TGB, the man to watch in Indonesian politics

  • Indonesians know him as TGB, which stands for Tuan Guru Bajang, a twist on the Islamic title for master teacher, and usually conferred on senior religious figures. Dr Muhammad Zainul Majdi, whose doctorate is from Egypt’s famed Al-Azhar University, was elected West Nusa Tenggara governor in 2008 when he was just 36 years old.
  • His progressive leadership of the province, located in the far west of the Lesser Sunda Islands, has earned him many accolades, particularly for transforming a backwater region into one of the most promising tourism and investment destinations in Indonesia.
  • This has led to speculation that he may contest the 2019 presidential election as his second, and final, five-year term as governor comes to an end in the months ahead.
  • The 46-year-old has in recent days emerged as a dark horse candidate among potential running mates for President Joko Widodo, who is gearing up for re-election, with campaigning due to kick off in Sep 18
  • A poll by Saiful Mujani Research & Consulting released last week placed Dr Zainul among the top three potential vice-presidential nominees favoured by Muslim voters and Islamic groups. Observers say Dr Zainul could just be the foil the President needs to fend off possible attacks on his own Islamic credentials if he goes up against the likes of Gerindra Party chief Prabowo Subianto, who he beat narrowly at the 2014 elections, and Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan at the upcoming polls.
  • Mr Anies’ election victory in Apr 17 over then Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Chinese-Christian politician better known as Ahok, was marred by racial and religious tensions largely incited by hardline groups.
  • There have been concerns of a repeat of such tensions during the next presidential race which would not only divide the country further but also threaten the re-election of Mr Joko, a reformist leader, who some say has struggled to contain the rise of sectarian politics.
  • Analysts say this is one key reason why the President, popularly known as Jokowi, will need a prominent Islamic figure as a running mate to not only counter his rivals who may play the religion card, but also win votes in conservative strongholds across Java.
  • Dr Zainul is said to command the respect of many Muslim groups; he is head of Nahdlatul Wathan, a local Islamic organisation in West Nusa Tenggara, and he also has the support of certain factions behind the anti-Ahok movement.
  • “We hope that TGB’s support for Jokowi will strengthen the grassroots (support),” Professor Hendrawan Supratikno, a lawmaker from the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle. Some observers say Dr Zainul has “that Obama vibe”, referring to his reputation as a knowledgeable and charismatic speaker, able to capture the attention of Indonesia’s growing youth population.
  • His appeal to young voters will be a critical factor in the next presidential election, especially since almost half the 200 million eligible voters across the country will be aged 35 or younger come polling day.
  • Dr Zainul has so far sought to distance himself from talk of being a vice-presidential nominee. He is sure to be a person to watch in Indonesian politics for many years no matters what happens in the next few weeks.

External Link: