Keeping a nervous eye on Indonesia’s election

As Indonesians go to the polls, the worry is that Islamic fundamentalism will become solidified at the ballot box. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

From public floggings in Aceh to kiddies playing jihadi dress-ups, to blatant public anti-Semitism, it seems that fundamentalist Islam is on the rise in Indonesia. How will that affect the outcome of its elections? Quote:

Today, 193 million Indonesians take to the polls, with many worrying that the country?s democracy is on trial and that it will succumb to the pressure of Islamic political influence.

But the fact is this election looks to be mostly business as usual. End of quote.

That might be the problem.

As the author concedes, Indonesian politicians routinely choose running mates with Islamist backgrounds. This, prima facie at least, seems to show that nodding and winking to Islam is an essential thread in Indonesian elections. At the same time, Islam is making its presence known more and more in politics. Quote:

Much has changed since 2014. Religion has grown in prominence and influence, including among young people. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (known as Ahok), an ethnic Chinese and Christian former governor of Jakarta and past ally of Jokowi, was jailed for two years after being found guilty of blasphemy against Islam. To bolster his Islamic credentials, Jokowi then recruited Ma?ruf Amin, the 76-year old cleric who had testified against Ahok at his blasphemy trial, as his presidential running mate.

This has generated anxiety about whether Indonesia?s democracy can withstand such headwinds, and whether a turn to authoritarianism or entrenched identity politics is imminent.

?There is concerns that Jokowi?s choice of running mate indicates the increasing integration of Islam into politics. One thing to note is that upshots to this arrangement do exist ? Ma?ruf is well positioned to lead deradicalisation efforts, given his religious background. Additionally, the phenomenon of mixed tickets, such as that of Jokowi-Ma?ruf, are nothing new. Nationalist groups, including the party backing Jokowi?s presidency bid, have for years courted Islamic votes by using religion as a tool to maximise voter appeal. End of quote.

One hopes that the claim about Ma?ruf is accurate, rather than just sunny optimism. Otherwise, there seems little ground for optimism that a returned Jokowi will suddenly become a beacon of Indonesian progressivism. Quote:

Many expected democracy to strengthen under Jokowi, but he has shown little interest in following up on his promises to deal with past human rights abuses, or in carrying out wholesale reforms of the military, police and the bureaucracy. Political corruption continues unabated. What has resulted is the slight decay or stagnation of democratic progress due to neglect, rather than a conscious departure from the existing system. End of quote.


Which raises the concern that a slight shove from Political Islam could send Indonesia right over the edge into theocratic authoritarianism. Hardline Islam seems to be on the march in South-East Asia, in Malaysia and most blatantly in Brunei?s recent decision to impose strict sharia. If Indonesia, the world?s largest Islamic nation, gives in to fundamentalism the implications for its neighbours, especially Australia and New Zealand, could be enormous.