Indonesia: Outcome of Governorship Election will have Impact beyond Jakarta

15 February 2017 Jarryd de Haan, Research Analyst, Indian Ocean Research Programme

Background

Elections will take place on 15 February for the position of Jakarta governor, the most influential civilian political positon in Indonesia after that of president. Candidates for this year’s election include Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono (the son of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono), incumbent governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, and Anies Rasyid Baswedan. As noted in a previous Strategic Weekly Analysis, this year’s election has attracted outside attention given the controversy surrounding Ahok’s candidacy. A number of protests have been held since November calling for his arrest under blasphemy charges along with warnings from Muslim leaders about electing a Christian-Chinese governor to rule over Muslims. Despite the protests, polls leading up to the election are mixed, and include a large number of undecided voters. To win the election, the leading candidate must secure a fifty per cent majority of the votes.

Comment

An unlikely outcome of the election will be the victory of Ahok in the first round of voting. While some polls show Ahok leading the race at 39 per cent support, it remains well off the required 50 per cent needed to win the first round. With 7.8 per cent of Indonesians undecided, Ahok will need to secure support from these voters as well change the minds of the many who currently support Muslim candidates. The most likely outcome is that no candidate will reach the required 50 per cent, resulting in a run-off election between the top two candidates, which will be held in April. At this stage, it seems that the two most popular candidates are Ahok and Anies Baswedan. Agus’s supporters, therefore, could be a decisive factor in the run-off as their second preference may determine the next Jakarta governor.

Agus has hinged much of his election campaign on helping the poor, promising a cash bonus of five million rupiah ($500) per year for unprivileged families; it is a promise that many economists say is impossible. At the same time, however, Agus has garnered the support of more hardline Muslim voters, using Ahok’s Christian-Chinese background as a tool to bolster his own support. According to analyst Tobias Basuki, Agus has failed to distance himself from groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI). This has resulted in much of Agus’s support falling away, as voters have become suspicious that his father, former Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has played a role in the rallies held against Ahok. Those who remain loyal, therefore, include highly conservative members of groups such as the FPI and who will likely vote for any Muslim candidate who faces Ahok in a potential run-off election. While not all of Agus’s supporters are hardliners, it is likely that undecided voters will lean towards a Muslim candidate in a run-off poll, which could make it more difficult for Ahok. If, on the other hand, Agus faces off with Ahok in a run-off, the votes could be more split among the candidates, thus increasing the likelihood of Ahok being elected. Nonetheless, even if Ahok wins but is subsequently found guilty of blasphemy, he would be dismissed as governor.

If Ahok loses the election, or is found guilty of blasphemy, right-wing traditionalist Islamic groups will be emboldened. Successfully taking down the most popular candidate in the lead-up to the election, despite attempts from the Indonesian Government to lessen their influence, will legitimise their place in the political sphere. As noted in a recent Strategic Weekly Analysis, the FPI has recently suffered a humiliating series of events including charges being laid against FPI leader Habib Rizieq and FPI spokesman Munarnan, as well as Secretary-General of the FPI Jakarta chapter Novel Bamukmin being mocked in a popular Internet meme. Depending on how the votes fall, the outcome of the election could prove to be another humiliating defeat for FPI or a crucial victory that boosts the legitimacy of the group.

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