by: Okky Madasari

The last days before the closing of candidates for the president-vice president pairings made an enticing reality show full of surprise, tension, drama, disappointment and excitement, gluing millions to their TV sets.

Let’s check out lessons of the political process leading to registration of the incumbent Joko “Jokowi” Widodo-Ma’ruf Amin and his rival pairing Probowo Subianto-Sandiaga Uno on Aug. 10, and what they could mean for Indonesia’s democracy.

First, all candidates and their allies showed that first and foremost politics is a business of negotiation and compromise. We are all aware of this truth. But we always want to deny it. Sometimes we deliberately choose to be naïve, insisting on our ideals where noble ideas and ideology drive all actions.

Many Indonesians believe politics is the battlefield for Islamic ideas as Muslims are the majority. They believe in the dichotomy between Islamic parties and Islamic politicians on one side and those that aren’t Islamic on the other.

Others believe elections are the best way to prevent domination of conservative Islamic values. Thus, they believe their votes should go to candidates who respect universal values such as pluralism, protection of minorities and secularism.

But what happened in the past weeks, especially in the final hours, reflects that ideas and ideology have little place in Indonesian politics. The process shows us it’s just a trading in which the actors try to maximize gains and benefits now and in the future.

In winning the 2014 presidency Jokowi had pitched the jargon of diversity or kebhinekaan and managed to beat his rival Prabowo. Lately he looked insecure and seemed to fall into the trap of utilizing sectarian or identity politics by picking a conservative cleric as his running mate. This measure was clearly taken in the hopes to wipe out his less Islamic credentials and woo more Muslim voters who included participants of the massive demonstrations which led to the ousting and imprisonment of then Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama  – and other “anti-Ahokers” in the aftermath of those late 2016 rallies. The movement’s big success in forcing the court to hand Ahok a two-year jail term clearly convinced Jokowi that the nation’s Islamic society (ummah) would play a determining role in the  2019 election.

As if further symbolizing his move toward a more Islamic nuance, Jokowi ‘s registration of his candidacy to the General Elections Commission employed Islamic chants including shalawat and takbir (shouts of Allahu akbar or God is great) before their entourage headed to Friday noon prayers.

Meanwhile, Ma’ruf, who chairs the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), is among key actors who pushed hard for Ahok’s imprisonment, through the MUI fatwa confirming the charges of Ahok’s blasphemy.

As MUI chief, Ma’ruf masterminded the issuance of a number of fatwa that have been used to justify discrimination against minority faiths, putting them at risk of being attacked or killed, as proven by several attacks against minorities in recent years, including against sexual minorities.

By any standards, Ma’ruf is a true conservative cleric whose values are not eye to eye with the liberals, the very people that helped Jokowi to the presidency in 2014.

Meanwhile, Prabowo, who had always gained support from the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), a party labeled as Islamist and conservative, and which also includes the “alumni” of the anti-Ahok rallies, finally picked the youthful businessman Sandiaga as his running mate.

Sandiaga is a surprising if not shocking choice as he is neither an ulema nor someone explicitly representing Islamic voters and their values. Prabowo also showed courage in deviating from the proposal handed to him by a group of ulema, to take one of their own as his VP candidate.

All the facts have shown both candidates significantly move in opposing directions as we can now say Jokowi employs Islamic jargons, while Prabowo moves towards teasing millennial voters.

This development creates an awkward situation for both supporters, even more for idealists along the “good from evil” dividing line, depending on one’s favored candidate. 

The second related lesson is that it’s time to leave behind the labels of kecebong and kampret –  labels respectively “awarded” by Prabowo supporters to those of Jokowi, and by the latter’s supporters to those of Prabowo.

Since the 2014 presidential election social media witnessed the increased polarizing of kecebong (literally tadpoles) and kampret (literally bats but also a derogatory reference).  Kecebong are those who support Jokowi and his government who are also staunch supporters of Ahok. They are also the same people who oppose those who want to make Islamic values dominate public policy and daily life.

Meanwhile kampret are those who since 2014 have supported Prabowo, and the same people who actively joined the massive anti-Ahok rallies, who always express beliefs that Jokowi and his regime hate and always try to corner Islam. One version of the origin of this label is that it was a derogatory twist on KMP, the acronym of Prabowo’s earlier Red and White Coalition.

The narrative of kecebong and kampret has made netizens trapped in an either/or fallacy: If you are not with Jokowi / Prabowo then you’re evil / anti Islam.

But the whole process of power-sharing deals showed there is no black and white in politics, and it’s not a battle between angels and devils.  

It’s time to bury the narrative that those who are with A are liberals and those who support B are Islamists. Both candidates are now identical.

The 2019 election will be the time to exercise our rights by listening to our conscience.  We don’t owe our vote to politicians. Thus, if we think there is no candidate deserving our vote, we have total freedom to not vote.

Last, we should be grateful that we are living in a country that allows us to be part of and witness the democratic process as we continue to grow towards a better democratic nation. 


The writer is a novelist and a visiting fellow at the National University of Singapore.

Published by The Jakarta Post, August 2018


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