Various quick count results indicated Anies Baswedan and Sandiaga Uno pair clinching victory against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama and Djarot Saiful Hidayat in the second round of Jakarta governor elections. The smear campaigns and racial sentiments during the elections had proven catastrophic for Indonesian diversity. The excessive exploitation of identity politics by the election’s participants also becomes vermin for the already blossoming Indonesian democracy. Places of worship turned into a fierce political battleground rather than a place to gain peace. The verdict for choosing only same religion leaders is regularly reminded by clerics, and often delivered in a menacing manner, in many places of worship across the capital of Indonesia.
On the other hand, democracy requires equal rights for its citizen, including the rights to be elected. Nonetheless, politics of identity handicapped this proposition and put minority in the lower level than the majority group. This identity politics gained a great momentum given the growing religious conservatism in Indonesia. What would be the plausible impacts for Indonesian democracy?
Some possible worrying impacts might occur following the abuse of politics of identity in 2017 Jakarta election.
First, the most obvious one, other candidates, both executives and legislatives, will try their luck to win elections by exploiting identity politics. If the coming 2018 simultaneous regional elections witnessed another success of identity politics, the 2019 general elections could witness the use of same strategy, as it became a silver bullet to gain victory. These presidential and legislative candidates may over emphasize politics of identity strategy and neglect crucial things, such as good programmes and track records that in return will be a disadvantage for the voters.
Second, hardline groups pick up a golden momentum to assert their existence. The case of 2017 Jakarta elections showed an integral contribution of Rizieq Shihab and his Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) in mobilizing the mass. This form of beneficial relation could inspire other candidates to use the same method and other hardline organizations to follow FPI’s strategy. This trend has been apparent years before 2017, but the alliance of vigilantes, mass, and parties formed in Jakarta lately suggested this strategy was indeed effective to win electoral politics. The mushrooming and increasing number of this kind of thug organization would be an inevitable consequence as it helps to gather votes and terrorise opponent’s voters as well as neutral voters. Furthermore, they can confidently expand their disturbing behaviours to more activities due to tangible political support from competing candidates.
Third, vivid display of intolerance and hatred against minority group might find larger space for actualization. To channel such primordial sentiment, leaders of vigilante groups and their politician counterparts have learned the paramount role of intimidation and mass mobilization to acquire voters from majority group. It is therefore misleading to detach the Basuki’s defeat from his double-minority status given the fact that Anies himself has framed this election as Battle of Badr, the historic war in Islam, precisely a night before the second-round election. He seemed extremely proud to divide the capital into disparate groups: us/the believers versus them/the infidels. Voters might have disappointed with Basuki’s eviction policy, but to undermine the disastrous effect of brutal production of primordial sentiment in Jakarta election is not only irresponsible but also losing touch with reality.
Fourth, the military might find local election as a new arena to reassert their claim of guardian of the nation. This claim is by no means wrong or troubling. Nonetheless, the civilian should cautious with possible military deployment on similar occasion in the future. Military has played extensive non-defence roles, from helping the government’s food sovereignty program to building roads and housing complex. The officers might be delighted to know that their civic mission being appreciated. Yet, TNI should focus on their main jobs for the sake of force readiness and professionalism. In this regard, the government must ensure the police to be at the frontline of law enforcement and get what they need in order to maintain public order, particularly during important events such as local elections.
Taking all into account, Jakarta 2017 election has been indeed an intriguing political spectacle. The first round shocked many that Basuki was eventually at the top position. But in second round, quick counts conducted by various polls agency showed Anies most likely to secure a landslide victory. The political constellation resulted from Jakarta election would probably illuminate the dynamics of local elections next year and presidential election in 2019.
To sum, it might be far-fetched to see the end near of Indonesian democracy. Nonetheless, beyond the result, it remains critically important to be mindful of medium and long-term effect of identity politics for democracy. The winning of vigilante-supported candidate in the 2017 Jakarta election is a call to shield Indonesia’s social-cultural diversity. ***
Muhamad Haripin is political scientist at Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), Jakarta, and PhD candidate at Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto. Tweets @mharipin
Adhi Priamarizki is PhD candidate at Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto. Tweets at @adhipriamarizki