Wednesday 21 September 2016 – The Australian Newspaper
Amanda Hodge – South East Asian Corespondent
In the race to govern Jakarta a new imperative has emerged for the Indonesian capital’s vast Islamic constituency — Muslims must not vote for non-Muslims.
The decree came on Sunday during a meeting of senior politicians and conservative Islamic groups at the Istiqlal Mosque, amid a barrage of sectarian epithets against incumbent governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian, and ethnic Chinese Indonesian.
At No 4 on the nine-point manifesto for Muslim voters ahead of next year’s gubernatorial elections is that it is “haram” (forbidden by Islamic law) for Muslims to vote for a kaffir, or non-believer.
The edict was rejected by Indonesia’s second-largest Muslim organisation, Muhammadiyah, but comes after months of manoeuvring by political and Islamic groups seeking to block Ahok from a second term.
The brash deputy was elevated to the governorship in 2014, after Joko Widodo used the job as a springboard to the presidency.
He has inspired strong sentiments from detractors and supporters for his bulldozer approach to problems, including a string of slum demolitions he says are needed to end flooding that regularly brings Jakarta to a halt.
This month, the Luar Batang mosque in north Jakarta rejected a gift of two sacrificial cows from the Governor because its residents felt “oppressed” by his “policies and words”.
Tobias Basuki, political researcher with Jakarta’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said while the capital remains essentially pluralist, there has been a worrying “escalation” in the use of religion to fan tensions.
Of particular concern is the willingness of mainstream politicians to team with extremist groups, such as the Islamic Defenders Front, which are “riding on the waves of the Jakarta election” to increase their constituencies.
“They’re sharpening their knives for different reasons and that’s a problem,” Mr Basuki told The Australian. “There are a lot of pragmatic politicians who have an eye on the prize and are willing to tag along with extreme ideological groups. That is generating animosity and cleavages.”
The race for the Jakarta governorship has never been so fierce. The job has suddenly taken on greater political significance since Jokowi’s (as the President is known) meteoric rise.
Political analyst and pollster Djayadi Hanan said identity politics is not a new phenomenon in Indonesia.
Mr Widodo was dogged by it in the 2012 gubernatorial race, and again in the 2014 presidential campaign, when opponents claimed his mother was a Christian.
But the environment is “fertile for this kind of identity politics because now there is a clear separation between Ahok and the other candidates”.
“Ahok is a double minority — he is ethnically Chinese and he is a non-Muslim, and people can be rallied around those issues,” Mr Hanan said.
“According to our surveys, around 45 per cent of Jakarta’s Muslims agree Muslims should not be led by non-Muslims.” Muslims make up more than 80 per cent of the city’s voters.
In its favour, more than 70 per cent of Jakarta’s voters are at least high-school educated, and the city has a “lot of early-warning systems” against further religious or ethnic violence.
But Mr Basuki said the way the race for Jakarta governor is run would be a critical pointer to where the country is headed — towards greater social cohesion or destructive sectarianism.