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Jakarta Post

Parties fear backlash over Ahok’s blasphemy case

  • Nurul Fitri Ramadhani

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, November 14, 2016   /  07:30 am
Parties fear backlash over Ahok’s blasphemy case Not my governor: A roadside banner calling for the arrest of Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama is erected near Tanah Abang Market in Central Jakarta on Sunday. Ahok, who is seeking reelection, faces opposition from some Islamic groups that have accused him of blasphemy. (JP/Wendra Ajistyatama)

“Where is Pak Ahok? Please come again with Pak Ahok,” said residents of Cakung in East Jakarta to the surprise of Djarot Saiful Hidayat, Jakarta’s deputy governor and gubernatorial candidate, while he was campaigning in the densely-populated area on Sunday.

They were referring to Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama.

“Oh, is Pak Ahok allowed to come?” asked the candidate. “Of course!” said the excited residents.

Both Ahok and Djarot have confronted animosity from people during their campaign stops in several areas due to the governor’s controversial remarks in reference to a Quranic verse that Islamic hard-liners have deemed blasphemous.

As the electability of the Ahok-Djarot ticket continues to be threatened, their political backers have begun to worry. Two of four political parties supporting the ticket may distance themselves from the beleaguered incumbent should he be charged with blasphemy.

As pressure on the National Police to charge Ahok intensifies, party elites in the Golkar Party and the NasDem Party have voiced concerns over a possible electoral backlash if they keep supporting the governor, who has vowed to stay in the race despite his present legal quagmire.

Last Friday, NasDem chairman Surya Paloh, an influential figure within President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration, said his party would evaluate its support for Ahok.

“If [Ahok] is named a suspect then we will carry out two kinds of evaluations, a legal and moral evaluation. [We need to consider] our morality as a party that supports [him],” Paloh told reporters.

A day earlier, Golkar patron Aburizal Bakrie warned his party’s rank and file that the party could lose public support if it failed to address Ahok’s blasphemy case accordingly.

“I know our party supports Ahok [in the Jakarta election] and that is its final decision. But we have to show firmly that the person we are supporting is also not allowed to insult religion — any religion, not only Islam. Religious blasphemy is a serious matter,” he added.

Golkar and NasDem are not able to formally withdraw their support for Ahok though, as such a move would be considered illegal.

The 2016 Regional Election Law stipulates that leaders of political parties that withdraw their support for a candidate whose candidacy has been validated by the General Elections Commission (KPU) may be criminally charged. If found guilty, they could be sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay a fine of between Rp 25 billion (US$1.8 million) and Rp 50 billion.

“We still support Ahok because the Regional Election Law does not allow us to back out from our support,” NasDem executive Irma Suryani Chaniago told The Jakarta Post.

Nevertheless, losing Golkar’s and NasDem’s political backing would still deal a blow to Ahok, who needs all the help he can get to weather the political storm he is now facing. The former Belitung regent, who claims to have been pressured by certain parties to drop out of the gubernatorial race, has said he would rather go to jail than quit.

Jokowi has ordered the National Police to follow up on the blasphemy allegations against Ahok, his former deputy when he served as Jakarta governor, and has promised Muslim leaders that he will not protect him.

The latest survey by the Indonesian Survey Circle (LSI) shows that while he remains the frontrunner, Ahok’s electability has dropped from 31 percent in October to 25 percent on in November. In March, Ahok’s electability was at 59 percent.

LSI researcher Adjie Alfaraby said the blasphemy allegations contributed to Ahok’s declining electability, with 73 percent of 440 respondents in the survey saying Ahok’s remarks in Thousand Islands regency in September were a mistake.

Political analyst Hendri Satrio of Paramadina University said parties behind Ahok did not want to lose support from Muslims. “When they decided to support Ahok, they only considered Ahok’s strong chance [of being reelected]. Now they are afraid to lose Muslim voters,” Hendri said.