Indonesian minorities fear the return of identity politics


News of Anies Rasjid Baswedan’s 2024 presidential candidacy stirs up bad memories of a bitter election fought along sectarian lines

Anies Rasjid Baswedan gives a speech after being announced by the National Democratic Party as its presidential candidate on October 3. (Photo: Instagram)

Published: October 13, 2022 10:44 GMT

Updated: October 13, 2022 10:45 GMT

When he heard that Anies Rasjid Baswedan was to be nominated as the presidential candidate for the 2024 elections, Rikard Rahmat, a 44-year-old Catholic, immediately thought of Jakarta’s gubernatorial election five years ago, which many say was marred by political reasons. religious and racial. bias associated with identity politics.

The election was won by Anies, a former Minister of Education and Culture, with strong support from Islamist hardliners who openly supported him, defeating his rival Basuki Tjahaja Purnama o Ahok, a Christian of Chinese descent who was accused of blasphemy.

“What Anies did in the 2017 gubernatorial election is inexcusable because, at the same time, this nation was facing a huge threat from religious extremists who wanted to turn the country around by taking advantage of democracy. There were hardline groups like the Islamic Defenders Front and Hizbut Tahrir that were later banned by the government,” said Rahmat, a strong critic of Anies.

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He pointed to how mosques in Jakarta were used as campaign tools to support him and discredit his rival.

The National Democratic Party, one of the government’s main supporters, announced Anies as its presidential candidate for the 2024 elections on October 3.

Surya Paloh, a media mogul and party chairman, called Anies “the best of the best.”

“It is said that Anies beat Ahok by taking advantage of a case of blasphemy”

According to some pollsters, Anies is one of the three favorites in the election, along with Ganjar Pranowo, the governor of Central Java province who belongs to Indonesia’s ruling Fighting Party, and Prabowo Subianto, the defense minister twice defeated by President Joko Widodo in previous polls.

A recent survey by the Center for Strategic and International Studies found that Pranowo had the most support at 33.3%, followed by Anies at 27.5% and Subianto at 25.7%.

The announcement of Anies’ nomination has reignited discussion of identity politics, in which people of a particular race, nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation, social origin, social class, or other factors follow political agendas based on that. what they identify with.

Anies is said to have beaten Ahok by capitalizing on a blasphemy case, in which the former Christian governor of Jakarta was dragged off to prison.

Ade Armando, a professor at the University of Indonesia and an Ahok supporter, called Anies the “father of identity politics.”

Meanwhile, pollster Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting (SMRC) found that the National Democratic Party would lose many votes in eastern Indonesia, where Christians are in the majority.

Since being linked to Anies, the party’s support in eastern Indonesia has fallen from 10.8 percent last year to just 3.9 percent now.

“He doesn’t care, as long as he can win a seat or power”

Amid the criticism, Anies made an opening tableau with the Christian minority by posting photos on Instagram of him visiting Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo of Jakarta on Oct. 7 under the guise of saying goodbye as his term as governor ends this month.

However, a video recorded the same day in which he was seen meeting hardline cleric and founder of the Islamic Defenders Front, Muhammad Abib Rizieq Shihab, at a wedding further fueled suspicions that he was embracing hardliners. hard.

Ahmad Ali, deputy chairman of the National Democratic Party, did not deny that Anies has embraced identity politics in the past, but said everyone has made mistakes.

“Where is there a human who has never made a mistake? All humans must have made mistakes,” he said.

Rikard Rahmat, an editor at a publishing house in Jakarta, insisted that “Anies is a great threat to the nation.”

“Since the Jakarta gubernatorial election, he has consciously used all means to gain power, including exploiting scripture and identity politics. Whether these methods damage unity and tear at the fabric of the nation, he doesn’t care, as long as he can get a seat or power,” he said.

A Buddhist in Tangerang, Banten province, who requested anonymity, said he feared hardliners really did have a platform to spread hate again.

“I didn’t know he was going to run for president. I’m just worried about it,” he told UCA News.

Sirojuddin Abbas, executive director of SMRC, said that identity politics is vulnerable to being used by the political elite as a bargaining tool to gain power and mobilize support.

“Because after all, in a Muslim-majority country like ours, mobilization based on a sociological character is much easier than mobilization with rational goals,” he said.

Achmad Nurcholis, a Muslim and chair of the diversity and peace education division at the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace, said the use of identity politics “is still uncivilized because it triggers polarization, tension and segregation between community groups.”

“The experience of the Jakarta gubernatorial election is enough for us to say that identity politics should no longer be used. The bad legacy of the gubernatorial election still lingers today,” he told UCA News.

“Generating religious and ethnic sentiments to gain support is easy and effective”

To continue “taking care of Indonesia,” elected leaders must be “committed to diversity, Pancasila, nationalism, and upholding justice, equality, and public welfare. They must be non-sectarian and understand that Indonesia is pluralistic.”

Meanwhile, Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, a member of a presidential unit promoting communal tolerance, said identity politics is not only happening in Indonesia, but also in other countries, including advanced democracies.

“Why? Because it’s cheap. Raising religious and ethnic sentiment to gain support is easy and effective,” he said.

“I think we need to focus on how to control it. Election organizers and supervisors and the police should formulate strict rules. For example, places of worship should not be used for campaigns, let alone black campaigns. If anyone does this, they should be reprimanded.” and punished,” he said.

He added that Christians “may not need to be reactive” to this, but they do need to contribute by fostering healthy discourse in the search for the ideal leader.

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