Indonesia: Will the ghost of Jakarta race haunt regional polls?

  • One major concern is whether race and religion will play a dominant role in the results of 27 Jun 18′s regional elections. Although the two issues have not pervaded a large part of the regional elections, some analysts are seeing some far-right groups and Islamic-leaning political parties play the race and religion card at hustings.
  • It has led them to wonder aloud whether the “Ahok Effect” will strike again and entrench divisive politics in Indonesia, alluding to Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama’s defeat by his Muslim rivals in a dramatic gubernatorial election. The loss was also a blow to President Joko Widodo, a popular reformist leader who had a longstanding relationship with Basuki.
  • Much is at stake for political parties during the last local elections before the race for the presidency officially kicks off in Sep 18. The results could determine which candidate the various parties will back in the 2019 presidential race.
  • Meanwhile, far-right groups like the FPI are trying to define the tone of the regional polls by endorsing “observant Muslim” candidates who use religion when campaigning, said Dr. Alexander R. Arifianto at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. They have also urged voters not to support candidates backed by Joko’s coalition comprising the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) and Golkar Party, among others.
  • Instead, voters are being told to support candidates backed by the opposition alliance comprising Gerindra Party, Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and National Mandate Party (PAN), the Islamic-leaning parties, while Gerindra is led by former general Prabowo Subianto, who was Joko’s rival in the 2014 presidential election.
  • “After Jakarta, the Gerindra-PKS-PAN coalition suddenly looked formidable once more. Islamist organisations, and particularly FPI, had also proven their worth as an electoral asset,” wrote ISEAS -Yusof Ishak Institute visiting fellows. The prospect of Prabowo and his allies being able to win in the local elections with a campaign similar to that used in Jakarta is a concern for Joko, they added.
  • The alliance claiming that it would “copy and paste” the strategies used in Jakarta also implies that Pilkada would be tainted by divisive and sectarian campaigns.
  • The Gerindra-PKS-PAN coalition, however, has yet to emerge as a compelling or effective force in this Pilkada, failing to sustain its momentum while its alliance with right-wing Islamists “atrophied owing to intra-elite conflicts and logistical problems”, noted the ISEAS researchers.
  • Opposing parties, such as the PKS and PDI-P, have joined forces in 33 regions to nominate candidates. The latter is also working with Gerindra in 48 regions, and with PAN in 58 other regions, while the Gerindra-PKS-PAN coalition has teamed up in only 40 regions.
  • Dr. Arifianto said candidates will factor in local demographics and political dynamics in their various regions before deciding whether to play the identity card.
  • For instance, the Islamic factor featured highly in the Central Java and North Sumatra campaigns as well as in the mayoral races in Bekasi, West Java. But elsewhere, the use of sectarianism to gain votes has been muted.
  • This could change as Indonesians return from an extended 10-day holiday to celebrate the end of the Ramadan fasting month, and with the hustings expected to peak in the days ahead.

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