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Indonesia’s Jokowi Will Remain Tough on Terrorism in Second Term

Commentary by Zachary Abuza
2019-04-19
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President Joko Widodo and his wife, Iriana, cast their votes in Indonesia’s general election in Gambir, Central Jakarta, April 17, 2019.
President Joko Widodo and his wife, Iriana, cast their votes in Indonesia’s general election in Gambir, Central Jakarta, April 17, 2019.
[Keisyah Aprilia/BenarNews]

There is much to rejoice about in Indonesia’s just concluded elections.

More than 80 percent of 190 million eligible voters went to the polls across the 17,000-island archipelago. They were electing not only their president but 575 members of the lower house, 136 members of the Regional Representative Council, and 20,000 officials at the provincial, district and municipal levels.

Fears of “Golput” – or widespread abstentions among voters – proved unfounded.

In the presidential contest, second-time challenger Prabowo Subianto claimed victory, but quick counts by five independent pollsters showed the incumbent, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, winning by 54 to 56 percent of the vote.

While he fell short of the 60 percent he sought, both to match what his predecessor had achieved and to give himself the mandate to push through his agenda, Jokowi won by a wide enough margin that the legitimacy of his reelection is not in doubt.

But it will be harder for him to govern and pass laws in his second term simply because his parliamentary coalition lost ground. It is projected to have a smaller majority of seats in the House of Representatives (DPR).
What does Jokowi’s re-election mean for Indonesian security?

In the immediate term, Prabowo refuses to accept the result. He has been calling on his supporters to organize themselves to put pressure on government institutions.

Prabowo did the same thing in 2014 but was unable, or could not afford, to sustain mass demonstrations. He finally conceded defeat in his first bid for the presidency when the Supreme Court ruled in Jokowi’s favor. This is likely to repeat itself in May, after the General Election Commission releases official results and certifies the vote.

Prabowo’s running mate, Sandiaga Uno, who is clearly eyeing his own run for office in 2024, has not only not endorsed Prabowo’s claims of electoral fraud, but has genuinely looked uncomfortable as Prabowo has called on his followers to resist.  

The terrorism factor

In the medium-term, the election will bring mixed results for security in Southeast Asia’s most populous nation, which is not immune from threats posed by Islamic militant groups.

On the issue of counter-terrorism, Jokowi had already approved the doubling in size of the elite counter-militancy force, Densus 88, which will be deployed in all of Indonesia’s 34 provinces.

At the same time, a terrorism law passed in the wake of bombings in Surabaya in May 2018 gave authorities additional legal tools to counter Muslim militancy. The law also gave the Indonesian military a formal counter-terrorism role, which we have seen used in Central Sulawesi, where militants have tried to regroup around Poso. Jokowi’s re-election will see continuity in policy, as well as personnel.  

Nonetheless, the recent suicide bombing by a woman with her child following the arrest of her husband, suggests that Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) remains a deeply entrenched organization. Authorities found 300 kilos of completed bombs or materiel, a clue that JAD militants were poised for a new wave of attacks.

On top of that, Indonesia is still struggling with what to do with the remainder of people who need to be repatriated from the ashes of Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

Growing intolerance

And while the hunt for pro-IS militants will continue, what is of a deeper concern is the growing societal intolerance that creates the context in which militancy can thrive.

While the moderate Nahdlatul Ulama’s party, PKB, won more votes (9.25 percent) than any other faith-based party, the pro-Ikhwan PKS won close to 9 percent, better than in the 2014 election.

Other Muslim parties, including the PPP (4.62 percent), PAN (6.67 percent), and Bulan Bintang (0.67 percent) have the potential to pose a solid bloc in terms of pushing forward public policy or resisting government initiatives.

On the one hand, these parties, divided by ego and some ideology, have not always cooperated well in the past. On the other hand, when there is a key piece of pro-Islamist public policy they want, they cooperate effectively enough. And that could lead to more legislation that threatens secular society or religious minorities.

A recent survey by academics Marcus Mietzner and Burhanuddin Muhtadi showed a spike in intolerance. Today, 54.6 percent of Indonesian Muslims are unwilling to be governed by non-Muslims; and at the presidential level it is 60 percent. That is a 12 percent increase from just before the anti-Ahok movement in late 2016.

Even Jokowi’s selection of Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate, is indicative of this. Amin, as head of the MUI, issued very intolerant fatwas against LGBTQ community and religious minorities. Restrictions on non-Muslims, as well as Muslim sects will not ease up, even under a second Jokowi administration when he might no longer feel the need to pander to Islamists.

Jokowi’s unwillingness to come to the defense of his ally, the former Christian Chinese governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja “Ahok” Purnama, who was charged for blasphemy, and then ousted by Islamist street mobs - the 212 Movement - bodes poorly for Indonesia’s long held tradition of “Unity in diversity.”

Indonesia’s regions

The elections also demonstrated a clear regional divide. While Bali and more secular or mixed regions voted overwhelmingly for Jokowi, more conservative and Islamist regions such as South Sulawesi, Banten, Jambi, Riau, West Sumatra, and West Java were overwhelmingly for Prabowo.  

These regions have been central to recruitment for Muslim militancy, whether by Jemaah Islamiyah or pro-Islamic State groupings. If the population of these regions feel that they have been disenfranchised or had the election stolen from them – as Prabowo is claiming – both recruitment for militant groups as well as pressure on the government to not crack down will grow.  

The reality is Jokowi was tough on terrorism in his first term, largely because he saw it as a threat to economic development, which was always his priority.

That will not change in his next term. His priorities remain infrastructure development and economic growth. He has been unwilling to stand up to Islamists who are shaping the political and societal context.

The election, whether it was Prabowo’s courting of conservative Muslims and the 212 Movement activists, or Jokowi’s selection of a conservative cleric behind anti-liberal fatwas, makes clear that Islam was the clear winner of the election, largely shaping the narrative and parameters for public policy debates.

Zachary Abuza is a professor at the National War College in Washington and the author of “Forging Peace in Southeast Asia: Insurgencies, Peace Processes, and Reconciliation.” The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of the U.S. Department of Defense, the National War College or BenarNews.

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