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Jakarta Post

Ahok's verdict: Legal theatrics or political power play?

Melbourne   /   Mon, May 15, 2017   /   02:37 pm
Ahok's verdict: Legal theatrics or political power play? Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama waves upon arriving at the Cipinang Detention Center in East Jakarta on Tuesday (May 9, 2017). (Antara/Ubaidillah)

Supporters of outgoing Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama could not hold back their tears. The international community was also shocked. The verdict from five-judge panel exceeded the demand from the prosecutors, who had earlier dropped the blasphemy charges.

Ahok, who had left remarkable legacies for Jakarta and is loved by many – judging from the numbers of citizens, flowers, and balloons flooding the City Hall, was brought immediately to Cipinang detention center. Coincidentally, the place served as a home for many political prisoners during New Order era, most notably Col. Latief, former Air Force chief of staff Omar Dhani, and former vice prime minister Soebandrio.

If Ahok’s appeal fails, he will stay behind bars for two years. The sentence is relatively short compared to decades that the above figures had to bear.

But they all share the same fate: A victim of politics.

If one scrutinizes the judicial process of these four figures objectively, one can conclude there was a lack of legal basis and somewhat flawed process behind the sentencing.

Last Tuesday, Indonesia failed to live up to its claim as a country which upholds the rule of law. A country where someone can enjoy freedom until proven guilty according to the law.

Latief, Omar Dhani, and Soebandrio were declared guilty for participating in the attempted coup dubbed the September 30 Movement. The coup was said to aim to replace the Pancasila state ideology with communism. Yet the three figures were among the most loyal to then president Sukarno. The facts in court showed that the coup’s objective was to protect Sukarno. There was no proof that the now-defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) was involved. However they were declared guilty and sentenced harshly – a life sentence for Latief and death for Omar and Soebandrio.

Ahok was found guilty of committing blasphemy by the panel of judges, even though there was no evidence that the governor had committed blasphemy. Some of the witnesses had even allegedly fabricated their testimonies. Just as it was in the 1960s, facts and legal logics did not apply.

Ahok said he learned the meaning of the Quranic verse Al Maidah:51 from former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, who said a governor is a servant to the people instead of a leader. Gus Dur, who chaired the prominent Islamic organization Nahdatul Ulama, surely had the qualification to interpret the verse, and it was improbable that someone like Gus Dur would commit blasphemy against Islam. Anyone who follows Ahok closely before and after he became Jakarta Governor would swear that he would not have the heart to commit blasphemy against Islam.

However, between the two proceedings, 52 years apart, there was a stark difference.

Latief, Omar, and Soebandrio were put through legal theatrics in which executive bodies led by second president Soeharto directly played a role in determining the decision of the judiciary – the Extraordinary Military Court or the Military Supreme Court.

In Ahok’s case, there were differing opinions among the judiciary, between the prosecutors and judges, and also in the executive.

Was there legal theatrics or just a political power play in all levels of government?

A series of events and the result of the Jakarta gubernatorial election and the verdict show a political power play is brewing in Indonesia.

Ahok is not only a double minority – a Christian of Chinese descent, he is also a breakthrough in the decades-old rotten political system. Ahok shows that with enough commitment and courage, corruption can be stopped to provide greater development for the people.

This anti-corruption sentiment burden many key players in the government and business elites, regardless of their ethnicities.

It is no wonder that Ahok has become a common enemy of old players in Indonesian politics. Money politics, a racially and religiously charged campaign, and the exploitation of mosques had resulted in victory for Ahok’s rival.

Is it possible that the “old forces” only want to stop Ahok? It seems that their final objective is further than City Hall; the Presidential Palace’s very own  Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who just like Ahok has stood against the system.

With Ahok and Jokowi’s popularity, an open rivalry is hard to win. The old forces then opt to exploit the increasingly radical notion of Islam in the country.  

In this context, the judges were hiding behind an independent judiciary, while they support this anti-Ahok force. This is a message of political terror for everyone brave enough to stand up against corruption, a message that their efforts can bring them behind bars.

While the displayed target of the series of rallies was Ahok, it is obvious for the Jokowi  administration that an underground radical wave can be switched on to turn against him.

More than half a century ago, Soeharto used the “pure” implementation of 1945 Constitution and Pancasila to justify bringing down Sukarno and left-wing politics. Now Jokowi must face those who want to bring down the unitary state of the republic and Pancasila.

Before he becomes a victim of this political power play like Ahok, Jokowi must move swiftly to save Indonesia from this destructive force, by upholding the rule of law and democracy at least until the 2019 presidential election.

Only then will the old forces crumble down, providing space for a fresh, accountable government we deserve.


The writer, who chairs the Herb Feith Foundation, received his PhD in political science from Monash University, Melbourne.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.