Indonesian Civil Society Groups Concerned by VP Picks
Indonesian civil society groups are expressing concern President Joko Widodoâs choice of an influential Islamic cleric as his vice-presidential running mate, seen by many observers as a smart political move, could lead to the further erosion of minority rights amid rising religious conservatism in the worldâs largest Muslim-majority nation.
Last week, the president, widely known by his nickname Jokowi, confirmed the selection of Maâruf Amin, the supreme leader of Indonesiaâs largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and the chairman of the conservative quasi-governmental Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI), the latter of which is responsible for Halal certification in the archipelago.
Despite some political experience in serving on the Presidential Advisory Council under Jokowiâs predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, during which time he was instrumental in the in troduction of controversial so-called âreligious harmony lawsâ, the 75-year-old Maâruf is a somewhat unconventional choice.
âMaybe there are questions from the people all over Indonesia why Professor Dr. Maâruf Amin was chosen. Because he is a wise religious figure,â said the president last week as quoted by Reuters. âI think we complete each other, nationalist and religious.â
The incumbentâs major opponent, meanwhile, will be former military general Prabowo Subianto, who also ran against Jokowi in the 2014 presidential race. He will be joined by wealthy businessman and Jakartaâs current vice governor, Sandiaga Uno. In a bitterly fought 2014 campaign, Prabowoâs side frequently sought to depict Jokowi as inadequately sympathetic to Islamic interests.
While Jokowiâs popularity remains high â" a survey from Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting in December 2017 putting his approval rating at 76 percent â" his Islamic credentials have rema ined a point on which he is attacked by opponents.
Evan Laksmana, an analyst at the Jakarta-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, tweeted that Maârufâs selection had solidified âthe religious-nationalist axisâ within the ruling coalition, which features a wide range of moderate nationalist and Islamic parties. Laksmana said it would successfully boost Jokowiâs religious credentials âto the point of almost taking out religious mobilization away for Prabowoâs camp.â
Maâruf last year played a key role in toppling Jokowiâs former ally Basuki âAhokâ Tjahaja Purnama, t he ethnically Chinese Christian former governor of Jakarta who became the target of a campaign by hardline groups to oust him from office after he was accused of insulting the Quran. He also served as an âexpert witnessâ for the successful blasphemy prosecution against Ahok, for which the once-widely popular politician is now serving a two-year prison sentence.
According to Professor Edward Aspinall from the Australian National University, âJokowi saw this massive Islamist mobilization against that Christian Chinese governor as a sign of how his own political career could come to an end, and since that time heâs been trying to shore up his position politically on the Islamic right and in particular by appealing to leaders of Nahdlatul Ulamaâ and the MUI. Maâruf has been a âlynchpinâ of this strategy, Aspinall told VOA.
An ally of Jokowi told local media this week that Ahok was âa thousand percentâ not angry about the presidentâs choice of deputy.
But Maârufâs candidacy was deemed âextreme pragmatismâ by an editorial in the Jakarta Post, which asked âWhat if, for short-term political gain, Jokowi sacrificed the long-term prospect of democracy and diversity?â
Human Rights Watchâs Indonesia researcher, Andreas Harsono, said Maârufâs role in âsinglehandedlyâ drafting the religious harmony law in 2006, which âreplaced the principle of religious freedom where citizens have equal rightsâ and made it significantly more difficult for minorities to build places of worship, means that his candidacy does not bode well for the rights of non-Muslim Indonesians, women or the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
Indonesiaâs news agency Antara in 2016 quoted Maâruf as saying âwe want a stern prohibition of LGBT activities and other deviant sexual activities and legislation that categorizes them as crime[s].â According to Harsono, âMaâruf Amin also issued fatwa[s ] discriminating against women ranging from female genital mutilation is a must, to child marriage, to many other issues regarding Muslim women.â
On the opposition side, Prabowo will mobilize a ânationalist, populist authoritarian appeal to strong leadership,â said Aspinall. His running mate Uno, who was also instrumental in the campaign to topple Ahok, was chosen after he pledged IDR500 billion ($342,700) to both the Islamic PAN and PKS parties.
Sandi, as Uno is known, hails from Gorontalo on the island of Sulawesi and will be the only candidate on the presidential ballot who is not from Java. In a diverse country of thousands of islands and hundreds of languages, which has nevertheless been long dominated by the ethnic Javanese majority, this could prove an important factor in attracting the votes of ethnic minorities â" particularly those in Sulawesi.
But neither of the coalitions is expected to prioritize minority rights in the election campaign. âMinorities Ahmadiyyah to Christian, from women to LGBT individuals, are increasingly being sandwiched between these two political camps,â added Harsono. âIt is not good news at all for their future, but also for the future of Indonesia.âSource: Google News Indonesia | Netizen 24 Indonesia