Tag: Ma’ruf Amin

Old rivals face off in Indonesia’s presidential election

 When Indonesian voters go to the polls on Wednesday, they will have to choose between an incumbent whose man-of-the people image has been tarnished and a nationalist former general with a questionable human rights record.

The election pitting Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto is a repeat of the 2014 poll, which Joko narrowly won.

Joko appears to be on track for re-election, with most recent polls suggesting he has a comfortable two-digit lead, but analysts say Prabowo could still pull off a surprise.

When Joko won the election five years ago, he was an outsider with no ties to the country’s political and military elite, having risen from obscurity as a furniture businessman who later became the mayor of the mid-sized town of Solo in Central Java. 

Today he counts former generals with ties to the country’s autocratic past among his trusted aides.

Joko has touted his successes in improving the country’s dilapidated infrastructure by building new roads, ports, airports and dams.

His government has completed a trans-Java highway stretching about 1,000 kilometres and built or renovated airports and seaports. He also recently inaugurated the first metro line in the capital, Jakarta. 

But Joko’s human rights record still leaves much too be desired, activist groups and analysts say. 

Rights activists say he has not pursued meaningful policy initiatives to address past human rights violations, a key campaign promise.

The president also appears to be increasingly thin-skinned in the face of criticism. 

Joko “has allowed human rights, the rule of law and the protection of minorities to weaken since he was elected in 2014,” said Ben Bland, an Indonesia expert at the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank.

“Law enforcement has become politicized, with government critics arrested and jailed on questionable charges,” he wrote on the institute’s website.

The president has failed to stem the anti-gay hysteria that has gripped the country over the past three years.

Police have raided places frequented by gay people and briefly detained hundreds suspected of being homosexual.

The Pariaman city government on Sumatra island last year issued a bylaw that imposes a fine of up to 1 million rupiah (71 dollars) on gay and transgender people “who conduct activity that disturbs public order” or commit “immoral same-sex acts.”

Joko’s choice as his running mate of senior Muslim cleric Ma’ruf Amin, who is known for his anti-gay views, has raised concerns that he is pandering to the religious right.

Ma’ruf, the head the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), the country’s semi-official clerical body, has said that homosexuality should be criminalized and that the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect is not part of Islam.

On the economic front, growth has been stagnant, at around 5 per cent annually, falling short of Joko’s campaign promise of 7 per cent. 

Analysts said Indonesia’s economy needs to grow faster than 5 per cent to escape the so-called “middle income trap,” a phenomenon in which a country’s growth slows after reaching certain levels.

The country has also struggled with a widening account deficit and a weak currency, which fell in September to the lowest level since the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis.

Corruption in the government remains rampant despite Joko’s reputation as incorruptible. Several of his political allies have been jailed or arrested for corruption.

Setya Novanto, chairman of the Golkar party, a member of the ruling coalition, was last year sentenced to 15 years in jail for receiving 7.3 million dollars in kickbacks for garnering parliamentary support for a 440-million-dollar government project to issue electronic ID cards.

Prabowo has promised to treat all citizens equally, regardless of their ethnicity or religion. 

“Our teachers, our Islamic clerics have always taught us that Indonesia’s Islam is one that brings good to all things in the universe,” Prabowo told more than 100,000 supporters during a rally in Jakarta recently.

But many remain suspicious of the challenger. 

Prabowo, a firebrand nationalist, counts among his supporters conservative Muslim groups that have persecuted minority Islamic sects and are opposed to gay rights.

“Minority groups like us can’t expect much of either candidate,” said a spokesman for the Ahmadiyah Indonesia Community, Yendra Budiana.

“But it’s especially so for Prabowo, as he is supported by hardline groups,” he said.

Prabowo himself has been accused of human rights violations during his time in the army in the 1990s, including over the kidnappings and disappearances of pro-democracy activists in the dying days of the Suharto regime in 1998.

He has denied the allegations.

This year’s election will be held simultaneously with parliamentary polls, which are being contested by 16 national parties.

Nearly 250,000 candidates are vying for more than 20,000 seats in the national, provincial and municipal parliaments.

About 193 million people, including 80 million people born after 1980, are eligible to vote, making it the world’s biggest direct presidential election, according to the General Election Commission. 

There will be around 800,000 polling stations and six million election workers.

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Jokowi favoured for re-election, but Prabowo closing in

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was in a combative mood during a campaign rally over the weekend, as he made late pitches to voters ahead of next month’s presidential election.

“I have been slandered, I have been accused of things, I was vilified and looked down on and I have been silent,” he said at a campaign stop in the central Java city of Yogyakarta on Saturday.

“But today, in Yogyakarta I say, I will fight!” he said to the cheers of his supporters who shouted: “Fight! Fight!”

Jokowi was alluding to accusations from his critics that he is anti-Muslim, that he would ban the Islamic call to prayer if he wins a second five-year term in the April 17 election, and other attacks on his character.

The president has reason to worry.

A new poll suggested that his opponent, former general Prabowo Subianto, is gaining ground.

A survey by the private pollster Litbang Kompas released last week found that Jokowi was likely to win 49.2 per cent, while Prabowo was favoured by 37.4 per cent. About 13 per cent of respondents were undecided.

It was a wake-up call for Jokowi, who had a comfortable lead of nearly 20 per cent in October.

Analysts say Jokowi appears on track for re-election if various polls are anything to go by, but Prabowo could still pull off a surprise.

“Anything can happen during the remaining campaign period,” said Adi Prayitno, a political analyst at Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic University in Jakarta.  

“The Kompas survey shows that the gap is narrowing and this should be a cause for concern for Jokowi,” he said.

Prabowo, a former special forces commander and now a wealthy businessman, has portrayed himself as a champion of the poor.

At a campaign rally on Monday in Papua province, one of the country’s poorest regions, he lambasted what he called “the Jakarta elite,” which he said has failed to bring prosperity to the people.

“The elite are only concerned about their own interests,” Prabowo told the crowd who shouted his name. “Their only motive is to enrich themselves and their relatives.” 

Jokowi has touted successes in improving the country’s dilapidated infrastructure by building new roads, ports, airports and dams.

Meanwhile, the Prabowo camp has accused the current administration of failing to shore up the economy, currently growing at 5 per cent annually, and of having a penchant for debt.

The country has also struggled with a widening current account deficit and a weak currency, which fell in September to the lowest level since the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis.

The April election is a repeat of the 2014 poll, when Jokowi beat Prabowo narrowly after a divisive campaign period marked by mudslinging from both sides, including accusations that Joko was an ethnic Chinese communist.

This year’s election will be held simultaneously with the parliamentary polls, which are contested by 16 national parties.

Nearly 250,000 candidates are vying for the more than 20,000 seats in national, provincial and municipal parliaments.

About 193 million people, including 80 million people born after 1980, are eligible to vote, making it the world’s biggest direct presidential election, according to the General Election Commission. 

There will be around 800,000 polling stations and six million election workers.

Jokowi has chosen Ma’ruf Amin, a conservative Muslim cleric and chairman of the semi-official Indonesian Ulema Council, as his vice presidential candidate, apparently to fend off accusations that he is insufficiently Islamic.

But conservative Muslims appear determined to prevent him from being re-elected by rallying around Prabowo, according to the the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) in a report released this month.

“The Islamists already have had a major impact on the campaign by forcing Jokowi to defend allegations that he is anti-Islam and anti-poor and by moving the definition of what constitutes moderation to the right,” the report said.

“Their support for [Prabowo] is conditional and half-hearted, but measures taken by the Jokowi government to try to weaken, co-opt and stigmatize them as extremists have only strengthened what otherwise would be a fragile alliance,” it said.