The Jakarta Post
Sectarianism is looming large over the 2019 general elections, with the Islamist groups behind the downfall of former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama calling on Muslims to vote against the presidential candidate and political parties that backed the city’s first Chinese and second Christian governor.
In a big rally that shows the growing clout of the Islamists in Indonesian politics, hundreds of thousands of conservative Muslims flocked to the National Monument (Monas) in Jakarta on Sunday to commemorate the second anniversary of the 2016 anti-Ahok rally that led to his imprisonment for blasphemy.
Ahok, a close ally and deputy of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo when the latter served as Jakarta governor, was found guilty of insulting the Quran in a blasphemy case that was widely condemned as flawed and politically charged.
The rally, organized by a group calling itself the 212 Rally Alumni, was billed as a “reunion” for those who participated in the 2016 protest, although it quickly turned into a political stage for opposition leaders and outspoken critics of the Jokowi administration.
Other than calling on Muslims to boycott candidates backed by political parties that had supported Ahok, they also endorsed the anti-Jokowi movement bearing the moniker #2019GantiPresiden ( 2019ChangePresident ).
Protesters brought thousands of flags of various colors bearing the Islamic creed “There is no God but Allah”, also known as the tauhid, and chanted slogans in defense of the flag, which they called “the Prophet’s banner”.
The flag seems to have served as a unifying symbol for the various Islamist groups joining the 212 movement in the wake of a controversy surrounding the burning of one by members of Banser, a paramilitary group under the Nahdlatul Ulama’s youth wing, GP Anshor, which is considered to be pro-Jokowi.
A report released in April 2018 by the Institute of Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) highlighted fractures in the 212 Movement following Ahok’s conviction, but analysts said the upcoming elections might prove to be a unifying factor among sympathizers of the political-religious movement.
Gerindra Party chairman Prabowo Subianto, who is challenging Jokowi in the presidential race for the second time, made a brief appearance at the rally together with Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, who beat Ahok in the 2017 regional elections.
Other opposition coalition politicians were also in attendance, including National Mandate Party (PAN) founder Amien Rais, People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) Speaker Zulkifli Hasan and Gerindra deputy chairman and House of Representatives Deputy Speaker Fadli Zon.
“I’d like to thank the committee for inviting me today. I’m proud at seeing millions of Indonesians, millions of Muslims, gathering here peacefully,” Prabowo said in his speech at the rally. “I am proud to be an Indonesian
Jokowi, who appeared at the 2016 rally, was not invited to this latest event and neither was his running mate and Indonesian Ulema Council chairman Ma’ruf Amin, once an influential figure among the 212 activists.
Ma’ruf had previously signed a fatwa declaring that Ahok’s remarks were blasphemous, which was considered a trigger for the 2016 rallies.
Islam Defenders Front (FPI) leader Rizieq Shihab took part in the rally through a phone call from Saudi Arabia, where he lives. He called on his supporters to continue the fight against Ahok during the 2019 presidential and legislative elections.
“During the 2019 elections, it is haram for us to vote for presidential and legislative candidates backed by parties supporting the blasphemer,” he said, in a reference to Ahok. “Let’s vote for presidential and vice presidential candidates based on the decision of ijtima ulama [the consensus of the ulema].”
Prabowo had been recommended as a presidential candidate at a gathering organized by the National Movement to Safeguard the Ulema Fatwa (GNPF) in August, while all the parties that backed Ahok in 2017 are now supporting Jokowi.
ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute research fellow Quinton Temby said the upcoming elections and the flag-burning incident contributed to the scale of Sunday’s rally. “I think the approaching election is focusing the views of a certain constituency that the government is in some sense against Islam,” he told The Jakarta Post.
“There’s a sense of the movement building momentum and small incidents like a flag burning in a regional town take on national significance.”
This article was originally published in The Jakarta Post's print edition on Dec. 3, 2018, with the title "Identity politics haunts 2019 race ".