Analysts: Indonesian Election Exposes Divide between Muslims, Non-Muslims

Ahmad Syamsudin
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190521-ID-election-analysis-620.JPG Indonesian women pray during a protest rally following the announcement of presidential election results outside the Election Supervisory Agency headquarters in Jakarta, May 21, 2019.

Updated at 4:05 P.M. ET on 2019-05-21

Indonesia’s 2019 presidential election, whose official results on Tuesday sealed a second term for the incumbent, exposed social and religious divides in Southeast Asia’s largest country that reflect its growing pains as a maturing democracy, analysts told BenarNews.

The Election Commission released its official tally showing that President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was reelected with 55.5 percent of the vote against 44.5 percent for his rival, retired Gen. Prabowo Subianto, in the April 17 election.

“The election exposed divides in Indonesian society, not only between Muslims and non-Muslims, but also between Muslims who are tolerant and rooted in local values such as Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), and those who follow more Middle Eastern-oriented clerics,” said Achmad Sukarsono, a senior analyst at Control Risks, a Singapore-based consultancy.

“Basically it’s 50-50 and non-Muslims tipped the balance in favor of Jokowi,” he added.

Jokowi won in Central and East Java, the stronghold for NU, the country’s largest Muslim organization to which his running mate belongs. The incumbent also won in provinces where non-Muslims are the majority, such as mainly Hindu Bali and predominantly Christian East Nusa Tenggara.

Jokowi picked as his running mate Ma’ruf Amin, a cleric known for his conservative views on issues such as gay and minority rights, to fend off accusations from hardline Islamic groups that he was not sufficiently Muslim, but the move failed to curb the polarization, according to analysts.

“Ma’ruf only succeeded in solidifying support within NU for Jokowi,” said Wasisto Raharjo Jati, a political researcher with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.

Challenger Prabowo and his running mate, wealthy businessman Sandiaga Uno, dominated in West Java – the country’s most populous province – most of Sumatra island as well as in the Aceh region, where Islamic law is enforced.

Jayadi Hanan, an analyst at Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting, said strong polarization meant that most voters had made up their minds before the election.

“Some voters were determined to vote for Prabowo, even though they saw that Jokowi’s performance was good enough,” he said.

Minority outreach

As he prepares to take office in October for a final five-year term, Jokowi has his work cut out for him, Achmad said, pointing to how the president must address grievances and demands of the Muslim majority.

“It’s hard for Jokowi to defend the rights of minorities when the majority feel increasingly insecure,” he said, adding that the schism was part of the growing pains of “a maturing democracy.”

Wasisto questioned Jokowi’s efforts toward minorities in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, which has been a democracy for only 21 years.

“Jokowi has enjoyed support for populist programs that affect ordinary people, but his commitment to resolving human rights issue leaves much to be desired,” Wasisto said.

The president has been praised for his drive to revamp the country’s crumbling infrastructure by building roads, ports, power plants and dams during his first five-year term. But he has also been criticized for his record on human rights, law enforcement and the fight against corruption, despite a campaign promise to address cases of past rights violations, analysts said.

Jokowi’s first term saw the jailing of environmental activists and members of ethnic and religious minorities, including an ethnic Chinese Buddhist woman who was sentenced to 18 months in prison last year for blasphemy after complaining about noise from a local mosque.

In a high-profile case, then-Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian of Chinese descent, was sentenced in 2017 to two years in prison over allegations that he had insulted the Quran in off-the-cuff remarks. Ahok, who was the deputy to Jokowi when Jokowi served as governor of Jakarta before first running for president in 2014, was released from prison in January.

The events leading to Ahok’s jailing raised concerns about growing intolerance where anti-Chinese sentiment remains high despite the end of official discrimination against the minority group after the downfall of strongman Suharto in 1998.

Meanwhile, opposition figures have accused Jokowi of politicizing law enforcement to muzzle dissent.

“It is likely that the human rights situation will continue to slowly deteriorate, as Jokowi has leaned more and more on the police and prosecutors to shut down political opponents who he cannot win over to his agenda or ply with patronage to support it,” said Aaron Connelly, a research fellow in Southeast Asian politics at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

While Jokowi has talked about focusing on people during his second term, a move away from infrastructure seems unlikely, Connelly said.

The president has said that he would use his second term to go all out to make Indonesia the world’s fourth-largest economy by 2045.

“Without infrastructure, don’t dream about being the fifth- or the fourth-largest economy in the world,” Jokowi said.

An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect attribution in the final quote.


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