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Jakarta Post

Election factors: From Islam to money

  • Al Makin

    The Jakarta Post

Yogyakarta   /   Sat, May 24, 2014   /  10:09 am

Indonesian politicians are aware that the Islamic factor is a crucial part of success in both the legislative and presidential elections. For example, to win the hearts and minds of Muslim voters in the April legislative election, most legislative candidates in Yogyakarta waged a guerilla war from mosque to mosque and from one religious sermon to another.

Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) presidential candidate Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo seems to know how to play the Islamic card well. During his recent '€œtour de Java'€, he paid visits to prominent clerics from Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) in Jombang and Rembang. In Yogyakarta, Jokowi also met Ahmad Syafi'€™i Ma'€™arif, a Muhammadiyah leader known for his support of religious pluralism. Furthermore, Jokowi succeeded in forging an alliance with the National Awakening Party (PKB), which has a strong NU-base.

On the other hand, Prabowo Subianto from the Gerindra Party managed to court the United Development Party (PPP), the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the National Mandate Party (PAN), a party with the support of Muhammadiyah. Prabowo also sought approval from NU clerics and, hence, their faithful followers.

However, there is no guarantee that the ummah (community) will follow its leaders. As was seen in the cases of the Yogyakarta regencies of Sleman and Bantul, some legislative candidates who often visited mosques and religious leaders failed to secure enough votes to win the election. Indeed, these candidates even donated money to renovate mosques and '€œbribed'€ takmir (mosque management).

According to Javanese tradition, someone cannot pay a visit to a religious leader empty-handed. Visitors are supposed to give '€œmoney in an envelope'€ to these leaders.

A worker from a village-level polling monitoring committee (KPPS) in Bantul said that the Islamic factor was not the only determinant that could help a legislative candidate with his or her bid. The worker candidly explained that money is a much more effective weapon in persuading people to vote. He said he had witnessed two kinds of direct bribery: serangan fajar (pre-dawn attack) and serangan duha (late-morning attack).

Serangan fajar refers to bribing voters in the early morning, a few hours before voting kicks off. This practice has been common since the New Order. However, in the most recent election, which was marked by rampant money politics, serangan fajar was less effective than serangan duha, in which bribes are handed to voters on their way to polling stations.

A number of prominent legislative candidates who refused to buy votes lost to newcomers who were not reluctant to throw billions of rupiah at the most recent elections.

In Yogyakarta, residents are talking about the young son of an army general who allegedly splashed out Rp 8 billion (US$688,764) to win a House of Representatives seat. Rumors are also circulating about the nephew of a party leader who spent around Rp 5 billion. Yes, the two young men achieved what they wanted and will join the 560-strong House for the 2014-2019 term.

On one hand, Indonesians may boast that their country is the most peaceful democracy in the Muslim world, as many other Muslim-majority countries are either under the rule of an authoritarian regime or in the midst of political turmoil. On the other hand, Indonesians should be ashamed of the huge amount of money that is spent on vote-buying. Indonesia'€™s democracy is tainted by its blatant bribery.

But Indonesian people cannot only blame the political elites and high-ranking government officials for the widespread corruption plaguing the country. The problem lies not only in the morality of politicians, but also in that of the people. It is clear that many voters accepted money in exchange for supporting particular candidates. Indeed, bad leaders are born of bad society.

In the upcoming presidential election, we have to stay vigilant, not only about the misuse of religion for political interests but also money politics. Religion is an effective weapon for courting religious leaders, whom people at the community level always listen to.

Aside from watching those who want to sell conservative ideas to radical groups, beware of direct bribery of community members. Perhaps Rp 50,000 for a vote will be offered in the early or late morning.

The writer is a lecturer at Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University, Yogyakarta.

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