[Jakarta, 15 March 2019] Indonesian Islamists are united in their determination to defeat President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) in elections on 17 April 2019 but they have little chance of success. If Jokowi wins, they are aiming at a massive show of force to demand a greater state role in enforcing conservative interpretations of morality and orthodoxy. Beyond that, however, they remain a fractious alliance, with component parts differing sharply on long-term goals.
Anti-Ahok To Anti-Jokowi: Islamist Influence on Indonesia’s 2019 Election Campaign, the latest report from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), details how the 2016-17 campaign against the then Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as Ahok, evolved into an anti-Jokowi campaign. From the outset, the “212 Movement”, named for a huge rally on 2 December 2016, was plagued by ideological and tactical differences, but the Jokowi government’s attempt to prosecute, co-opt or stigmatise its members has helped bring them together.
The report asserts that Islamists’ support for Jokowi rival Prabowo Subianto is half-hearted and conditional, but they have rallied around him and his running mate, businessman Sandiaga Uno, because their antipathy toward Jokowi is so high. Indeed, some parts of the alliance now see support for Prabowo-Sandi as a survival strategy.
The report looks at how the Islamic Defenders Front, one of the primary backers of the 212 Movement, used the anti-Ahok campaign to transform itself from an organisation known primarily for Islamist thuggery to a legitimate opposition group with a strong grassroots base. Even so, it and some of its 212 partners seem unlikely to turn their ability to mobilise hundreds of thousands for street protests into a get-out-the-vote movement that can defeat Jokowi – though Indonesia is a country that always pulls out last-minute political surprises.
Despite their lack of representation in major political institutions and their likely inability to influence the election outcome, the Islamists already have had a major impact on the campaign by forcing Jokowi to defend allegations that he is anti-Islam and anti-poor and by moving the definition of what constitutes “moderation” to the right.
In a climate of growing intolerance, it remains to be seen whether Jokowi in a second term will take a more principled stance in defence of pluralism and the equal rights of all citizens or whether he will continue to avoid confrontation and let Islamists set the agenda.