Tue, Apr 23, 2019 - Page 9 News List

In Indonesia’s election, winner is Joko Widodo — and Islamists

By Kanupriya Kapoor and Fanny Potkin  /  Reuters, JAKARTA

Two months before last week’s presidential election in Indonesia, prize-winning novelist Eka Kurniawan declared in an opinion column that “the Islamists have already won.”

Unofficial results from Wednesday’s poll show that Indonesian President Joko Widodo was actually the winner and is set for a second five-year term — but they also reveal a hardening bloc of conservative Muslims who voted for his challenger.

Widodo’s commitment to pluralism in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country might have narrowly won him the race.

However, the Indonesia he must govern is now more polarized by religion, and he might struggle to meet the demands of Muslim groups that backed him and fend off more hardline Islamists who did not.

“In the short term, Widodo will have to accommodate the opinions and interests of the Muslim-majority because, if the majority feels insecure, it is difficult to protect minorities,” Control Risks political analyst Achmad Sukarsono said.

“This is just being pro-people. It doesn’t mean Indonesia will turn into Saudi Arabia or that the country will go straight to amputating a hand for theft,” he said.

While nearly 90 percent of Indonesians are Muslim, the country is officially secular and is home to sizeable Hindu, Christian, Buddhist and other minorities.

However, some fear that Indonesia’s tradition of religious tolerance is now at risk, as conservative interpretations of Islam become more popular.

Among myriad measures of this, demand for Shariah finance is growing and more women are covering their heads or donning full veils in public.

Widodo’s rival, retired general Prabowo Subianto, buttressed his challenge by forging an alliance with hardline Islamist groups and religious parties to tap into this trend.

Unofficial results show that not only did Prabowo maintain support in three conservative strongholds — Aceh, West Java and West Sumatra — he won four more provinces that had gone to the incumbent when he ran against him in 2014.

These provinces are widely seen as among the country’s most conservative, because they have introduced Shariah-based by-laws and their demographic makeup is more than 97 percent Muslim.

Analysts have said such divisions are there to stay.

“This election has produced a more divided political map,” said Eve Warburton, a research fellow at Australian National University. “When Widodo and Prabowo are no longer on the front line, divisions may mellow, but they will not disappear.”

Prabowo has complained of widespread cheating and has threatend to contest the results.

Many of the hardline Islamist clerics and groups backing Prabowo’s presidential bid were the same as those who in 2016 and 2017 led mass protests to topple the ethnic-Chinese, Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a one-time close ally of the president.

Widodo, at risk of appearing anti-Islam, distanced himself from Purnama, who was eventually jailed for blasphemy.

He also launched a systematic campaign to woo the country’s largest moderate Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and to appeal to Muslim voters by appearing “more Islamic” himself.

However, the president shocked more moderate and progressive supporters when he chose as his running mate the NU’s Maruf Amin.

As chairman of the Indonesia Clerics Council in 2016, Amin issued a fatwa banning Muslims from joining Christmas mass and his testimony helped convict Purnama.

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