader based on emotion, rather than rationality.
According to opinion polls, more than 70 percent of the Jakarta public were satisfied with Ahok’s performance as governor. Rational voters would choose a candidate based on his policies and campaign promises. Yet Ahok’s favorability one week prior to the election was 46.9 percent and had never been beyond 48 percent since October 2016.
Some 90 percent of the nearly 7 million voters in Jakarta are Muslim. Ahok’s double minority identities, Christian and Chinese-Indonesian, made it difficult for him to secure a majority of votes, especially after massive religious-based mobilizations against him.